A Joyful Faith

A letter from Josh Heikkila serving as Regional Liaison for West Africa, based in Ghana

June 2015

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Before moving to West Africa, when I was still working at a church in St. Paul, Minnesota, I got to know some members of the Togolese immigrant community living in the Twin Cities.  They were a wonderful group of people, so when I came to Ghana in the fall of 2009 I looked forward to learning about the church in neighboring Togo.  It has not been a disappointment!  Of all the things I do in West Africa, I think working with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Togo (known by its French acronym EEPT) gives me the greatest joy.

Men from the young adults of the church, playing the drums as choir practice is about to start.

Men from the young adults of the church, playing the drums as choir practice is about to start.

The Togolese partner church is full of incredible music.  During worship, when people join together to sing and dance and the drums and other traditional instruments are played, it’s as if the congregation becomes one living and breathing organism, praising God in unity.  Once last year, at a congregation in the capital city of Lome, as people were singing and dancing together to the beat I had this palpable sense of what it means to be the Body of Christ. We were all individual human beings, with different lives and differing spiritual gifts, but the song brought us together and somehow expressed what it is to be one in Jesus Christ.  That time in worship renewed my spirit.

I also like the church in Togo so much for its commitment justice ministries and holistic development, and for the presence of women who have been lifted up into positions of leadership.

Life has not always been easy for the EEPT.  During decades of a previous dictatorship efforts at evangelism and church planting were discouraged.  As a result, much of the country—especially the northern half—lacks a Christian presence.  The harvest is ripe, and the church is having to relearn how to reach out to these areas with the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Togo, Agoe Nyive, Lome. Sunday offering.
A version of the song “Peace Like a River,” sung in the Ewe language of Togo and Ghana.

This year in a document published by the United Nations—the “World Happiness Report” — Togo was listed as the least happy country on the planet.  For the most part I think the title of the report is inaccurate.  Togo is in fact an incredibly happy and joyful place.  However, the report measures indicators like economic development, life expectancy, corruption, political freedom, and the extent of social support.  It compiles these indicators and calls the result happiness.  In most of these areas Togo certainly does have a long way to go, and the church is doing its part to address them.

Years ago, perhaps in the early 1970s, the EEPT wrote a Declaration of Faith, which congregations recite from time to time in worship on Sunday mornings.  Although the statement is written in French and Ewe (the largest ethnic language in Togo), I’ve made a rough English translation of it:

Declaration of Faith of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Togo

With the Church Universal to which we belong, and in accordance with the Apostles’ Creed, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church finds the source of its faith in Jesus Christ, as testified to in Scripture.

–     We believe that God has a plan for the world in general and for humanity in particular.

–     We believe that human sin is an obstacle to this plan and has made necessary the coming of a Savior. This unique Savior is Jesus Christ our Lord.

–     We believe that God’s plan has been accomplished in Jesus Christ, and in him we wait for its full manifestation.

–     We proclaim that the Church is the community of all those who, under the work of the Holy Spirit, glorify God in Jesus Christ. In so doing, we become Christ’s witnesses and representatives in the world.

On the grounds of a high school which the church runs in the town of Kpalime, there is a farm which produces food for the students. It makes use of a vehicle donated by Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis, IN.

On the grounds of a high school which the church runs in the town of Kpalime, there is a farm which produces food for the students. It makes use of a vehicle donated by Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis, IN.

This is what gives us joy.

I like this statement for its simplicity, and for the image of us—normal human beings—as Christ’s witnesses and representatives in the world.  We are the ones who witness to Christ’s love, peace, justice, righteousness!  God calls us to do this, and it’s a task that gives us joy.  Even when we live in very difficult and challenging circumstances, it still gives us great joy.

Over the past few years I’ve been working hard to connect congregations in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) with our partner in Togo.  Here you have a wonderful opportunity to support evangelism efforts—especially in the north of the country—and along with them, projects in education and health.  By supporting these projects, you can help bring about transformation in the country.  At the same time, anyone who does this work will be spiritually nourished by the deep, lively, and incredibly joyful faith of our Togolese partners.

Again I want to thank you for the resources you contribute, which allow me to support our common ministry in West Africa.  I believe you have heard of the financial challenges Presbyterian World Mission is facing, so please be generous in your giving, as you are able.  You financial support enables me and my colleagues to continue this important work.

To go back to the words of the Declaration of Faith, this work gives us joy.  I hope you will join together with me in it and also experience this joy.

Josh

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 131


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