A Knock at Our Door: Reaching Africans in a Patronage Culture

by Oct 4, 2023Field Updates

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It was early days in our term, living on the hospital compound, when one summer Saturday morning, there was a knock at our door.  It was “Adam” – a local Togolese man who worked in construction with my husband, Nate.  To be brutally honest, I wondered what it was he wanted:  help? money? the use of our motorcycle? We sat down on the front porch, expecting him to ask for something, but he simply came to greet us.  He stayed for 20 minutes, asked about our family, chatted about work, and then left.  I was surprised!  Just before he left, he told us he was engaged to be married and that the wedding would be in December.  We congratulated him and then he was gone.

A couple weeks later when his fiancée was visiting from her village, he brought her over to greet us.  My cynical heart thought, “This time he’ll ask for money for the wedding for sure.” But again, they simply sat on our porch drinking coffee, visited for 30 minutes, and then left.  I was befuddled.  Did they truly just want to be friends?

Weeks went by and the relationships grew little by little.  At the same time, I was reading a book about ministering in patronage cultures.  As I was reading and sharing what I was learning with Nate, we were watching this type of relationship unfold in our own lives with Adam and his wife-to-be.  It was like having a manual on how to foster a relationship in a culture so different from ours.

The weekend of the wedding arrived (in this culture a wedding is four days long).  We attended the festivities of the first day and marveled at the ways in which they included us, the only non-Africans at the party.  They were hospitable, of course – that goes without saying.  But they made sure someone was always with us, explaining what was happening and helping us to know what to do next.  During the four days of celebrations which included the marriage, a soccer tournament, and an evening of tribal dancing amongst other things, we began to get to know the members of Adam’s family.  We danced together, ate together, laughed together, traveled together, and worked hard to remember each other’s’ names.

In the weeks that followed, we invited them over so they could learn to make pizza.  Adam, his new wife, and several other family members came over, singing us a greeting song as they came up our walkway.  The afternoon was fun, but again, to be brutally honest, there were several awkward moments.  With two cultures colliding as well as language barriers thrown in, well, there’s bound to be some hurdles to overcome as friendships develop.

In the months that followed, we became closer and closer with this family.  They came to our house; we went to theirs.  We learned what to do, what worked (playing simple games like pick-up-sticks and memory) and what did not work (waffles for dinner were a no-go!). We took them for a picnic beside the hippo pond and they loved running around playing keep-away.  They had us over for dinner and a little dance party.  As time passed, we grew to love each of them more and more. 

Doing life with Adam’s family became more and more important to us.  Greeting people is so important in this culture.  If I hadn’t seen Adam for about 2 days, he would call just to say hello and let us know the family greeted us all. 

At the end of May, we really felt that it was time to ask Adam and his wife to do a Bible study with us.  They both agreed that they would come on Monday nights for dinner and a time to discuss what the Bible says.  Adam called the afternoon of the first Monday.  I was certain he was going to cancel but (again) I was wrong.  He called to let me know that more of the family wanted to come.  I asked how many? (My Western mindset of needing to know how many were coming was still alive and well.) He said maybe six.  I asked him if he meant six more or six total.  He wasn’t sure.

That evening, we had seven people come to our house for dinner and Bible study.  And from that night on, every single Monday night, we fed and then studied The Word with a group of Togolese Muslims, sometimes five of them, sometimes eight or nine.  We never knew how many would come through the door.

We decided to use The Story of Hope – a chronological study of the Bible starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation.  Not only was it available in French, but we also felt that they wouldn’t really disagree with the Old Testament stuff; the trouble would arise when Jesus came on the scene. Week after week they came.  Week after week, hijab-covered-heads leaned in over shared Bibles, reading the Truths held within.  We finished The Story of Hope and asked if they wanted to continue or stop studying. They wanted to continue.  For weeks we had talked of Jesus, who He is, what He did, what He said, and though they asked great questions, it surprised us that they never were offended or upset by what we shared.

We continued to study scripture and worked through the book of 1 John.   Shortly after completing 1 John, I had an interesting conversation with Adam.  We were talking about marriage and how it’s hard work.  He told me that he had been trying to “love one another” just like we’d been studying in the Bible.  Then he leaned it close like he was about to share an important secret and said, “Mama, the Bible is so full of great wisdom and council!”  I quickly agreed and told him there is so much that we can learn from God’s Word.

A couple weeks later, his wife and I were chatting, looking through a bag of baby clothes she had just bought in market.  As we sat on my bed, oohing and aahing over the adorable little items, she said she had something to tell me.  She shared that had accepted Jesus as her Saviour and wanted to follow Him.  She said that since the moment she prayed, she had felt so much peace and joy in her heart.  We celebrated together that day and began praying together regularly for the salvation of Adam as well. 

We were close to the end of our two-year term in Togo, had wrapped up the book of 1 John but still had a few weeks left.  Another missionary had given me some excellent short film options to share with our Togolese family.  We prayed over which one would work best and then chose one called “Marcher Avec Jesus” which means Walking with Jesus.  In the first film, an African chief is saved through the Jesus film.  In the subsequent episodes, the chief makes many positive changes in his life due to his relationship with Jesus.  These short films were an excellent ministry tool and really addressed the issues in the lives of our dear friends.

The week before we were leaving Togo, I had prayed for another chance to speak to Adam and find out where he was spiritually.  God granted that opportunity, and I asked Adam directly what he thought of Jesus. He replied, “Oh Mamma, I have accepted Jesus as my Saviour!  Why do you think I kept coming to all the Bible studies?”  We rejoiced with him and encouraged him in his faith. Adam explained to me that the Walking with Jesus film had really touched his heart.  He didn’t realize before that he could be a Christian but still stay African, just like the chief in the film had done.

As we left Togo the following weekend, it was so hard to say goodbye to this amazing couple who were so new in their faith.  We continue to stay in touch, to share scripture, to pray and to ask the Lord to bring other believers into their lives to continue the process of discipleship.

Our time with our Togolese family was an incredible gift from the Lord.  We did life with them – we laughed together, danced together, celebrated holidays together.  We also wept together when several of their family members passed away.  We shared meals weekly, sometimes more often.  We celebrated their birthdays, our birthdays, our anniversary, and anything else we could think of.  There were times when we wondered what on earth we would say or what we could talk about with them; there were awkward moments and hilarious ones.  The beauty was that it was all of the above – it was real and it was good and it was hard and it was worth it.

Spending those two years investing in this family and knowing that they equally invested in us has reaped a harvest for eternity – and this is not to our glory but to God’s.  I remember asking Adam why he knocked on our door on that summer day.  He told me that it was God who touched his heart to do so. I agreed. And I am eternally grateful that He did.

Nate & Erin Weston recently completed their term in Togo and have returned to Canada.

Nate & Erin Weston

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