A Moment Decades in the Making
In a remote village in northern Togo, a pastor is able to share God’s Word — the result of decades of mission work in the country.
Lambombik is not a Christian, but on a day this past February, he heard God’s Word from one of God’s shepherds — something that would not have been possible just a few years ago.
During Harmattan in Togo — the time of year when the north wind blows off the Sahara Desert, drying out eyes, kicking up dust and grit everywhere, and creating a perpetual haze easily mistaken for smog — it is not possible to reach Lambombik’s village of Sankpong by plane. The village, which is in the far northern reaches of Togo about an hour from the closest city of Dapaong, is sometimes only reachable by motorcycle down the rough dirt road.
Yet, God’s Word has had a profound impact on Sankpong since the Rev. Remi Lare Lambon planted a Lutheran church here during his vicarage a few years ago. Michel Paru, president of the congregation, said that before the church was here, the village was full of hatred and conflict.
But now, he said, “these things have diminished greatly. We have compassion for one another. It has changed lives a great deal.”
On that February day, Lambon visited the home of Kanlou and SaaLalipak Lamboni, Lambombik’s brother and sister-in-law. Their home is simple: huts made of mud brick and grass thatch that encircle an open-air common area.
Kanlou has done well in his business — well enough to afford a few rooms made of cinder blocks with tin roofs. Walls between each hut complete the compound. Just outside, a deep green mango tree reaches for the sky and spreads its branches wide — an excellent gathering place during the heat of the day.
It’s a simple visit under the mango tree. There is prayer, a devotion on Rom. 1:8–12 and pastoral care, particularly for SaaLalipak. Like his brother, Kanlou does not attend church with her.
In the cool shade of the mango tree as the searing sun climbs the sky, both Kanlou and Lambombik sit quietly and hear God’s Word. That Word begins to do its work in them. As the visit comes to a close, Lambombik expresses interest in attending church soon because he has been impressed with what he has heard. He also has noticed the changes in the village. The youth are more respectful, and there is more harmony. He hopes the work Lambon is doing strengthens and grows.
God’s Word has had a profound impact on Sankpong since the Rev. Remi Lare Lambon planted a Lutheran church here.
This moment has been decades in the making. LCMS mission work first began in Togo in 1981 when the Rev. Walt DeMoss started working in Lokpano, a village two hours outside of Dapaong. DeMoss and his wife, Helena, along with other LCMS missionary families, worked in northern Togo, planting churches and training evangelists for nearly 20 years. To this day, the Christian doctrine course they developed based on Scripture and the Small Catechism is still in use, helping the Togolese understand the Christian faith and grapple with the animistic and Muslim worldviews that surround them.
The work begun by DeMoss and others grew, until in the late 1990s it was time to establish a more formal program to put in place the last piece needed for national pastors to be ordained and sent out: a theological training center. Located in Dapaong, this new center was called the Centre Luthérien d’Etudes Théologiques (CLET), or the Lutheran Center for Theological Studies in English. The first Togolese pastors for the young Lutheran Church of Togo (ELT) were ordained in 2002.
“Before 2002, because of the work of Rev. DeMoss and those who followed, we had trained evangelists but we did not have any ordained pastors,” said the Rev. Kolani Lambon Lare, president of the ELT. “Now we have 19 ordained pastors and 24 evangelists.”
Lare was in that first graduating class in 2002 and was ordained when he completed his vicarage. Lambon followed the same course, completing his studies in 2011. He was ordained in 2015.
What started as a center to train Togolese pastors has since expanded into an international partnership between confessional Lutheran church bodies across Francophone Africa — all the countries in Africa that speak French as the national language. Today, men from Togo study with men from the Ivory Coast, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and even from far off Burundi.
The CLET compound doesn’t look much different from other schools in the area. But one thing sets it apart: its singular focus on teaching men the pure Word of God.
“The in-depth theological education is the most important thing that takes place here,” emphasized the Rev. Souk Kombondjar, director of the CLET, “so that the students may preach purely the Word of God and rightly administer the Sacraments.”
The campus itself aids in maintaining this focus. The classrooms, offices and chapel are arranged around a towering cross in the center of the campus. The education is further reinforced by a daily schedule that revolves around the prayer offices of Matins and Vespers, where students find great joy in strengthening their practical knowledge of the historic liturgy and caring for their future congregations through faithful worship practices.
The LCMS has provided theological educators like the Rev. Micah Wildauer to assist in the education of more men who would be pastors. Wildauer describes the CLET as a place that “brings men of all ages from throughout Francophone Africa to form them and to train them to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen again for our salvation.”
Building Up the Church
The Rev. Frederick Reinhardt, LCMS missionary and area facilitator for Francophone Africa, has been encouraged to see the mission work done by the LCMS in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s pay off as congregations have formed national church bodies.
Each of these Francophone Lutheran church bodies contributes to the financial well-being of the CLET, but it is the LCMS they look to for theological education.
“The LCMS as a church body is very well-known for its top-notch education. Our Lutheran schools and seminaries are world-renowned,” Reinhardt explained. “We bring that expertise to Africa so that the churches here can learn and one day have independent educational institutions of their own.”
Looking toward the future, the hope is that more French-speaking Lutheran church bodies will join in this partnership to train pastors and send students like Lambon to the CLET in Dapaong so that Christianity can grow throughout Africa.
Thanks to the education and training Lambon received at the CLET, he was able to tell Lambombik — and many other unbelievers — of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. The seed has been planted. There is a church and pastor to water it. The Holy Spirit is present in Word and Sacrament, and that seed will grow in Sankpong as He wills it.
Because of decades of dedicated mission work in Togo, this same story is repeating itself across Francophone Africa as pastors are trained at the CLET and sent out to the harvest.
Peter Slayton, manager of social media with LCMS Communications, and Erik M. Lunsford, managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications, talk about their recent journey to Togo to document the story of the Lutheran church there during a “Faith’n’Family” program.
Pray with Us
God of all nations, You continue to send forth Your Word through Your servants. We thank You for the work of the CLET, and we pray that You bless those who teach and those who learn there. Be with the Lutheran Church of Togo and the church bodies served by the CLET. Bless those who preach Your Word and administer Your Sacraments. Give them Your Spirit to proclaim the Gospel in its purity and to administer the Sacraments according to Your will. Engender faith in those who hear their proclamation, and bless Your Church in all lands. In Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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