Visiting the Baptist Biblical Institute
Visiting a church in a remote village
Speaking at a conference with Pastors
We came for the American dream – gained theological education and biblical training –
became equipped pastorally, and now appointed by ABC International Ministries to
go back and serve not as indigenous, but as American Missionaries.
“Lord, (we) know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.” Jer. 10:23
Homecoming Queen and King… but to connect, love, serve, share, and train.
As you recall, we have made a mission U-Turn from a placement in France working with Pastors, Churches and refugees to a possible placement in Togo, our home. We never imagined this could be possible! It’s with excitement that we started our U-Turn vision trip visiting the Baptist Convention in Togo, West-Africa, an important step in the final discernment and decision-making process.
When we arrived in Lomé, the capital city of Togo, on January 20, 2016, everything looked perfect and normal: a strong Christian presence, busy streets with vehicles honking everywhere, uniformed students hurrying to get to school, and the harmattan (the dry, windy, dusty season of the year) blowing dust all over the city. With all the gospel of prosperity preaching coming from local FM radios, it seems as if no Christian missionary is needed at this moment. But wait until you step in a little deeper…
Togo Republic is a small coastal French-speaking country of 21,853 mile2, with about 7 million inhabitants divided into 37 tribes speaking over 4 dozen languages. A former German and later French colony, Togo has survived political instability under a 55 year old regime. Transition to multiparty democratic rule has been stalled since 1990. Below are some interesting numbers:
- Indigenous belief represents 50% of the population; Christians are 30%, and Muslims 20%.
- In 2015, Togo was ranked the 10th poorest country in the world according to Global Finance Magazine.
- The child labor rate is at 47%.
- The sex trade has proliferated, increasing by 180% in recent years.
- Globally, Togo was ranked as the 26th most HIV/AIDS-infected country, with 4,500 HIV/AIDS related deaths per year.
- Only 40% of the population has access to drinking water; the life expectancy estimate is 50 years.
On the first day of our vision trip, we had a meeting with the President of Togo Baptist Convention (TBC) who debriefed us on the convention history, ministries, needs, expectations, joys, concerns, and hopes.
On 01/22/16, we drove about 200 miles northeast of the capital to the Togo Baptist Biblical Institute. The institute is not a “theological institute” said the director. It was launched in 1998 in response to the pastoral need in many churches, and as a response to uneducated or under-educated persons who have received the pastoral call. There, trainees are taught how to be a pastor over three years, while their wives are taught how to start income generating activities to come to their family financial rescue. Pastoral ministry is truly a labor of love in Togo. And our call is to passionately connect, equip, and empower.
During our meeting with the Director of Mission and Evangelism in Lomé, we asked, "If material, financial, or human resources were not problems, what would be your primary goal?" He said, “… Believe it or not, populations outside Lomé, the capital city, still have not experienced the love of God, and they have not heard of the name Jesus Christ. So my main goal will be to step out of Lomé, launch evangelism campaigns; get down to villages and rural area, to promote the love of God…”
That’s exactly what a young Pastor by the name of Elissa is doing about 110 miles northeast of Lomé. We drove 6 hours to travel 110 miles (due to harsh road conditions) to visit that church in one of the poorest provinces in Togo. The Pastor sees that youngsters --especially females -- are kept in secretive cloisters throughout their teen years, which is a local spiritual practice. There, they are raped and abused by voodoo priests and their henchmen. Elissa's work is to spread the gospel of grace so that many may avoid the indigenous believers’ manipulation and abuse. We hope to develop evangelism ministries and help local churches develop critical social ministries in these out-lying areas.
The plight of vulnerable children in Togo is truly heart-breaking. We visited many places like hospitals, market places where children are abandoned by young moms who are exposed to hard labor and more… Street outreach to those living with HIV/AIDS is equally needed. We tries to reach other local non-Baptists missionaries and got to meet Missionary Mokah. Here is a portion of our conversation with him: “I am called to reach out to all with HIV/AIDS without distinction. My main tool is the living word of God (Bible). My main hope is to bring assurance of salvation, to help overcome the feeling of guilt, and to guide toward free medical support. My resource: the Lord and my Hard work...” His work was very inspiring to us, and we look forward to developing programs serving and preaching hope to people with HIV/AIDS.
At the end, we had a blessed occasion to meet about two dozen members of the Board of Directors, in the presence of Eleazar, IM Area Director for Africa. The Board is constituted of representatives from the 15 Associations (regions) of the TBC churches. They were happy to have us and hope that we join them soon, as we explained our collaborative partnership.
In the face of these challenges and experiences, we think God has worked in an amazing way by moving International Ministries to partner with Togo Baptist Convention, and by sending us to be part of a ministry-impacting and life transforming U-Turn mission in Togo.
Our call to reach out, to evangelize, and to teach has just been confirmed.
Please pray that:
1- We build our network of supporters on a fast track.
2- Our call to love, to serve, to share the word, and to train reflects the sending church mission.
For the U-Turn Mission Team,
Rev. Holale C. Azondjagni