Total Eclipse

1 04 2006

Last Wednesday (Mar. 29th), our little corner of the world was treated to a rare sight – a total solar eclipse.

I took this picture while I was in Tabligbo (southern Togo) after having picked up our good friend and mentor, Mark Berryman who had come for a visit. Up in Kara, the eclipse wasn’t quite a total one, but Tracey and the boys still enjoyed what they saw (through special UV blocking glasses of course!)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Togolese people didn’t see any of it. Just about everyone was shut in their houses for fear that they would go blind if they went out during the eclipse. When we went out at 8am, the streets which are normally teeming with activity at that time, were completely deserted. Apparently, the government went a bit overboard in warning people not to stare at the eclipse.

Later in the week, I learned that the Kabiye word for an eclipse (solar or lunar) is alikiesso, which has the transliterated meaning – “Who is swallowing God?”

Now the Kabiye don’t believe that the sun is God, but they do recognize that God is the one who oversees the heavens. So, the word reflects a belief that something must not be right with God if the sun (or moon) is being covered up.

Mark pointed out that this idea may help to bring deeper meaning to the Kabiye understanding of the crucifixion and the darkness which covered the earth at our Lord’s death. Sounds like it will preach to me!


Entering the Stronghold

12 03 2006


The unfamiliar, rhythmic sound greeted us as we made our way up the hill.

Bali, a Christian from the Ajadaa church, had brought me to his home village in the Kabiye mountains – Tchichao Hazi. He knew there was no church in this village and he’d been encouraging us to look into planting a church there. And so, there we were, hoping to talk to the village chief and get his permission to start teaching God’s Word in Hazi.


At the top of the hill we found a large, oddly silent crowd seated in front of a family compound on various large rocks. Standing in the center of the group were two old women.

One was striking a small ax head against a stone. Ping…

The other was hitting a broken piece of gourd with a stick. Thwap…

The chief had told us that we could meet him at this compound. A member of the household had just died and people were meeting there for a wake (of sorts).

“What are they doing?” I asked Bali.
“They are trying to find out why the man died,” he responded.

As we quietly found a rock to sit on, I knew I was about to witness an aspect of Kabiye traditional religion I’d never seen before – a pozitoh or divination. Adding to the ‘ambiance’ were chicken feathers and blood stains from a recent sacrifice (similar to those pictured left) which I spotted on the tree next to where I was seated.


A young man stepped up and stood in front of the two women. On top of the man’s head was a covered basket which sat on an inch-thick ring made out of grass rope.

The ladies continued, ping…thwap…ping…thwap. The man didn’t move.

Suddenly, a sharp cry came from behind the compound and a nervous chuckle rippled through the crowd. I looked at Bali with an inquisitive look. “That’s the voyeur,” he said, “the one who can see.”


The crowd was getting restless. Another sharp cry and then we saw the voyeur running to where the women and young man were standing.

With a quick blow, he knocked the basket off the man’s head. He then picked up the grass rope ring and began gazing into it as he if could see something in it.

He was swaying to the rhythm of the beat, holding the ring with one hand. With his other hand he was rubbing, sometimes slapping, his head, arms and chest. (Later in the day, as I peppered Bali with questions about the ceremony, I discovered that it was a spirit which gave the voyeur the ability to ‘see’ what had caused the man’s death. The voyeur certainly looked possessed.)

Ping…thwap…ping…thwap… The voyeur called for the father of the deceased and an old man went and stood before him. Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

The voyeur and father then began a sing-song exchange in time with the rhythm. Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

“Father?” asked the voyeur.
“Yes?” the old man responded.
“A death.”
“A death?”
“A death.”
“Why a death?”
“Why a death?
“I will tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“A woman.”
“A woman?”
“Yes, a woman.”
“What woman…”

Ping…thwap…ping…thwap… On they went, questioning, answering, repeating each other until the voyeur abruptly threw the ring down and ran off. The women stopped the playing the rhythm.

The crowd relaxed a bit and small, quiet conversations began to start up. I had been able to follow much of the conversation, but I still asked Bali to tell me what the voyeur had said.

Apparently, there had been strife between a woman in this village and the man who died. According to the voyeur, she was the one who caused him to become sick and die. The man’s father had asked who the woman was, but the voyeur said he didn’t know her name and since she wasn’t in the crowd, he couldn’t point her out.

“It’s not over though,” Bali said. “There is another voyeur.”

The ceremony was repeated a second time. Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

The women playing, the young man holding the basket and, of course, the voyeur were different; but everything else was the same. Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

The second voyeur, however, did not reveal much more. Only that the woman was a member of the dead man’s extended family (which for most Kabiye, is quite large.)

After the second voyeur left, the chief and the other old men who had witnessed everything gather together to decide/decipher the word that had been given by the voyeurs. Once everything was decided, a large group of grieving women began singing a sad, wailing song and moved into the compound.

Bali and I were able to greet the chief shortly after all of this had finished. As soon as the chief had heard our request, he called everyone who was still lingering around outside the compound to gather around us and to listen to what we had to say.

I kept my words brief and focused on the truth that God did not create the world for pain, suffering and death. Sin had brought all of that about. But, by his great love and mercy, God has provided a way for us to have victory over sin and death through belief in Jesus Christ. I told the crowd that this was the Word we wanted to teach in their village.

They had a few questions and then thanked us for coming. An older man stated that they needed some time to consider our offer to teach them God’s Word. Most everyone else agreed, so they asked us to come back in about a week (Sun. Mar. 19th) and they would give us a reply.

I left Hazi with a mixture of disappointment (that we hadn’t been fully accepted), wonder (at what I had witnessed), sadness (for the lost souls of that village), excitement (at the potential for what God could do there) and resolve (to pray and fight for the hearts of these people) in my heart.

The scripture quoted on the banner of our team’s e-newsletter, Acts 26:17-18, was on my mind. “I am sending you to them to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan to God.” Never has that verse spoken more truth to me.

I left Hazi knowing that the only way we are going to be able to plant a church in the Kabiye mountains is through more prayer and perseverance than we’ve ever used before.

The mountain region is the heart of Kabiyeland. It is the familial, cultural and religious home of the Kabiye people. For instance, ask any Kabiye person where their home is, and they will give you the name of one of the 7 main Kabiye mountain villages; even if they actually live in a village 50 miles away. (Bali is no exception.)

Also, whenever the time arrives for major Kabiye ceremonies to be performed, there is a mass exodus to the mountains. Funerals, male & female initiations, harvest festivals, etc., everyone goes ‘home’ for these important events.

Because the mountain villages are so important to the Kabiye, we have always recognized the great need for churches to be planted in this area.

Unfortunately, this same area is the most unreceptive to the Gospel as the majority of the Kabiye living there are deeply rooted in ancestral and spirit worship. Whereas fetishes and idols (like the one pictured at the beginning of this post) are less prevalent and/or visible in the ‘remote’ villages in the plains, they are displayed prominently in virtually every mountain village household. More often than not, they are covered with fresh blood stains and feathers from a recent sacrifice.

Our efforts to evangelize in the mountains over the past few years have failed. Whether through flat rejection of the Gospel or a lukewarm faith which quickly became cold, the Word has not been accepted where we’ve tried to sow it. The mountain area is very rocky ground, literally and figuratively (see the parable of the sower in Mark 4).

Still, we – the missionaries and leaders of the Kabiye churches — believe that now is the time for us to enter this stronghold area. Hazi has great potential to be a point of entry. (The fact that the village chief, who is ‘responsible’ for many of the spirits in the area, did not flat out reject us, is very promising.)

Please pray for the village of Hazi.

Pray for the hearts and minds of the people there to be opened.

Pray that the Lord will direct us to men and women of peace in that village (Luke 10:6).

Pray that the Kingdom can be established in some faithful hearts.

Pray that this particular battle can be won and Jesus will quickly win victory in the war for the hearts of the Kabiye living in the mountains.

Pray that we will be bold, truthful, loving witnesses to the Gospel.

Pray that Bali will be able to reflect our Lord’s glory upon the people in his hometown (including his parents), encouraging them to follow his footsteps of faith.




Village Visit Journal 2001 – pt. 4

12 02 2006

The past couple of days, I’ve been out bonding with the elephants and lions in Pendjari Game Park with my teammates. More on that later, maybe… So many potential posts, so little time!

This is the last entry from my time out in the village. I had hoped to post this before leaving, but obviously did not. I was able to dig up a picture of the house where I stayed. It had been abandoned but my teammate Matt and I helped rebuild the place earlier in 2001 as a culture and language learning exercise. I’d love to hear your comments…

Day 4 – Thursday

Even though I was feeling bad, last night (Wed.) turned out to be quite okay. Around 3pm, I went up to the [chief’s] house and got to greet many sulum [millet beer] drinkers. Among them were some French speakers so I could communicate more. I eventually hooked up with the chief’s youngest son, Palaki, [who bears a striking resemblance to Wesley Snipes]. He helped me with [Kabiye] vocabulary and took me to the market.

It did rain, but evidently not long enough. The chief said that an ancestory was causing the rain not to fall, so he is going to sacrifice a chicken to it. I doubt I’ll get to witness it, but who knows? [I did not.]

Today I’m just laying around praying that my ride will come early. I don’t feel well. Hopefully, it is just the hard life of the village that is getting to me. I nice warm shower, soft bed, good night’s rest & talk with my wife will go a long ways toward making me feel better. (I should also add some time on the can too!)

The market was no big deal. I did get to practice my Kabiye more so that was good. I also had deal with some drunks – this is going to be a big challenge [in our minstry], but I know that God is more powerful. I’m sure to write more if my ride doesn’t show up until [the time which was] planned.

Day 4 cont.

What have I learned? Well…

  1. This life is very hard.
  2. I didn’t see the hope of life for these people – without Christ.
  3. People will listen when you speak to them in Kabiye.
  4. This life is hard – the curse of Adam.

Okay – I was just trying to be profound. It has been a good time, but maybe it could have been better. I worked alone & sat alone. It is hard to learn & practice [language] like that. Something to keep in mind next time. I probably should have walked around [the village] greeting people – oh well. In all, it was still a good time. Now, I’m ready to go home & see how my wife and kids are doing.

Village Visit Journal 2001 – pt. 2&3

6 02 2006


Day 2 – Tuesday

“He won the lottery, when he was born!” – from WMA (White, Male American) by Pearl Jam

I always thought that was the truth & it was reaffirmed this morning. I have about 10 blisters on my right and 4 are on one finger!

The sad thing is, I only worked for about 4 hours (including breaks) and only got a 4 ft. deep swath cut out of the weeds around the compound. I guess I did okay, but I’m not sure because there’s been no real feedback.

This afternoon – it is lazing around again, but I shouldn’t complain. Still, I may go & try to greet some people. Tomorrow is market day, so it should be a bit more exciting.

I still haven’t found a French [speaking] companion. That’s okay I guess. Maybe I’m not motivated enough to get out & meet someone. I really don’t feel like taking the initiative – so it is partly my fault.

I did think that I would be around more people. I worked alone today. Maybe tomorrow…

They made some of the rice & beans I brought. It was good, but I’m afraid I offended the ladies by choosing not to put palm nut oil on it. Oh well, they’ll probably just chalk it up to ignorance.

I’m feeling better about bringing the Gospel here. I know I can’t do anything alone & it is the Spirit that will do the heavy lifting. That has been encouraging. More later…

Day 3 – Wednesday

“Thunder that is a low rumble in to one man, is a loud BANG to another.” – silly made-up proverb

There is thunder in the distance but I think it is going to pass [over] here. It rained a tiny bit this morning, maybe it will rain more tonight.

Last night at the local drinking spot, I was told that I would not be left alone for “one minute” [during the day] and many told me they were going to come and work with me – this did not come to pass.

I finished off the part around the house that I missed (there may have been more, I wasn’t shown any though). Then I met the chief & weeded among some corn with him for awhile. He told me to sit down, but I refused. After awhile, though, I got very tired & kinda light-headed. So I went and sat down… That’s what I’ve been doing the rest of this day.

I did shower at the chief’s [house] & was almost exposed to the whole household. Fortunately, things worked out to where I wasn’t!

I wish I was going home today. My leg, back & neck are sore from working. My hands have blisters which are sore. Now, my throat I hurting too. I don’t know if that is work related too or just a bug. Anyways, I’m ready to go home.

Well, I get to check out the market tonight. Hopefully tomorrow will go by fast. We’ll see…


Village Visit Journal 2001 – pt. 1

2 02 2006

This isn’t the post on the giving seminar I promised in our e-newsletter. I’m still organizing my thoughts on that. In the meantime, I hope you find this interesting.

The other day I came across a little notebook I used in our first years here to write down new vocabulary words and phrases I learned while out in the villages. As I flipped through it, I came across some journal entries I had written down during a 4-day, 3-night stay in the village of N’Djei.

I didn’t write down the dates, but I think it was sometime in late May/early June 2001.

Anyways, I thought I’d share with you what I thought about life in the village at this time. Keep in mind, we’d been in Togo for less than a year and that my Kabiye speaking skills were very limited. (Which is why I did the extended village stay in the first place!)

Here’s the first day’s entry…

Day 1 – Monday

Lots & lots & lots of sitting around. And I thought life in Kara was slow! I didn’t get here until about 10:30 – too late to start working in a field, so I sat and watched the ladies cook. Lunch was fine.

Afterwards – I lazed around under the trees, shelled peanuts. Then, everyone – sauf moi [except me] – went to work in the fields. I don’t have a translator yet, so that may be part of the problem. Also, I think they don’t believe I can do the work. Maybe I can’t, but I’m not afraid to try.

Anyways, I got tired of sitting around with the kids, so I went & swept out the hut. It should be a good place to stay.

I am working tomorrow. Hopefully I can hook up with someone who will help me with language. I also reviewed some old language lessons. I need to study more…

The quiet has been good for my thinking/praying time. I will continue to pray, though, that my idle mind will not become the devil’s playground. I am especially praying for pure thoughts. – That’s it for now.

Taking the Lord’s Name

28 01 2006

They call me Essowedeu. In Kabiye, this name literally means “God is good”. I’d say it’s a pretty good name to be remembered by.

Now, I couldn’t tell you what meaning lies behind my given name (I’m sure Bryan means something), but here in Kabiyeland, the meaning of everyone’s name plain as day, for better or worse.

God names are especially popular. We know people named:

Essowe – “God is”

Essosinam – “God helps me”

Essosimna – “God knows”

Essodrong – “God’s strength”

Essohanam – “God gives to me”

Essoyamewe – “God calls and I am”

Essodeke – “God only”

Akiliesso – “Who is greater than God?”

and Mansimaesso – “I know God”

We even have a friend whose name is just plain Esso, “God”.

One of my favorite God names, in the Old Testament prophetic tradition, is Essodizinawe – “God destroys them.” A name like that will make people pause before crossing you. I’m glad the guy is one of our night guardians!

Just about everyone on our team has a God name, which can be a bit confusing at times. Dave is called Essolaba, “God did it”. Matt’s Kabiye name is Essolaki, or “God does it”. Maybe they should have named me Essogalabo which means “God will do it”!

While God names are abundant, they aren’t the only type of name given. We’ve had visitors named for their appearance. For instance, Abalokisemo – “Red Man” – was so named for his red hair and complexion (not because he chewed tobacco.) We’ve also had fun introducing friends with a humorous name like Palolamtombolo, which means “I was born naked.”

Apparently, names are often given to children so as to send messages to others or to mark a recent event. Patamesam, “They can’t hide from me”, was named during a family feud. So were Pewelesinam, “They listen to me” and Taawelesi, “Don’t listen”. (These two names faced off when the former went to the latter’s house to preach the Gospel. Sadly, Taawelesi held true to his name.)

I don’t know the circumstances behind the naming of Aninam, “Who understands me?” and Powokinamle, “Where are they taking me?”, but I bet it is a good story. As a former youth minister, I like to think that it is possible they took these names for themselves when they were teenagers.

Manchasiba, “My father died” was probably named when her grandfather died around the same time as her birth. Sim, or” Death”, was so named because when he was born, a bunch of people had died. (No, he does not wear a black cloak and carry a sickle!)

Still, none of these names are as bad as they could have been. I know a man named Mankpafeye which literally means “I am ashamed”. Yikes!

Like I said before, I’m not sure what Bryan means. So maybe I’m not one to pass judgement.

Still, here’s hoping that Bryan isn’t in the same class as Mankpafeye!