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Togo April 2017, ESBTAO School

Lome, Togo April 7-22, 2017

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. Courses: OT Wisdom Literature NT Exegesis: Gospel of Mark

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

Field Notes   Togo April 2017, ESBTAO School

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Apr  21st,  2017Satan in Togo

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      Mawenah raised his hand and said, “This passage teaches us that Satan can come among believers.” I was a little puzzled. We had just read the passage in Job 1 where Satan and YHWH discuss the case of Job. I had asked the class what observations they could make about the role of Satan from these verses. Wrongly guessing at the intent of Mawenah’s question, I gave an unhelpful answer about the meaning of “the sons of God” gathering before YHWH (Job 1:6). During the break Koffi came to talk to me. “You see,” he explained, “there is a debate in our context about whether Satan has power over the life of believers. Many people here associate Satan with sorcerers, witchcraft, and demon possessions. They believe that Satan is trying to kill you with magic all the time, and so people in the churches are anxious to know whether the power of Christ can protect them from such things or whether Satan can still kill them even if they are a Christian. This is a big debate.” So this is where Mawenah’s question was headed—if Satan can afflict Job then that means that Satan can “come among believers,” i.e., afflict them.

     Whew. It doesn’t matter where you teach, the passages about Satan will raise lots of questions, but these questions were a little different from the ones I was ready for. I decided to spend a bit more time the next day trying to think through the role of Satan in the life of believers. We started by clearly describing Satan’s role in the Old Testament. Satan is not a name, but a title. In Hebrew he is actually called the satan, and “satan” simply means “accuser” or “adversary.” If YHWH is the judge then the satan is like the prosecuting attorney. He is the opponent of God’s people who brings whatever charges he can against them to see what will stick (see Zechariah 3:1–5) and incites them to sin (see 1 Chron 21:1). Second, as a result of this we see that everything the satan does is under the authority of YHWH. The satan is a part of his heavenly court and his actions are limited by YHWH (Job 1:6, 12; 2:6). Nevertheless, the satan can certainly afflict believers—Job obviously, but also Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness and Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” are attributed to the satan/the devil.

    My point in all of this is that the work of Satan is under the authority of God for his glory and for the growth of the church. Without adversity we would not grow. Without trials and temptations we would never be refined (Rom 5:3–5; Jas 1:2–4). In this way we can see that in God’s design, Satan plays a thankless but necessary role in testing believers to refine them and prove their faithfulness. There is no justice without a good prosecution.

    The students seemed to be blown away by the idea that the role of Satan could be understood to have a positive aspect in God’s plan. They found this deeply encouraging, especially when they could see clearly the limits of Satan’s power over believers. So yes—Satan can “come among believers,” but this is very different than saying that Satan “has power over believers.” I will not deny for a moment that there are evil spiritual forces in the world, but we are not at the mercy of some Voodoo sorcerer. In fact, we can boldly proclaim the empty power of such things because on the cross Jesus triumphed over all spiritual evil. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13).

Alex Kirk
International Trainer, TLI
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Apr  20th,  2017The Bible: Our Common Language

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Our teaching is complete here at ESBTAO in Togo. Tomorrow (Friday) is the final exam, and then we head to the airport for the long trip home. While the students are presumably studying ferociously, we enjoyed a long dinner and conversation with Director Allaboe this evening.

 

Despite what often feels like a slow pace to the class, it is quite incredible to look back at the ground we have covered. Despite working through a translator and cultural differences, we have discussed many exegetical principles, theological motifs, and passages from Mark in detail. We have discussed the nature of pastoral ministry to the suffering, how to prepare a sermon, and eschatology. The breadth of the class has indeed been great (partially by my purpose, and partially because of their questions).

 

The more that I get to know the students, the more impressed I am, and the more honored I am to be a part of their lives, albeit for a few short weeks. We have students from at least three countries, who have left family and security behind, who plan to be pastors and missionaries and church planters, even in Muslim-majority parts of Africa. It is easy to see their sharp intellects by their comments in class, but in the conversations during breaks and after class is when I have made friendships. Today, for example, we spoke to a student who speaks four languages (French, English, Ewe, Kabye, his tribal language), and wants to plant churches in northern Togo in a nominally Muslim region. He is a fairly quiet student in class, but I saw a tremendous strength to his character.

 

We eat three times a day at the Allaboes' house, and there is often another visitor(s). Our conversations around the table at meals have been fascinating. Through them, I have learned an incredible amount about many things--the status of the church and theological education in francophone West Africa, for one, not to mention the insights into central African politics. Director and Madame Allaboe obviously understand West Africa, but he has spent a lot of time in the West for studies, so he has a unique ability to share his insights regarding the differences and similarities between the West and Africa, what works and what doesn't, and how to best move forward.

 

Yet, in the midst of the cultural avalanche, we are here to teach the Bible, and the students are here to learn the Bible. In many respects, it's our common language. I have prepared for months, and still wound up re-working most of the first week. Each day means several hours of prep, followed by three hours of teaching. The prayer and hope and goal is not mere information transfer. We want to see a wave of young pastors who fall in love with God, who treasure and understand His Word, and who are compelled by His Spirit to serve Him by serving His church. To that end I pray, that a deeper understanding of Scripture, and the Gospels in particular, would be the seeds of a powerful movement of churches in West Africa.
Kevin Sheahan

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