Meeting in Lomé

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
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Trip End May 01, 2011


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Flag of Togo  ,
Monday, April 25, 2011

I had a time-warp experience this morning. Guy had said he would be at the hotel to pick me up at 9:00 am so that we could start our service at 9:30. So I set my alarm to have enough time to break my fast and be ready by the agreed-upon time. 9:00 came and went. I didn't worry; that’s not unusual. Things rarely happen on time here; the concept of time is more elastic that what we have in the West. Also I knew they wouldn’t start the service without me!

Waiting on the second floor terrace, I discretely took photos of people in the street. People here often resent having their photo taken. Part of can be pride. They know they’re poor and some don’t want other people to see them in their poverty. Another part of it is a widely-held urban-legend-type belief that we westerners return home and sell our photos of Africans for lots of money, without giving those photographed their "cut" in the profits. Often when I ask if I can take photos of people, they hold out their hands and want their “share” up front. So, when possible it’s best to be discreet when taking photos, or be in a fast car….

This is a very unexceptional street, nothing out of the ordinary going on, but there are still fascinating sights to behold. Like women unloading bags of purified water on their heads and carrying them into a shop where they’ll be sold in detail. Or a young man pulling a garbage cart down the block, stopping when requested to take away more refuse and being paid for his trouble, sometimes, as while I watched, with a meal at a makeshift street restaurant. Muslim women walk with their black robes flowing in the breeze. Other women carry portable restaurants on their heads and babies on their backs, walking gracefully and taking care not to let fall the food, bowls, plates, cups, and tableware all carefully balanced on their heads. Still other women braid each other’s hair in ramshackle beauty shops. Men sit in the shade of an awning doing nothing much in particular. A car breaks down and must be pushed; motorcycles putter or roar by in clouds of dust, honking to warn pedestrians to get out of the way. It’s another day in backstreet Lomé.

9:30 comes then 9:40, this is actually late, even by local standards. At 9:45 I walk downstairs to double check the time. Ah, it is not 9:45, it is 8:45 in Lomé…. The airlines staff announced the wrong time upon landing yesterday, and my watch and I have been an hour off ever since! I ate dinner an hour earlier than I planned, I got up an hour earlier and I’ve been waiting for almost an hour that I needn’t have done. Pas de problem! Guy finally arrives about half an hour late (by the correct time). He apologizes and explains that he’s been held up by traffic snarls. Easter Monday is normally a holiday, he tells me, but life is so difficult for many people, they can’t afford to take the day off and so the bustle is back on again in Lomé. I explain that I’ve been waiting for him for an hour and half and we laugh about the misunderstanding.

We arrive at the Ahialegbedzi home and were able to begin our service by 10:00. After hymns, I gave a news update and then talked about why we give offerings on the annual holy days. We have our offering while singing a hymn and then had special music from the children's chorale in French, and then a member with a beautiful voice sang a song in Ewe about the importance of faith.

I spoke on the topic of what it means to “go on to perfection” as it says in Hebrews 6:1. The sermon was translated phrase by phrase into Ewe for the few members whose command of French is limited.

Afterward, I stepped outside as tables were laid for lunch. The meal was a true feast, composed of a number of courses in the French tradition: as an aperitif I was offered a distilled palm wine white-lighting type alcohol, of which I had just a sip. Care must be taken with such beverages; they’re not only very strong, but they can cause interesting and unpredictable reactions in the western stomach, to one of which I’m quite attached. Then came salads with vinaigrette or a beef liver sauce. These was followed by whole grilled tilapia with couscous and tomato sauce, then chicken and hot sauce with a vegetable loaf. This was accompanied by a choice of bottled water, sodas, sangria and dry red wine. Fresh pineapple was served for dessert. It was copious and delicious.

After the tables were cleared, I asked everyone to tell his or her story about being called to the Church. As always it was fascinating to hear the different ways that people come to realize the importance of their relationship with God. The path is sometimes very circuitous. One person laughingly said that God sometimes draws a straight line to Him out of many curves. There were stories of having to make hard decisions and take stands when fundamental doctrines were threatened, or when ambition, ignorance or other weaknesses led leaders astray. We all had sharp memories of such times.

We had several hours of very good discussions both about the past and about plans for the future. This is a small group but a very committed one, eagerly looking forward to serving God, His Church and its work in their country. I was very encouraged by our time together.

I suggested afterwards that it would be a good project for them to write a short history of the Church of God in Togo, and several agreed they would start working on it.

Toward the end of the afternoon, the skies grew very dark, and it was clear a heavy rainstorm was coming. So we hurried outside to take our group photos before it poured. It did start to rain just after the photos, although the worst of the downpour missed the house. We saw on the drive back to my hotel that it did rain very heavily in other neighborhoods.

Before parting Guy and Pierre agreed to come by tomorrow in the afternoon so we’ll have more time to talk before they drive me to the airport for the flight to Paris.
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Comments

Barry Kenavan, Australia on

I have started reading these blogs recently and am fascinated by the way God has worked in the lives of people, calling many from situations we find difficult to fathom. I also take my hat off to you, Joel, for being a faithful servant and a help to the people you visit. I enjoy reading your travelogues and insights into peoples lives.

maryhendren
maryhendren on

Hi Joel,
What interesting photos and commentary. It must have been a delightful day for you and the brethren, especially sharing stories over a delicious meal. It will be interesting to hear the results of your assignment to write the story of the church in Togo.

Regards,
Mary

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