Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Graduation in Togo

Mission Evangelique Lutherienne de Confession du Togo
Mt. Horeb Lutherienne Bible Institute Graduation Service
05 MAR 2017

My words always seem to fall so short and seem so inadequate to capture and relay the things I experience in life. The only words that come to mind as I try to explain the MELC Mt. Horeb Lutheran Bible Institute graduation this afternoon are “Joy” and “Thankfulness.”

Three and half hours of pure and unbridled Joy and Thankfulness as only our brothers and sisters in Africa can express it, that is what I witnessed and was privileged to be a part of today. An outdoor meeting venue was rented for the event because the MELC church building would not hold the 200-300 attendees they were expecting. I was told that this facility had been typically used for weddings but because it was in such disrepair it wasn’t rented out much anymore. There was a tattered tarp-covered stage on one side with tree shaded areas for the guests to sit on the other three sides. The middle area was an open space. I’ve observed that this open space is common in the churches of West Africa as it provides a place for the “Congo line” dancing that takes place in every service.

After a thirty minute taxi ride through the crowded streets of Lome, I arrived about fifteen minutes before the service was scheduled to begin. There was music playing and the seating areas were packed. I was told that well over 300 church members, family, and friends were in attendance. Many of the church members traveled more than three and four hours to come celebrate the graduation of their pastor. There was definitely a buzz of excitement in the air as everyone waited. I was given a seat on the stage with Pastor Kossi sitting next to me along with several elders from the congregations. There was also one government dignitary on the stage. I sat and watched the people visit and interact as I tried to take it all in. Then suddenly, the music stopped and the chatter died down as the music for “Stand Up, Stand Up, For Jesus” began to play. Then everyone seemed to turn their heads around all at once as they began to look to a corner far in the back where the graduates were emerging as they began marching, literally marching to the beat of the hymn through the crowd. Everyone erupted in cheers and the ladies with their shrill African yells of joy filled the halls. I’m sure the folks out on the street could hear the noise from blocks away. The graduates were all dressed in black pants, white shirts, and red ties. They held their Bibles closely to their chest with their right hand and swung their left arm like soldiers to the beat of the music as they marched in lock-step to the stage. Once on the stage they continued to march in place as they faced the crowd of friends and relatives who had gathered. It gave me goose-bumps.

When the hymn was finished they took their seats and Pastor Kossi went to the lecture to begin the service in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and asked for the Lord’s blessings on the service and on those who had gathered. He then gave a short sermon based on Luke 7:24-30 as he encouraged the graduates by reminding them of the words of Jesus describing John the Baptist and that it is now their privilege to take up the work of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Following the sermon, several guests were welcomed including a representative from the office of the President of Togo. His title was something along the line of Minister of Social and Religious Affairs. He and Pastor Kossi have become friends over the past year as they have worked together to get the Mt. Horeb Lutheran Bible Institute officially registered with the government. He seems very interested in learning more about Lutheran doctrine. Pastor Kossi also mentioned Missionary Koenig and Missionary Ude as honorary guests who could not be in attendance. Then there was more singing and as their tradition goes, first the women formed a Congo line and danced and sang for several minutes, followed by the Sunday School teacher leading the children in the next Congo line, then the men followed with their own. Again, I just don’t have adequate words to describe the joy that is overflowing as they dance and sing to the Lord!
After the final Congo line, I was introduced and was asked to preach the graduation sermon. I preached on Joshua 1:1-9, my favorite Scripture for a graduation sermon. I reminded and encouraged the graduates and all those in attendance that we can go forward in life, serving God, with boldness, courage, strength, and confidence knowing that we serve a God who has proven Himself to be faithful in every promise He has ever made. The cross of Jesus Christ and His empty tomb give us all the strength and courage we need!

Joshua 1:1–9 — After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: 2 “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

When I was finished, the graduates were told to stand and the crowd erupted into joy once again and an impromptu Congo line began and lasted for several minutes. You could tell that Pastor Kossi was not expecting this, but he just looked over at me and smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He leaned over and said with a big smile, “the people are very happy this day.”

Once things settled down, Pastor Kossi had each graduate come forward to receive their certificate of completion. The certificate reads:
This certifies that ____________________has successfully completed a course of instruction in the Word of God and the Doctrines of the Church of the Lutheran Confession and has given public testimony of his agreement with these doctrines and is thus officially certified to serve as a Pastor and Evangelist.
Deborah’s certificate is similar but states that she will now serve the Lord in women and children ministry.

After they received their certificates and several honored guests came by to shake their hands, the music started again and each graduate slowly danced their way through the crowds to the area where their specific family, guests, and congregation members were sitting. There was much hugging, handshaking, appreciation, and just over all joy as the crowd sang and danced in typical Africa style for the next thirty minutes or so as the graduates made their way through the guests.

Once the graduates returned to the front, one representative for each graduate came forward with a large bowl and stood in front the graduate they represented. An announcement was made and soon lines began to form as guests danced and sang their way up to the large bowl to place a gift for the graduate.

After the gifts were received another prayer was offered for the graduates and the gifts they had received. And then the Sunday School children performed action songs to celebrate the occasion.

After a couple of announcements, I was asked to close the service with prayer and the benediction.

What a day! What a privilege! Thanks be to our Good Shepherd for providing more faithful preachers and teachers of His Saving Word!

Ephesians 4:11–16  — And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

No comments: