"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." Mother Teresa
James Adoukpo grew up in a family made up of voodoo worshipers. All the way up until the age of 30 he was enjoying all the worldly pleasures of money, women, drinking, and drugs until he saw the love of Jesus. Once committing his life to Jesus he turned his life around and started living the way God wanted him to. Then in the 1990s Mercy Ships came to Togo and he began working on the ship as a day worker. Since then the ship has visited Togo 5 times and each time James is one of the first people they call to hire. Throughout his time with the ship he became close friends with one of our crew leaders, Lawrence. Lawrence pushed James to follow Gods calling on his life and to start a church. Soon the ship left and James was left this call upon his life with no money or resources. So he decided to go start preaching at the fishing port with the same type of guys that he once was. Throughout the week he would stop by and preach and offer prayer to these fishermen. Through his preaching a few people cam to know Christ but he knew that he must persevere on. I wont go into all the details but over some time James went to do some training and continued his evangelistic work and soon became Pastor James. Also as part of his calling he felt God wanting him to go and start a church in the middle of one of the poorest places in Togo, the fishing village. Getting to know Pastor James and his family and the struggle and heartaches that they went through during this time and since this time will bring tears to your eyes and renewed faith to your heart. At one time, James and his wife with 5 of their children, were living in a one bedroom palm leaf hut with a leaky tarp roof that connected to the fish smoking stacks. All day and night thick black smoke would fill their room and cover their clothes. After hearing this story and many others I asked James if there was ever a point in his ministry where he had felt angry at God or as if God had forgotten him and his family. He replied saying "I serve a good God that is loving and kind and has provided me and my family for all our daily needs. It is an honor and privilege to serve such an amazing Father." Another missionary came to know Pastor James through his preaching at this church and also through the outreaches he did in the northern parts of Togo. After being friends for some time this missionary came to Pastor James house and saw the abject poverty that him and his family were living in. He quickly decided to help them and was able to find them a healthy place to live. Pastor James continued to preach, do bible studies, disciple other ‘pastors’, do missionary work in northern Togo, support both women’s and children’s ministry, and prayed fervently throughout it all.
One Sunday in 2010 after the ship had arrived in Togo I found myself in a car filled with Mercy Ships crew heading over to this ‘fishing village church’. Driving down the dusty uneven road my eyes scanned the poverty that played out before me. I saw rows of shacks made from palm leaves and tarp roofs, with smoke pouring in and through them. I saw children playing in piles of trash wearing little to no clothes. As we drove closer to the church I saw yards and yards of fishing nets spread out on the beach with men all working busily to patch up holes and reinforce their nets. The land rovers continued to bump along the road that soon turned into pure sand. We slowly plowed through the thick sand and I was astounded at the many chocolate faces that popped out of their leaf houses to take a peek at the ‘yovos’ (white people)passing by. But unlike other places in Togo, many of these faces were not full of the smiles and teeth that I am so use to but instead saw blank faces and arms stuck to their sides. That is when I realized that this place was like no place I had visited before on my Mercy Ships journey yet it brought back memories of some of the places I visited while in Haiti. We continued on and soon found our car parked in a sand pit next to a bamboo stick church. The driver exclaimed “Okay we’re here.” As I got out of the car I was quickly surrounded by bright smiles and little dirt covered hands all trying to inch their way into my own. I plodded my way through the thick hot sand towards the bamboo church and felt a sense of peace and joy pouring out of this little place. The church soon filled with fishing village people and a few Mercy Ships crew. As we went to sit on the wood benches, Pastor James quickly approached and brought up right up front and center (a common African church tradition for guests) and placed in one of their luxury plastic chairs that included a back. During the first hour of the service I felt pretty uncomfortable due to being 'front and center' but by the end of the 3 1/2 hour service i was SO happy I had the luxury seat compared to the wooden bench.
Pastor James spoke that day and talked to us about spiritual darkness. He went on to tell us that the fishing village that surrounded this church was full of idol/ voodoo worshipers. Each house had a idol, each family made sacrifices, every night there was chanting. As he spoke my thoughts flashed back to the blank faces that stared at us as we drove in. These men, women, and children, were stuck in this way of life. This bondage. My heart hurt for them and was angry that the devil had tricked them into thinking that this was the only way they were going to live. My mind then raced through all the different aspects of poverty I had seen while driving into this poor village. Human and animal feces everywhere, trash piles in every open space, the water well area uncared for and falling apart, drunken men and women laying on all sides of the street, babies crying sitting in the sand with no mother in sight, children with bellies that looked as if they were 9 months pregnant, a 2 year old sucking on a rusty piece of metal, little girls picking through trash to find some food to eat… I am crying as I write this knowing that these are the things I saw just in a few hours. I cant imagine what I would see if I were there throughout the day and night never mind living there. As we drove back that day my heart was heavy and overwhelmed by all the physical and spiritual oppressions that surrounded that place. I then thought on God and the fact that these are His children and that he feels the same way i am feeling by 1000x's more. I wanted to help, but how.
During those next couple weeks my heart could not settle or forget the things that I had seen and the words in which I heard Pastor James preach. I felt God asking me to do something about it but what, how. Then the next Sunday I decided to go back to this same church. The drive hadn’t changed and the faces still remained expressionless as we drove through the village. But as we approached the church I could feel that darkness lift as the light shone bright from that little Jesus church. Again we came and were seated up front in one of the luxury seats. Then the dancing began, then some singing, then some more dancing, oh yea and more singing. As we all wiped the sand from our skirts and our foreheads (we were dancing really hard) the sermon began. This time Lawrence preached and talked about using our skills that God has given us. At the end he asked us to bow our heads and pray that God would show us more. As I prayed I thought about the poverty that surrounded me. I prayed, asking God to show me how to help. I felt God telling me to use the skills he has given me. "But how?" I pleaded. And as I opened my eyes I looked up and saw the congregation praying and praising God with pure trust and dependence. "Start here."
Okay what skills do i have. Well I'm a nurse. I know about health. Okay I'll do that. I then went and talked with Lawrence and James about starting up a health education class with the congregation. I would go once a week or every other week depending on my work schedule. I would teach from a variety of subjects like malaria, wound care, clean water, immunizations, infection control, etc. I would then challenge them to go out and teach the same lesson in their community or at least to their families. It started off a little rough but grew into a beautiful thing. And by the end of our Togo outreach I was so sad to say goodbye to this little fishing village and all the amazing friends that I made along the way.
After the ship left I decided to go back to Togo not once but twice. Both times I was able to meet up with Pastor James and his family. The second time I stayed in their home for 10 days and was treated like a queen. My main purpose on going their the second time was to specifically help this fishing village church. Myself with three CHE trainers (Community Health Evangelism trainers) did a health assessment of some of the children after getting approval from the 3 chiefs and over 10 elders of the village. On that day we screened about 60 kids but had 100’s that we were unable to check out due to limited time and resources. The results of this health assessment was ridiculous. (refer to old blog for more info). We had high percentages of almost every disease we tested or checked for. After doing this assessment the church formed a CHE committee who would be trained to train people about different health lessons and also to do community projects to help improve their area. Two days after the screening I returned back to Ghana to continue my work over there. I was so sad saying goodbye to this family that I had grown to love in so many ways. I wasn’t sure if I would ever see them again in this world but I was so excited to see all that God would do through this amazing family and the fishing village church.
About 6 months after leave, while in Sierra Leone, there was much talk about which country we would go to next. Liberia, Congo, Guinea, Benin, Togo. Then one evening it was announced that we would be returning to Togo. My eyes widened and my heart jumped and i may have actually screamed out loud. Opps!
So after leaving Sierra Leone and taking a quick break in Ghana we arrived back in the lovely country of Togo. I, of course, have been attending the fishing village church each week and was so happy to see the amazing changes already happening since one year ago. We no longer worship and dance in sand but instead are in a cement building with walls AND a roof. One of the Mamas came up and said to me in Ewe (the local language) “we now can worship and praise God with rain, wind, and storms because we know this building has a firm foundation.” Pastor James vision is to change this village into a Jesus loving village by helping the community and even building a school on top of the church. This is just one of the many visions and desires he has for the future.
After talking with Pastor James on and off for the past two years and seeing his heart and his church i was surprised this year when i returned that attendance was about the same if not lower than when i was here before. So last weekend while at James house for a meal I asked him why his attendance was still the same if not lower. He went on to tell me that all the villages surrounding and including the fishing village are made up of fishermen and jobs attached to fishing. "So you are either a fisherman, a net fixer, a fish smoker, a fish seller, etc. and many of these families are from other countries (mainly Ghana). So they come here to fish, make money, and then go home. Because of this the village is ever changing and those that have been living here long have fallen into idol worship." I then proceeded to ask him about how CHE was doing working in his community. He went on to tell me that they needed 100$ to start the program but due to the incomes of the church members that number has not been reached. Time and time again different hardships, and barriers have held back this church from moving forward and i KNOW that this is nothing short but the scandalous work of the devil and his love of poverty. But then I remember back to a time we were talking in 2010 and he said that all he has ever needed was God and he trusted that everything else would work out according to His plan. He went on to talk about that no one could do what he was doing or continue dealing with all the hardships that he has dealt with if they weren’t specifically called to do so. He has said time and time again that he KNOWS that God has called him to this voodoo loving, poverty stricken, village to bring the light of Jesus to those in darkness. Getting to know him over these past two years and hearing all the ridiculous stories that he has been through he has definitely counted it all JOY and gained everything by his perseverance. Pastor James is a man who has shown me what true servanthood to God looks like.
So here I am back in Togo and feeling a deep urge to want to help again but this time in a new way. This time I want to have you guys help as well. Pastor James is a man of God and his life is a testimony to that. I would love to raise some money for his church and the vision that he has for it and I would like you to join me. I do not think it is by chance that I am back in Togo. I do not think it is by chance that I have gotten to know Pastor James, his family, and is church over the past two years. And I do not think it is by chance that God has put this on my heart to help this church not only with prayer (which it needs a lot of) but with our finances. I feel very strongly about only giving when the Spirit prompts and to those I really feel like God has put on my heart, and this is one of those situations.
We are here in Togo until June at which time the ship will be leaving. But I believe that our blessings can go well beyond June. I personally have had friends supporting me from before I left Chelmsford almost 3 years ago and I thank God for each one of them and their willingness to give. I would not be here today if it wasn't for their sacrifice to me and a calling i felt upon my life to join Mercy Ships. In that same spirit, please join me in supporting this church and the vision that God has put on their hearts to increase His kingdom.
If you have any questions please email me. To give you an idea of how helpful even the smallest gift can be, most families in Togo live on around 2$ a day. So if you feel God leading you to give 2$ then you have just supplied a family with their daily bread.
Corinthians 9:7 (NLV) Each man should give as he has decided in his heart. He should not give, wishing he could keep it. Or he should not give if he feels he has to give. God loves a man who gives because he wants to give.
If you would like to donate money you can put money in my Mercy Ships account OR write me a check and send it to my parents. Either way please write me a note or them so that we can keep track. I am hoping to be able to give the church the total amount by the middle of April. Then over the next 2+ months I will hopefully be able to take some pictures and send some updates of the continued work and ministry provided by your blessings.
Thank you for reading and please keep this in your prayers.
Thank you for reading and please keep this in your prayers.