The church: The heartbeat of the community

How churches in Togo are bringing deep change to their communities

The first thing you notice in Togo is the heat. On the day our team visited Kita’s home, it was 40.5 degrees.

The second thing you notice is the order. In West Africa, a region known for its boisterous and outgoing cultures, Togo is an outlier. Togo is like the Canada of West Africa—the Togolese people are known for being polite and are more reserved than their neighbours. After fearing for your life in the chaotic traffic of some African countries, in Togo, you gain a healthy appreciation for the way everyone stops at red lights.

On an orderly row of homes in Lomé, the capital of Togo, we found Kita at her home. Outside her small apartment hung a sign, Couture La Main de Dieu, or “The Hand of God Couture.” The bottom of the sign reads “Psalm 121”: I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Truly, this seamstress has learned to look to the hand of God for her help, thanks to an innovative Compassion Response program at her church—a savings group.

What’s so innovative about savings groups? For a long time, people have focused on giving money or things to solve the problem of poverty—if poverty is a lack of money, then giving money or material things is the logical answer. But development experts have found that poverty goes beyond a lack of money. Poverty roots itself deep in the heart.

Brian Fikkert, author of When Helping Hurts, has observed, “Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things in right relationship again.”

That’s why Compassion is partnering with the Chalmers Center, founded by Brian Fikkert, to bring heart change to people in Togo, where more than half of the population lives in extreme poverty. The mission of the Chalmers Center is to “equip churches to walk alongside people who are poor, breaking the spiritual, social, and material bonds of poverty.”

One way to do this is through savings groups—void of outside cash infusions—focused on developing a biblical worldview.

At 27 churches across Togo, 230 savings groups of 10 to 12 people meet once a week. Besides saving a set amount each week as a group—from $4 to $20—they study Scripture, pray and fellowship together. They go through a curriculum focused on social and spiritual restoration, while also learning basic business principles and how to make a business plan.

There are also 77 savings groups for youth in Compassion’s program in Togo—a new approach to helping youth climb out of poverty.

According to Pastor Kwasi Ayivi of the Global Evangelical Church of Kpalimé, “The savings group program is reconciling people with God and restoring their relationships with themselves, others and their environment. They have discovered that there are many things they can do by themselves, using the resources from their own communities.”

Many members of the savings groups have begun their own businesses—ranging from selling firewood to salt—and are now able to pay for their children’s school fees.

Kita was a seamstress, but when her sewing machine broke, she had no way of fixing it. Hopeless, she would simply sleep the day away on the floor of her shop. But when she joined the savings group, she learned the discipline of putting away a little money from her husband’s small business as a driver—$1.07 a week. When they found out about her situation, her savings group agreed to loan Kita the money to repair her machine. Soon, she was able to begin her business again. She was also able to become proactive. Rather than living “hand to mouth,” she began purchasing beautiful fabrics in bulk to keep in her store to attract customers, rather than having to buy fabric for each order.

But the change went deeper than that.

At the savings groups, the spiritual and social curriculum have begun to change lives. Recently at one of the churches, 24 caregivers gave their lives to Christ and were baptized. This kind of change is happening throughout Togo.

“We are seeing caregivers’ lives transformed. We are seeing relationships restored between husbands and wives, and between parents and their children,” says Jerry Adodo Johnson of Compassion Togo.

“The training they are receiving is helping them to develop their relationship with God, but also to discover how it’s necessary for them to have a good relationship with themselves—thinking better of themselves, having better dreams for themselves, discovering their potential and God-given talent and how to use that talent,” says Johnson. “What this does is help them see opportunities all around them, opportunities in their community, opportunities wherever they go.”

Kita is one of those whose lives have changed. She used to be shy and withdrawn. She and her husband fought constantly, and it affected their six-year-old son. But since joining the savings group a year and a half ago, Kita learned how to have healthy relationships, and her marriage has transformed. The constant fights at home have ceased, and they’ve learned how to interact with one another with respect and love.

Moreover, the once despondent woman is now full of joy and fun. As we walked with her down the busy aisles of a market in Lomé to buy fabric, people greeted her from all directions. She’s well known in the market and has dignity and respect in her community. She’s an utterly changed woman.

“My life has been restored,” says Kita. “My marital life has changed, my work is thriving and my relationship with God has changed. I am now enjoying life.”

This all came, not from giving her something, but from teaching her how to build healthy relationships with God, herself and others, as well as giving her the practical skills needed to run a business. And it all came from the church.

As our team closed our trip in Togo, we had the chance to worship at one of the churches. The syncopated rhythms of the djembe drums and the marching bass drums thumped underneath the beautiful harmonies of hundreds of voices raised in worship to God—a holy echo of how the church in Togo is raising its voice to be the heartbeat and light of Christ in its community.

Want to bring job skills to moms like Kita?
Give the gift of tailoring skills!

By Amber Van Schooneveld, photos by Andy Brown and Bernard Gbagba

Written by: Amber Van Schooneveld

Amber Van Schooneveld is the Managing Editor of Compassion International's blog.