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Togo June 2016

Lome, Togo May 27 - June 10, 2016

We are collaborating with the Ecole Supérieure Baptiste de Théologie de L'Afrique de l’Ouest (ESBTAO), translated West African Baptist Advanced School of Theology. They are an African led seminary training students for pastoral ministry, missionary service, teaching in Bible Institutes, and assisting Bible translation projects throughout Western Africa.

Follow along as teachers in the field offer their experiences as they share theological training with local church leaders.

Field Notes   Togo June 2016

Jun  10th,  2016African Theologians

Our time at ESBTAO is drawing to a close. We have delivered our final lectures. The students have written their exams. In a matter of hours we will head to the airport for the series of flights that will take us home. 

It has truly been an honor to walk through the theology of the Old Testament with the students this week. Although at times it feels like it is difficult to communicate in a different culture and a different language with the clarity that you could communicate at home, there are moments when it becomes clear that the students are right there with you and are clearly grasping the material. I had several of these moments in the last two days of class. Yesterday I taught on the New Covenant in the prophets. I was working hard to lead them to see how the New Covenant relates to everything we had studied so far. After we read the staggering words of Jeremiah 33:19–22, the students were able to identify language from the covenants with Creation, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David in the passage. One student raised his hand and said, “So are you saying that all the other covenants are wrapped up in the New Covenant?” I clapped. Yes, I said. That is exactly what I am saying. This was a huge win for our class because it represented not just a key concept but the fact that the students were able to get there by making connections from their observations of the text.This is significant in a continent where much education is based on rote memorization. Praise God. We have been, by his grace, effective in communicating some key truths of Scripture for these students. 

Most of the  students will go on from earning their "Licence" (BA equivalent) in Theological Studies to do pastoral or ministerial work in and around the city of Lomé. I have talked to students who intend to pastor or plant churches and to students who intend to do evangelism in the unchurched Northern regions of the country and to students who hope to open orphanages. All of them take their studies extremely seriously, because unlike the US where higher education is treated as a right, here it is correctly recognized as a privilege—a privilege that few can afford. At the end of our course, I was able to talk briefly with two students who seemed to be understanding the material especially well. They were making connections and clearly explaining concepts to other students. When I asked them what they hoped to do after graduating from ESBTAO, both indicated that they had some interest in graduate studies and possibly teaching. As I warmly encouraged them in this I could see their eyes soften and their spirits lift. They told me that they dream and talk together about going to graduate school and teaching someday, but no one has ever encouraged them in this. It was a beautiful moment as what I saw in them was also confirmed by what they felt in their own hearts. I encouraged them to pray, study, and continue to seek the counsel of their communities in this, but if possible to press on toward their dream of teaching Bible and theology in Africa. Africa needs homegrown theologians. Though the challenges are legion, I pray for the day when there will be no need for organizations like TLI to send professors to ESBTAO.



Alex Kirk, with Meghan Kirk and Tim Trouten in Lomé, Togo

(Alex is an International Trainer with TLI)


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Jun  3rd,  2016A Day at ESBTAO

We have made it through the first week of teaching, and so the team is beginning to settle into the rhythm of life here at ESBTAO. We get up about 7:00 each morning and after quickly freshening up we walk across campus to the Allaboe’s house for breakfast at 7:30. I take my notes with me because class starts at 8:00. After a quick breakfast, I walk the 50 paces from the Allaboe’s house to the class room, Nescafe in hand, and we begin. My course runs three hours a day with an hour break at 10:00 for chapel, prayer, or small groups. We finish at 12:00. After lunch I essentially have “free time” but there is plenty to stay busy. African culture is very relational, so one could easily just wander around campus getting into conversations all afternoon. As a visiting prof this is a beautiful way to get to know the students and the community of the school, but by 2:00 I normally find my way to the small bibliotheque to prepare the next day’s lessons. 

I love studying in the bibliotheque because I can brush shoulders with the students as they work on their papers and daily assignments. Every teacher prepares differently, but during my prep time I like to read over the next day’s notes and asses how the class is doing in terms of grasping the material. Did they grasp it easily or do we need to spend more time on some key examples? Given the kinds of questions they raise what would be most helpful for them? Today, as we discussed the unfolding narrative of redemption and then looked at the role of the law in the book of Leviticus, there were lots of questions about the application of OT law to the modern church. I got questions about everything from Boko Haram to ritual uncleanness that comes with child birth and menstruation to public urination. In light of this I am thinking about changing the major assignment for the class from a research paper on an OT doctrine to a practical exercise in how to interpret the OT. We are covering a ton of content, but if this material is not practical in these students’ ministries then, in one sense, we have failed. It is clear that the students are working hard and so I hope to make every page they read, hour they spend in class, and assignment they complete build their faith and further their ministry.

By 6:00 the library closes up and Tim begins teaching his NT theology class, which runs from 6:00–9:00. I’ll maybe study an hour or two more in our room, or just hang out around campus—maybe playing a game of “Cache-cache” (aka Hide and Seek) or “foot” (aka Soccer) with the Allaboe kids. The Togolese pace and community is a true joy—despite the fact that everyone is working very hard and is very busy, no one seems rushed. It is a long day, however, for the students because every single one of them is taking both of our classes. The only exceptions are some non-degree seeking students who work full-time and can only come to Tim’s. When Tim finishes teaching at 9:00, we eat dinner at the Allaboes, spend some time debriefing, and head for bed.

Although it looks very different than the theological schools that I am used to, the nuts and bolts are all the same. In fact, I have been repeatedly surprised by how much similarity I find amongst the many differences. In the midst of an impoverished country that struggles with much false or poor teaching here is a community that cares about learning for the sake of bettering the lives of their people through the Gospel. 




Alex Kirk, in Lomé, Togo with Meghan Kirk and Tim Trouten


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May  31st,  2016We Are Designed to Rule with God

Our team arrived in Lomé, Togo on Saturday evening just before the sun went down. We had the pleasure of entering the country through a brand new airport terminal that failed to deliver many of the promised culture shocks of African customs and immigration. Director Allaboe, our national partner here, picked us up from the airport and drove us about 5 minutes through the city of Lomé to the campus of the school where we’ll be living and teaching for 2 weeks, Ecole Superieure Baptiste de Theologie de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, or ESBTAO. In English this is, more or less, "The West African Advanced Baptist School of Theology."

The Allaboes are beautiful hosts. They live on the campus grounds and we eat three meals a day in Madame Allaboe’s dinning room. With the help of her two oldest daughters (13 & 14) and Meghan (!) she cooks for all the school’s visiting professors whether African, North American, or French. Madame Allaboe also runs something of a “store” on campus as well as taking care of student housing and other necessary arrangements. Director Allaboe is in charge of faculty, curriculum, recruitment, as well as teaching and writing his PhD. The Allaboe’s are as sacrificial and hardworking a ministry couple as I have ever witnessed. Their entire lives are completely given to this school.

In the first few days here, I have been deeply impressed by the Allaboe’s, their school, and their students. Though they are operating with ten times fewer resources than an inner-city high school they are providing a sound theological education for all of Francophone West Africa. Students in my class come from Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast, and Cameron. The understaffed faculty is extra busy this week because they are working on graduating a class of students in June. These students will be graduating with their BA and they have to turn in two major assignments to finish—a 25-30 page personal confession of faith and a 45-50 page thesis. This is more rigorous than many US seminaries. It is clear that though there is no AC, the wifi is spotty, the classrooms are unfinished, and the library is about the size of a North American pastor’s, these students are studying hard to prepare for their future ministries. Many of them are already serving churches, and I have talked to others who intend to return to their home villages to pastor and evangelize. 

I am now two days into my course in Old Testament Theology, and have been nothing but encouraged by the way the students engage with the material. This morning, after I lectured for thirty minutes on the meaning of “the image of God” in Genesis 1, a student asked what I meant when I said we are designed to “rule” with God? In my country he said, a dictator rules—and his authority is brutal, absolute, and final. So what do you mean when you say we rule over creation? As we looked back at the text, I steered them to Gen 2:15 and suggested that we are to rule as gardeners bringing order out of chaos, just as God did in creation, or as a loving father, caring and providing for those over whom we have been given authority. It was a beautiful moment to see the students' heads nodding in appreciation as this crucial distinction became clear.



Alex Kirk

International Trainer, TLI

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