A lot of people have been contacting me to ask how the Oikos School training went last weekend, but believe it or not, I have been trying to write this blog post ever since last Monday! Let’s just put it this way: lightning fried our phone line (and thus knocked out our internet), I spent two days this week getting things repaired that got fried from the lightning. spent a day catching up on office work and paying bills once we got internet back up and running, then the power was cut all day Friday after I woke up with a terrible head cold. On Saturday I wrote the whole post but had to wait until Sunday morning for a couple videos to upload. Sunday we woke up to no internet and just got it back on. Just another average week in Togo! It really has been a great week since the training, but I tell you all that to explain why we don’t always get around to updating our blog as quickly as we’d like.

So how did the training go? I could summarize by saying that I couldn’t envision it going any better than it did. The students are hungry to learn, but not just for the sake of gaining information, but to be transformed by what they learn as they immediately seek to put it into practice in their villages.

We covered several topics including spiritual warfare, leading church meetings, training new leaders within a church, intercessory prayer, and Jesus’ command to make disciples (Mt. 28:16-20). During each training there is also a time dedicated to teaching them some kind of practical life skill or knowledge that can help them in their everyday lives, so I took the opportunity to teach them all about moringa. Most of them already knew a bit about it but weren’t aware of just how beneficial it is for daily health. I gave each student over 100 seeds and showed them how to plant them, protect them from hungry animals, trim them, and harvest the leaves and seeds. We also did a little experiment based on what I have read about the seeds being able to purify water. We crushed a couple seeds and put them in a bottle of brown, disgusting water. After only 10 minutes the water was clear and the seeds had made all the sediment sink to the bottom, leaving pure drinking water.

One exercise I did with the students was very interesting. During my lesson about leading a church meeting, I walked them through the process of evaluating various church practices, habits, and customs to determine whether we do them because the Bible gives a clear command or example to to them or because they are simply part of our church tradition. Here’s a sample of what they came up with:

Loving one another
Dressing up for church
Separating men & women at church (a common practice here)
Giving to those in need
Taking a weekly offering for the church fund
The church is led by one man who holds all authority
The church is led by multiple leaders who share authority
Give the best seat to rich people (another common practice here)√ (James 2:1-9)
Pray for one another
Using Western-style musical instruments
Instructing and exhorting one another in song√ (Col. 3:16)
Give opportunity for each member to use their gifts√ (Rom. 12:4-8)
Insist that every person must speak in tongues (common among charismatic churches)
Forbid speaking in tongues (a reaction to the above from some conservative churches)

I made sure that they understood that we weren’t saying that all church tradition is automatically bad just because it doesn’t come directly from the Bible. Our goal in this was to question traditions in order to determine whether they are helping or hindering our overall goal of making disciples and creating culturally appropriate church meetings that new, local leaders can easily lead and reproduce.

Following this, I took it a step further and had a couple students come to the front and arrange chairs and a pulpit in the style they prefer. They, as I had guessed, set them up facing forwards toward the pulpit. I then had the students read several passages from the New Testament which show how each member of a church is meant to exercise his/her gifts to minister one to another during church meetings. They saw clearly that church meetings in the first century were very interactive and participatory as opposed to a one-way monologue by one person. I then asked the two students to come back to the front and arrange the chairs and pulpit so that they best reflect what they had just read. They hesitated for a moment, then said, “Well, I supposed we would set it up like this…” and proceeded to put the chairs in a circle facing one another. At this point, I took a moment to explain how everything we do at church, right down to the way we arrange our chairs, communicates something to the people attending. I then had the students participate in a friendly debate, one side arguing that it is best to align chairs towards the front with the other side arguing that putting them in a circle is better. I did this so they could think through the reasons for and against a particular way of doing things that isn’t necessarily spelled out clearly in the Bible, but could be significantly influenced by Biblical principles.

One activity that had everybody rolling with laughter was the “telephone game.” You may remember playing this as a kid, where one person whispers a message in the ear of another and it gets passed around the room until it comes back around to the first person who says out loud the first, correct message and the last, usually distorted message. The guys found this to be hilarious, and some of them were laughing so hard they couldn’t hear what the person next to them whispered. As a result, the first message, “tonight we’ll be eating ‘la pâte’ with peanut sauce” became “evangelize!” Tchéou used this during his teaching about good communication within a church to show why we can’t simply accept everything we hear about other people as if it is true.

The training overall was very positive and encouraging, but there was a sense of heaviness as well because Komla, the former witchdoctor, is experiencing some intense persecution from his extended family right now. His uncle, who has culturally taken the role of the family patriarch since Komla’s father died, is saying that since Komla has forsaken fetishes to follow Jesus, he now needs to pay him back for all the times he has helped him out in the past, even though this help was always in the form of a gift, not a loan. Not only that, but he is sabotaging Komla every chance he gets. Recently Komla brought two goats to the market to sell in order to buy fertilizer for his corn, but his uncle caught wind of it and confiscated the goats saying that they will go towards repaying his supposed “debt.” He has also been essentially kidnapping Komla’s wife for a day or two at a time, bringing her to his house, and trying to turn her against Jesus and her husband. His latest tactic—when he discovered that Komla didn’t have money for fertilizer—was to send a bunch of guys to fertilize Komla’s field with his own fertilizer so he could then claim possession of the field and the harvest. In case you’re wondering how he can possibly get away with this, keep in mind that he is acting fully within his “rights” according to traditional African patriarchal village culture. With the recent modernization of Togo, however, he has completely violated Komla’s civil rights. This is a perfect example of the clashing of the old traditional Togolese culture and the new emerging culture.

I had Komla share his story with the other students, then we gathered around him and prayed for him, encouraged him, and prayed against the spiritual forces that are at work to discourage and deceive him and his wife. The other students, along with Tchéou and Daré, then gave him some advice about how to handle this persecution since most of them have been through similar situations. It was neat to see how Komla’s brothers in Christ lifted him up and acted like a true family while his flesh-and-blood family is turning its back on him. Please lift up this family in prayer along with us!

We can’t say enough how much we appreciated your prayer during this training. I saw firsthand how the Holy Spirit was working to illuminate the hearts and minds of the students. Through this school, Jesus is in the process of creating a group of guys who are united in Jesus alone and who have a passion for making more Jesus-followers and seeing Jesus worshipped as Lord all over northern Togo!