Jul 07

God’s thoughts and ways are not ours.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

You are probably familiar with these verses, no? They are often quoted to show that God is ineffable. To quote the popular phrase (which isn’t in the Bible per se) “God works in mysterious ways.” We cannot understand His thoughts and ways unless He deigns to explain them. And still the reality is beyond our comprehension. As the Apostle Paul puts it: “now we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthins 13:12).

But do you know the context of these verses? The two verses that come before put these verses in a whole new light:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55:6-7 (ESV)

We are to seek the Lord and call upon Him to find forgiveness of our sins because His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways…

Don’t we often find it difficult to forgive? And even when we do forgive, it’s easy to hold a grudge (which really isn’t forgiveness at all). Sometimes we offer a conditional forgiveness: “I’ll forgive you, if you…” And when we have wronged someone, we may avoid them rather than coming to them to ask their forgiveness because we fear they won’t really be forgiving.

But God’s thought are not our thoughts! God’s ways are not our ways! As the heavens are higher than the earth, so is God’s forgiveness higher than ours!

You do not need to fear that God will hold a grudge because of your sin. You do not fear that God will not forgive you. Because God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross in order to pay for your sins (and the sins of the whole world), you have free and unconditional forgiveness!

So return to the Lord each and every day that He may have compassion on you and abundantly pardon. Amen.

Jun 09

No more cover fire!

Back at the beginning of March, the head pastor and I were talking about the election and how the opposition was challenging the result. He told me (in French) that he hadn’t heard that there was « un couvre-feu », which literally means “a cover fire”. My thought was, “Are things that bad that there is gun fire?!?”

A week or so later I was talking to the neighbor who lives behind my building (but the entrance to my building leads to her apartment behind, so we share the main entrance). She was telling me that she got back from her work at a restaurant downtown at 2 am. When I remarked how late that was, she said that there wasn’t « couvre-feu », and I was confused, but also glad no one was shooting guns on my street.

Finally toward the end of March, the government instituted a « couve-feu » and I was like, “OK, I have to look this word up!” I did, and it actually means “curfew”! I had totally misunderstood what my neighbor and the head pastor here had said!

Ironically, our English word comes from the French “cover fire”. I guess when a curfew was enacted back in the day, it was the time you had to literally cover your fire and go inside.

In any case, the curfew that the government started from 8 pm to 6 am to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2 was initially loosed to be 9 pm to 6 am, then a few weeks ago to 10 pm to 5 pm. And as of today (June 9th, 2020), the curfew has been lifted completely (although I will miss it, as I live on a busy street and welcomed the peace and quiet).

The closing off of several major cities (of which Lomé was one) – which was to limit travel and spread between bigger cities – has also been lifted, as the number of new cases is fairly stable, and low.

In place of these measure, it is now mandatory to wear masks.

I have heard that initially in some countries, like Cameroon and Ethiopia, foreigners were being attacked by the locals because it was foreigner who brought the virus into the countries. While that is highly unlikely to ever happen here, as Togo is very welcoming, I have been wearing a mask whenever I go out, even when it wasn’t mandatory, to show that I take the situation seriously and am trying to do my part to protect others and limit the propagation.

Compared to the rest of the world, much of Africa, and Togo especially, has not been hit very hard by the pandemic. That is very fortunate (thanks be to God!), as the medical facilities in Africa are not as equipped as they are in other places.

The airport is still closed to incoming passengers (except for repatriation of Togolese), but they are making plans for when it opens again, including rapid COVID-19 testing upon arrival and other measures.

Schools and churches are still closed. This has been more difficult here than in the US and in more developed countries. While I have been blessed to tune into some live-streamed services, and I have even been able give a virtual presentation on the work here for a church in Minneapolis and preach at their mission festival from my dinning room table here in Togo, most people here do not have access to affordable internet and churches and schools do not have the setup or equipment to stream services or classes. I pray that we will be able to resume worship services and seminary classes soon so that we can encourage one another from God’s word during these difficult times.

Mar 21

Locked in Lomé

As of March 20, 2020 there are 12 confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 in Togo. This has led the government to enact a number of measures to slow the propagation of the novel corona virus:

  1. Land borders are closed to all travelers for two weeks. This does not affect the movement of goods.
  2. Several cities, including Lomé, are blockaded.
  3. It is forbidden to go to the beach indefinitely.
  4. Places of worship are closed for one month.
  5. All schools and universities are closed for 3 weeks.
  6. Funerals and burials are to be attended by no more than 15 people.
  7. All venders in markets are to wear masks.
  8. All mass cultural and sport events are suspended indefinitely.
  9. All nightclubs are closed.

Recently the US State Department said that any citizen residing in the US should return or be prepared to remain overseas for an indefinite period of time (I am prepared to remain here for an indefinite period).

So far Africa has had relatively few cases of infection, and I pray that continues to be the case. The World Health Organization, however, said that we should prepare for the worst. As the number of infections and the death toll mounts around the world, the health care system here is even more fragile, so it is very important to take every precaution to limit the propagation and “flatten the curve”.

While this can be a frightening time, we must remember that the Creator of the Universe is still at work preserving His creation:

Man and beast you save, O Lord. – Psalm 36:6

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. – Psalm 33:18-19

As I write this, I see two men going up and down my street wearing masks and handing out information. I assume they are encouraging the vendors to follow the guidelines and wear masks. There is a car with a load speaker blaring information in Ewe, which I cannot yet understand, but I assume is encouraging everyone to follow the guidelines.

Taking precautions to limit the propagation of and exposure to SARS-CoV-2 does not contradict our faith and trust in our Heavenly Father to protect and care for us. Out of love for God and our neighbor, we obey the government and follow the guidelines. We obey God by obeying the government.

The Triune God – the Father, Son, Holy Spirit – promises to protect and comfort us, but we should not test the Lord our God by ignoring the wisdom and advice of medical professionals. We should not metaphorically “throw ourselves from the pinacle of the temple” in attempt to demonstrate a strong faith.

That said, we can be tempted to place more trust in preventative measures or modern medicine than in God. Even in normal circumstances we are often tempted to place our confidence in the things of this world or in ourselves more than we trust in God.

But through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Son, we have forgiveness for every time we have sinned against the first commandment and any and all of God’s commandments. Jesus has paid for and taken away all your sin so that you may have eternal life.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39

So wash your hands as you trust in the salvation God has given you in Jesus. May He continue to protect and preserve us all until He brings us to the heavenly home He has prepared for us in Jesus. Amen.

Sep 30

Shoes and Visas

What do the two have in common. Well, nothing really (although you can buy shoes with your Visa credit card, but that’s not the type of visa I have in mind). I just thought the two together would make a good headline.

Missionary Todd Ohlmann was able to get his visas to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am waiting on some letters and a corrected residence permit, but I will be applying for mine soon, as will Kossi (for the DRC, he doesn’t need one for Nigeria). Pray that Kossi and I are able to get the visas soon,

Speaking of Pastor Kossi. He was wearing shoes yesterday. Why is that significant, you may ask? It shows the recovery he has had from his accident. Up until yesterday he has been wearing flip-flops because his left foot has been so swollen. The physical therapy and medicine he has been receiving evidently is helping him heal, as his foot is almost back to normal. Praise God for preserving Kossi’s life in the accident and for the rapid healing he has experienced!

Sep 25

Permits, Visas, and Cards, oh my!

I just realized that I forgot to report here that I received my Stay Card (Carte de Séjour). Much thanks goes to Pastor Kossi who did almost all the legwork and had the contacts to make this super easy, barely an inconvenience.

The Carte de Séjour is an official Togolese ID and allows me to stay for a year without any problems. It also makes me a card-carrying missionary, as that is what is given as my profession on the card.

Despite Pastor Kossi’s injuries, he spent today running around checking on requirements for a visa to Nigeria and getting paperwork requested for the visa to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), like a residency permit and a certificate of non-condemnation (to show I haven’t done anything illegal here).

Lord willing, Pastor Kossi and I will go to Nigeria with Missionary Todd Ohlmann at the end of October for a week, and then to the DRC for two weeks. Please pray that both Missionary Ohlmann and I can get the needed Visas , I just heard from Missionary Ohlmann that he was able to get his visa for the DRC. He had been denied the past few times because of the political situation.

It turns out that a Nigerian visa should be fairly easy as I am now officially a resident in Togo, which is one of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS/CEDEAO [Communauté Economique des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest]), as is Nigeria. Pastor Kossi does not even need a visa to travel to Nigeria.

Thank the Lord for granting a Stay Card! And for Pastor Kossi being willing to run so many errands, even though he probably should be resting and recovering from his accident (see the next post).

Sep 17

Updated: Accident 🏍💥🚙

Monday last week, Pastor Kossi Blewu was traveling (on motorcycle) up to the land we purchased to check on the agriculture work there. He was making a left turn (and signaling) when the car behind him thought he was going to make a right, so the car tried to pass him on the left and they collided.

By God’s grace, Kossi was not gravely injured, even though everyone who witnessed the accident thought he was surely dead. He was taken to the hospital, which was nearby and spent the night there. He did not suffer any broken bones but his foot required a number of stitches. He went back to the hospital in pain on Thursday.

Kossi returned to Lomé last Friday. He is supposed to rest and not walk much, but he came picked me up in a taxi Saturday to go distribute school supplies to the orphans and to the kids in need. He was limping rather severely and obviously in pain. He has some severe abrasions that are visible and wounds that are covered.

The driver of the car turns out to be a pastor. The local police chief was coincidently (miraculously) there when the accident happened, and so witnessed the whole thing. And Kossi’s motorcycle was only very minimally damaged in the accident.

Please keep Kossi in your prayers as he recovers, especially that he will not push himself until he is better. And thank the Lord for His grace that things were not so much worse!

UPDATE 9/21/19: Kossi went to the hospital and had either the dressing on his foot removed or the stitches removed. I will know more tomorrow. This week he was in a lot more pain and has had trouble walking. I’d like to think that it is his body healing and he is feeling worse before he gets better. Check back for a more detailed update tomorrow.

UPDATE 9/22/19: Kossi will return to the hospital tomorrow (Monday) for followup. His left foot is still very swollen. He said it has gone down. Saturday they removed the stitches. They are recommending another x-ray to verify that he didn’t actually break something.

Kossi wants to make a trip up to see the land we helped them purchase on which to grow crops, raise animals, and build a church and possibly a school/seminary building. I don’t want him to push himself and slow his recovery. We will see what the doctor says tomorrow. Check back for further updates.

UPDATE 9/25/19: Kossi went back to the doctor today for x-rays. They confirmed that no bones were broken. His left foot is much less swollen. He did some physical therapy. The doctor said he was very smart to come in for treatment now, otherwise he would have more problems down the road.

Jul 24

Out of the mouth of infants…

“Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise” – Matthew 21:16

Our church in the US often have a special service at the end of VBS where the children perform songs and recite Bible passages. Here in Lomé, Togo, they have a similar Sunday, but at the end of the (Sunday) school year.

The children dancing (click here to listen)

This past Sunday was the Sunday School children’s program. It was a delightful time of song, dance, and Bible verse recitation. You can see videos starting here.

They also had a special offering “competition”. In Togolais (Ewe) culture, a person is given a name based on the day they were born. Only after the parents get to know the baby (a week or so) are they given a religious or western name. Because everyone is known by their “day name”, everyone knows what day they were born on. For this special offering, they call out each day of the week and those who were born on that day comes forward to put their offering in the plate. The amount for each day it totaled and the winning day is announced, along with the runner up.

I did not know what day I had been born, so I had to ask Siri. She informed me I was born on a Thursday, so you can call me Yao or Yawovi.

In the offering my day came in second, only to be beat out by Sunday (on which Pastor Kossi was born), because there were many people born on Sunday and only a handful on Thursday. Pastor Kossi told me years ago he told the congregation that he would pray that more people born on Sunday would come to the church and that those who were expecting would give birth on Sunday. It seems God answered his prayer. I told him he needs to pray that more people born on all days come!

It was a great and joyous day based on the salvation we all have through Jesus, who took the little children in His arms and blessed them.

Jul 04

Rain Delay

Today durning class with the pastoral students we had a torrential rain. No big deal in the US, but when you are in a tin-roofed church, a heavy rain drowns out any class (you think the gym at ILC is bad during a storm!).

When the rain started, the students moved up closer to the lecture and I moved closer to them and we tried shouting over the noise. At one point the rain got particularly heavy, so we took a 5 minus coffee break at which point the rain let up some and we could continue.

Click here for a video of the interruption
The rooster seeking refuge

The rain was so bad that a rooster sought refuge in the church. I guess he was wondering by when the downpour struck.

Rain also paralyzes the city and causes travel problems as most of the roads in the city are dirt roads and they become even more difficult to travel on, if not impassible. Also most of the transportation is by motorbike, which isn’t pleasant during a heavy rain.

This past week, Pastor Kossi was traveling up to the land the church body has purchased and is farming. He was caught in heavy rains and his cell phone stopped working because of the water damage. He has since replaced the phone and purchased a rain poncho to wear while riding.

Jun 28

Connected!

I finally got the new apartment wired for internet. I’ve had access on my phone, but it has been difficult to do much, especially since my hotspot wouldn’t work. But this past Wednesday Togo Telecom finally came and ran fibre to the apartment and installed the Nokia modem and I’m back on-line.

We had been waiting on the electric company to increase the capacity to the apartment because the original installation didn’t provide enough power for the AC units. The owner had requested and given money for the increase, but nothing was happening, so the head pastor here called a friend who works in the government, who called a manager at the electricity company, who then immediately sent a technician with the pastor to get things sorted out.

The internet installation was dragging on for weeks as well. Finally the head pastor pulled some strings (or threatened to) and got us moved up the queue for installation.

It’s good to have friend in high places! It’s good to be connected.

I shared the story of the electricity in a sermon I preached at two churches here. I pointed out, however, that every believer in Jesus has access to Someone much higher than someone in the national government. We have access to God Almighty Himself! “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” Romans 5:1-2. Through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have obtain access to the grace of God.

It is good to be connected. Through Jesus’s death and resurrection, we have a Friend in the highest place of all. Thanks be to God that He has reconnected us to Himself.