Ian Flanders of GBM Radio was invited to visit Togo in West Africa, which is sandwiched between Ghana and Benin, and two countries west of Nigeria. Christians there regularly listen to Ian’s French language radio programmes. This was an important opportunity to connect with his audience.
In June 2018 I received an email inviting me to be the main speaker at the annual conference of the ‘Grace Churches of Togo.’ This was a surprise and I initially thought that it would not be possible for me to accept. Nevertheless, through the generous provision of believers, both in the UK and Togo, the Lord provided all that I needed. So, at the end of August I found myself on a flight out to the city of Lomé, the capital.
This was my second visit to this association of churches. They have a doctrinal basis and values which are about as close to our own as one is likely to find in Francophone West Africa and it is a real privilege and joy to be able to serve them. The first of these churches were formed towards the end of the twentieth century. Today they number over a dozen and they have at least three mission outposts.
The annual church conference is held on the premises of a college in the town of Atakpamé, where many of the churches are located. It lasted for four days and over two hundred people, of all ages and stages of Christian walk, were present throughout. I received a warm welcome and was well looked after. My accommodation was less than five minutes’ walk from the conference site but they always insisted on fetching me and transporting me this short distance on the back of a moped!
I was asked to speak on the topic of persecution. This came as something of a surprise but as I got to know their situation better I came to understand just how relevant it was to them. Some spoke to me of believers they knew, who, previous to coming to Christ, had grown up in Muslim families and tribes in the north of the country. They were aware of how they had suffered beatings and rejection, and, often left destitute, they had relocated to safer parts of the country. It was good for believers to better understand both the suffering of those who are persecuted and how best to give practical help and spiritual support.
I also learnt that evangelists from the churches, who visit villages in the surrounding area with the gospel, also meet with opposition. These villages remain deeply rooted in African Traditional Religion: nature spirits are appeased, ancestors revered and sorcery practised. Some have welcomed the gospel but others have rejected the visits of the evangelists. On occasion stones are hurled at them to chase them away and at least one attempt has been made to burn their vehicle.
On a sad note, the Grace churches also suffer a degree of isolation, opposition and scorn from other churches in the town. Many churches in Africa are wildly Pentecostal or promote the prosperity gospel – often both. Some really weird and damaging teachings can be heard. The Grace churches have a firm grounding in biblical teaching and they are taking a stand for gospel truth and against the commonplace errors that undermine that truth. This brings difficulties into their relationships with other so-
It was good for us all to learn from Jesus’ and the apostles’ teachings on persecution. Please pray that the believers would be prepared for these realities and pray for ongoing courage as they proclaim the gospel in their demanding context.
Although I was the main speaker, some of the Togolese pastors also spoke during the conference. They addressed the theme of mission, which tied in well with the topic I had been given. It was helpful and encouraging for me to hear Africans preach. It was great to see their vision and zeal as they exhorted their people to take the gospel to their neighbours and further afield into the surrounding region and regions. Some of the pastors complained to me that evangelistic zeal was somewhat lacking in the churches. Perhaps that is true, but I thought to myself that going from zero to over a dozen churches and several current church plants in barely thirty years does not speak to me of a lack of zeal, and perhaps, inspired by their example, we need to reflect on our own commitment to gospel proclamation.