Thursday, March 17, 2011

Planes, trains and automobiles

“You wanna fly to Cotonou tomorrow?” So began a four day adventure, the results of which remain to be seen. I had come across the existence of Free Methodist churches in Togo through the American Free Methodist World Missions website recently. A few years ago a Free Methodist from Cameroun initiated a ministry in the capital of Lomé but the ministry has since continued under the leadership of Togolese pastor. I had discussed the possibility of making a connection with the Togolese church with Dan Sheffield, since it’s the only other Francophone country in the region where the Free Methodist Church is present. He agreed that such a connection might be useful in the future but not necessarily our top priority as we prepare to transition back to Canada. The week following my conversation with Dan, the Togolese pastor himself contacted me out of the blue.

In the past we’ve flown to Ghana in a little 4-5 seater plane that SIM makes available to the mission community, though it’s not necessarily cheap. The price for round trip to Lomé was too exorbitant for me to book it and so I had been contemplating the possibility of taking the bus—a 24 hr trip one-way, and probably no A/C. Perhaps that’s why I was taking my time about planning the trip. When Ed offered the ride to Cotonou it was hard to pass up. Cotonou is about a two hour taxi ride up the coast from Lomé.

As chance (God) would have it, I never took that taxi. As we were flying into Cotonou we heard another pilot making arrangements to land with the control tower. She commented that after dropping off her passenger she was continuing on to Lomé. I said to Ed, “Wouldn’t it be nice if she could just take me on to Lomé—that would save me a lot of time and grief.” In Cotonou, we got out of the plane and a couple of pilots walked up.
“Where are you from?” one asked.
“Niamey,” replied Ed. “How about you?”
“Just returning to Lomé,” she replied.
“He’d like to go to Lomé,” Ed put in.
“Oh, come, come” she said, “we just dropped off the future president, we’re empty,” and then grabbed me by the arm and dragged me off with her co-pilot. That chance encounter saved me a visa, a trip through customs, a border crossing and a 2 hr taxi ride. We glided gently down the coast of beautiful sandy beaches at low altitude. Only the pilots had head-phone radios to talk so I contemplated the coastline in silence, as the roar of the engine drowned everything else out. Unfortunately, I never got to visit those beaches.

Back on the ground I easily found the pastor. I settled into the SIL guesthouse and spent the next two days visiting his churches in the area. Pastor Dosseh gives primary leadership to the church in Lomé but then gives oversight to lay church-planters in a couple of villages. He also oversees a church plant in central Togo, in a town called Sokode—it’s considered the Muslim capital of Togo and also his home town. His experience in Muslim ministry has useful potential for collaboration in Niger.

Wednesday morning he took me to the bus station downtown to catch my ride home. The bus was supposed to leave at 11 AM but it still wasn’t repaired… At 3pm we finally hit the road and I waved good-bye to my new friend out the window. The long bus ride home had its own adventures… but I arrived safely and was reunited with my wife and family.

Since then hot season has kicked in and power keeps going out.

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