You make us your heifer, pulling the plow, you shape us and train us, showing us how to lean to the left when your strong hand presses, to walk straight ahead, cleaning up messes and tearing out weeds, preparing the way for planting the seed in that soil on the day when all is in readiness, soft dirt tilled, and we press in the seeds till the rows are all filled. You must give the seed; our own is diseased. You must show how to plant it and tend it, then please – you must send the rain that will make the shoots thrive, the rain of what’s right and of hope that’s alive. The roots will go deep, the stems will grow tall, the leaves will shout green and the blossoms will fall to make way for grain that is bred up above: a life-giving harvest of unfailing love.
Back in the ‘80s, when we were just beginning to disciple the slowly growing group of believers in the little village of Tiepogovogo, one of the little boys sitting on the big tree root for Sunday School was Pekaly. I was mentoring young Mariame as the teacher, and she was amazing. The boys were entranced. Who knew that we were participating in the beginning of something bigger than we could have imagined?
It is only with time that pieces of the story have come together, and God’s fingerprints are all over it.
We were at Tcherigaha this past Sunday, celebrating what God has done with the believers there and from all the villages where Pastor Pekaly and his wife Tchomachen have been ministering. There were over 100 people there, and not everyone could make the long trip—transportation is a challenge, and this village is at the edge of Nyarafolo terrioty. In fact, it is peopled by the Palaka, a related language group. Our company of travelers that took off from Lafokpokaha, where Pastor Pekaly and his wife live, included a couple of motos and a three-wheel moto hauling about 9 people in its wagon. When we saw the new church building, unfinished though it is, we couldn’t help having flashbacks to how the story started about 50 years ago.
A few years before Glenn and I arrived in Côte d’Ivoire to begin ministry (that was 1973), a young man in Tiepogovogo was lying down in his little man-hut to go to sleep when he looked up and saw a man robed in glowing white standing at the foot of his bed. “Are you awake, Lacina?” the man said. “Yes!” Lacina answered, “But who are you?” “I am Jesus, and if you follow me many others in this region will too!” Lacina was shocked. “But I don’t know you! And I’ve never been school! How can I find out about you?” “You will see.” And then Jesus left.
Lacina told his good friend Sikatchi, and together they began searching for information. They went to a Catholic church but only heard the name “Mary” repeated. They were with a sick relative at the Baptist Hospital but all was taught in other languages they could not understand. Then it happened: to their astonishment, a young white couple walked into their village, hoping to learn more Nyarafolo—their language helper, Laji, was son of the village chief.
Years later Lacina and Sikatchi told us that they looked at each other and said, “Ah! We are chosen!” They knew that Glenn and I came from the Baptist Hospital. Maybe someday we would be able to inform them. And so eventually it did happen. About four years later they asked us to teach them about Jesus. Using Laji as a translator (he knew a little French), Glenn began teaching them on Wednesday nights. We were in a courtyard gathered around a fire. Some others became believers, so they built a little thatched roof shelter where we could meet on Sundays. By the ‘90s they had built a small cement building where about 20 people could gather. Up until then, Sunday School had been held under the big shady tree; it moved into the thatched shelter.
And Pekaly was one of those kids, truly devoted to Jesus. He was Lacina’s son, an interesting connection! When Mariame and her husband moved south for his education to continue, and civil war began, there was no longer anyone around to teach Sunday School. So Pekaly and his friend Kifory began teaching the kids. He also helped lead church services. When another son of the village, Fouhoton, came home from Bible school to pastor the growing church, Pekaly finally shared with him how much he yearned to also get pastoral training. So he was sent to the Bethel Bible Institute and graduated in 2012. His senior thesis was on the history of how the Good News had come to the Ferke district, where Nyarafolos lived, a testament to his motivation to do evangelism among his people. So few had been reached!
The Baptist Association allowed him to stay in that district since his home church, in Tiepogovogo (population 70), had agreed to send him on mission to plant a church in nearby Lafokpokaha (population 1,000), the largest village in that eastern area. Both Pekaly and Fouhoton had attended the elementary school there and knew the need. Many people identified as Catholic, but few followed any of the teaching once they had a baptismal certificate. We were with the delegation that was sent to Lafokpokaha to meet with the chief and ask for permission to plant a church there. We did not expect the response we got! Yes, the chief said, he would like to have Baptists come: perhaps they could build a hospital there. But the clinching reason was this: when Baptists come, curses stop!
What did he mean by that? Another miracle explained it! Pastor Fouhoton’s wife was from that village and her older sister still lived there. She was married but had never been able to have a baby that lived. Eight babies had either been born dead or, after a few months, had developed blisters all over the body and died. It was known that the woman’s mother-in-law hated her and had put a curse on her. Victorine, a woman of faith, told her sister that if she were to give herself to Jesus, she could have a living child! And her sister began walking the long path between Lafokpokaha and Tiepogovogo every Sunday, learning the Good News and devoting herself to Christ. The next time she was pregnant she gave birth to a live baby girl. Sure enough, in a few months the blisters showed up, but she lived! The whole population saw the miracle, and the little five-year-old girl now also had a little brother, a toddler, who was healthy. The chief saw that as proof that a Baptist church brought good things and should be planted among them.
It was not an easy beginning. Not all the village elders were convinced this should happen, so it took at least a year for Pekaly and his wife to be allotted land there. While waiting, they lived with us in Ferke and commuted to Lafokpokaha weekly. In October 2012 Pekaly had his first meeting with the interested villagers there, gathering under a mango tree adjoining Fouhoton’s in-laws’courtyard, Victorine’s sister’s family. By November ten people had decided to enter the Jesus Road and others were expressing interest. Four of them brought their occult paraphernalia to be burned by the believers as they committed themselves to the Lord. A year later, there were 16 committed believers meeting in a small mud-and-thatch gazebo structure.
It was taking a while for the village elders to agree to give them land for a church, but nevertheless God was at work. On October 27, 2013, we joined the enthusiastic congregation at the church plant in Lafokpokaha for their first birthday. Yes, in just one year the Lord had added 15 new believers to the one that was already in that village, and they had finally been granted land at the edge of the village to eventually build a church. We arrived in time for Sunday School and saw the meeting place filled with about 40 kids eagerly listening to the story of how Jesus healed people, showing his power as God. Then the space filled up again with the congregation and visitors joining for the special day. The emphasis of the message, Glenn’s words of encouragement, and even of the closing song was on continued growth that comes as each one shares with others the Good News. Glenn had gotten ants down his back, necessitating a couple of quick exits to try to shake out the critters, so he used that to remind them that small things can have a very big impact! And in the weeks after that, two more people decided to follow Christ.
By August 2015 the group in Lafokpo had built a church building. It had a roof, windows and doors, no floor yet when we visited there. We had become very close “family” to Pekaly and his wife Tchomachen, and their children, during the time they lived with us before being given land for a home there. Glenn kept on mentoring Pekaly, and was encouraged by his devotion to reaching out with the Good News. By 2017 Pekaly was also discipling new believers in three other villages. One of them was Tcherigaha, where we visited this past Sunday. He was planting seed, plowing the ground like God’s heifer (see Hosea 10:11-12), sharing God’s love through his own heart reaching out with kindness to those God placed in his path.
How did a church get started in another language group, at Tcherigaha, so far away? Here is the story:
In 2016, Pastor Cissoko, from the Bromakote Baptist Church in Ferke, was on his way home to Ferke from a meeting in a distant Lobi town (further east of the Palaka region). He stopped by a little shop along the road to get fuel for his motorcycle and struck up a conversation with the shop owner, Jeremie. Cissoko is Jula, so was talking to him in the trade language Jula about Jesus. Jeremie was intrigued and said he would like to learn more. It was a few months later that Pastor Cissoko told Pekaly about this connection he had made. So Pekaly rode his “moto” out to meet with him, and found that Jeremie was truly ready to come to Jesus! The problem was that he is Palaka, so needed to understand more of the Good News in his own language. Then Pekaly remembered that he had an uncle who lived in Tcherigaha, a half-brother of his mother, who had come to know Jesus at the Baptist Hospital. Pekaly looked him up. He spoke both Palaka and Nyarafolo so he became his nephew’s translator, and Pekaly began discipling his Uncle Doulaye, Jeremie, and another young man. As others heard about this more people kept joining them, including some from a neighboring village, all thirsty to hear about the Living Water.
This was a challenge for Pekaly, commuting back and forth each Sunday after the morning service in Lafokokaha to teach at Tcherigaha Sunday evenings—financially as well as physically fatiguing. But his passion kept him going. He worked on several side projects to support his family (raising pigs, harvesting honey) and so did his wife, Tchomacen.
By May 2017 there were 43 people in Tcherigaha who had declared their allegiance to Jesus, more than half of them women and children. This is unprecedented here, such growth across language and ethnic boundaries, happening much more quickly than in the Nyarafolo areas where Pekaly and Fouhoton had both been evangelizing. This was fertile ground where people were receptive! An asset for watering the growing harvest was the work of missionaries with Ethnos 360 (formerly New Tribes) among the Palaka, which provided valuable materials like recordings of Palaka believers’ songs. Music in Palaka took off in the Tcherigaha meetings, and when we were there last Sunday with the mixed group of Nyarafolos and Palakas, one of the main singers was a Palaka woman with songs everyone loved.
Their mutual love and encouragement was so obvious as we danced and sang together for two hours on the church’s dirt floor. They, too, have walls and a tin roof but no flooring yet. Two women kept splashing cups of water over the dirt so that the dust would not fill the air, but our feet sure got dirty. Who cares? What matters is that we all love Jesus and are so grateful for him and all he has done in us and our families. And Glenn’s message fit the scene as he reminded us all that it takes energy and hard work to produce a harvest—you cannot just throw out seed and then sit back, doing nothing, and think there will be a good crop.
Let’s put together the pieces in this plotline: Jesus appearing to Pekaly’s father (Lacina), Pekaly’s call to ministry, his heart for evangelism and perseverance through tough times, the “chance” meeting of Pastor Cissoko with Jeremie from that Palaka village, Pekaly’s mom’s half-brother who “just happened” to live there and was bilingual and also ready to know more about Jesus, and a group of people from another language group who were ready to come to Christ, two ethnic groups accepting and loving each other!
God had a plan! I am reminded of Jesus’ words that still echo throughout the world today:
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (Jn. 10:16 NIV)
The Palaka and the Nyarafolo are still among the least-reached people groups in Côte d’Ivoire, but Tcherigaha’s story is an example of how Jesus is bringing his sheep into his flock from different groups, and showing them how to be one flock under his care! And it shows that what Jesus said would happen, when he appeared to Lacina, is happening. Many people in this region are entering the Jesus Road!
3 thoughts on “The Story God is Writing”
So great to read this. I will need to share with you my version of the story. Yours is better, more details.
Wow Linn, your statement of God’s fingerprints being all over this is so spot on!
I’m so excited for your autobiography when it
Isnât it encouraging to see his hand at work, even if it is over the years? He is reaching out with love to people who have not, or still do not, know him yet. Yes, I hope I have time to write the big story!