The blessing of a second chance

March 2, 2015

It’s not often that a person is given an opportunity to “re-do” a previous experience, especially one tinged with regret.

I lived in Togo from August of 2000 to May of 2010, working to help people know Jesus. This was my task, and I did not see myself equipped to do anything else.

I had been trained to move to the nation of Togo and become immersed in the culture of the Kabiye people in the north central region of the country. I was prepared to work under difficult physical, social and cultural conditions very different from my own. I had developed a method for sharing the good news of Jesus in the most effective way I knew how.

Before going to Togo, I spent seven months in Albertville, France, learning basic level French. Once in Togo, I spent the better part of the first two years learning the local language. All this preparation was done in order to help people know Jesus. I have no regrets about the preparation or what was accomplished during my time there; I firmly believe Jesus needs to be the foundation of people’s lives.

However, in those three years of training, I was never prepared to help people in any real way physically. In fact, I was more or less discouraged from being involved in development initially, in order to “plant” churches genuine in their desire to follow God. To begin development work would only encourage people to “come to God” from insincere motives, it was believed. It was not until 2006 that development work was considered as a part of the overall mission, but by that time it was too late. Too late, because six years had passed, the church planting work was winding down, and it was time to leave that work in the hands of the local people. During the final three years, we began a fledgling water project and a few small agricultural endeavors.

My regrets about my time in Togo came later, at the outset of my work in Rwanda in 2012. I was serving as community development coordinator for a faith-based, Rwandan non-profit that works toward total transformation of the lives of Rwandans by empowering them to heal the hurts of spiritual and physical brokenness through a deep knowledge of Jesus, and working to solve individual, family and community issues. Our initial development work back then was a conservation agriculture project.

As we launched that project, I began to reflect on my time in Togo and the great physical needs of the people there, and for the first time yearned to return and initiate a similar project. At the same time, I could clearly remember how difficult it was to engage the people in the small projects we began in our last years and pondered the reality of such a yearning.

Now, sitting at my desk at Just Hope, life has come full circle. I find myself working for an organization that also yearns to empower people to elevate themselves above levels of poverty and solve problems that are bringing great challenges to their families and communities. After spending 12 days on the ground in Togo, I now look back and see the level of God’s involvement in taking me from Togo to Rwanda to Just Hope and back to Togo. God bends our life story in order for his purposes to be fulfilled.

My concerns about engaging the lives of people in Togo were unfounded. During our short time in country we, along with our boots on the ground partner missionaries Jesse and Andrew, were able to initiate two training and demonstration plots through active, even eager participation by 17 men and women. These participants were able to easily identify problems with their typical and traditional agricultural practices and were excited to learn old but forgotten practices that offer solutions. Practices such as slashing and burning, no crop rotations, plowing and improper use of chemical fertilizers have destroyed farmland and left families and entire communities and regions of Togo with insufficient food and a very bleak future. Working within the structure of their agricultural practices and not introducing foreign methods promises to empower local farmers using resources at their disposal to feed their own families well, and over time develop a stronger economic base from which further development can be launched.

My faith in the Togolese people, specifically the Lamba people, was renewed as we sat and learned together under a large mango tree near a participant’s house, and as we worked and “baked” together in the field under the hot West African sun. Or perhaps I was simply convicted of the lack of faith I originally placed in them. Either way, I enjoyed working with them as they laughed and clapped with joy while planting, mulching and watering.

It is hard being a farmer when the ground is poor, hard like concrete and no longer gives a sufficient harvest. To see joy expressed as they realized the promise of renewal of their land and the potential for abundant harvests to return was almost as much a gift for me as it was for them. I hope and pray for success with these plots, and for that success to flow from a demonstration and training into their own fields, their own lives and into the lives of their communities.