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On April 10, 2015, Doug Haag – a licensed AG minister and Wycliffe Bible Translators missionary – completed a 363-mile, 24-hour bike ride to raise $15,000 for a Bible translation and project among the Akebu language community in Togo, Africa. (Read the story of his remarkable ride here.)
A decade before, Haag had heard of the Akebu people – of whom there are approximately 50,000-70,000 – while reading Wycliffe’s children’s book From Akebu to Zapotec to his daughters. “When it came time to choose a project to benefit from the epic ride,” Haag says, “the Akebu literally popped off the page!”
“I first connected with the need among the Akebu through social media, through a Togolese AG pastor and Wycliffe translator named Jacques Sossoukpe,” he continues. “In the months leading up to the event, we promoted the Akebu translation need as we trained, by posting pictures and videos of our weekend rides. Jacques, in turn, posted translation progress and prayer requests.”
The Facebook campaign (which Haag says began as an experiment to see if social media could be used to connect with Bible translation projects in a useful, meaningful way) and the ride were successes, and inspired Haag’s home church, Faith Assembly in Orlando, Florida, to begin supporting the project.
Eight months later, Sossoukpe was doing a village-checking session – a public reading of the Scripture draft to test understandability and the natural flow of the concepts. At the end of the session, Sossoukpe was invited to the village’s AG church, where the pastor asked him to pray that they would one day have a church building.
That evening, Sossoukpe emailed a report of the day to Haag, mentioning the pastor’s heart cry for a permanent church building. Little did the village pastor or Sossoukpe know that Faith Assembly had long been sending construction teams to West Africa to do just that.
The Akebu pastor’s plea resonated deeply with Haag, and he shared it with Faith’s missions pastor, Marcos Gonzalez. Eight months after Haag’s bike ride to raise funds for the Akebu translation project, Faith Assembly was inspired to take on the building project as well.
In January 2017, a team of 10 men from Faith Assembly traveled with Haag and Gonzalez to build steel-framed tabernacles in three of Togo’s Akebu villages.
“When we arrived in Kamina, the first and largest village in which we built (as in, there were two roads and solar-powered street lights), our team was rather quieted by the rustic nature of our accommodations,” Haag says with a laugh. “Not all the showers or toilets were functional. But the next morning when we drove into the first village to start building, our perspective was completely changed by the joy and celebration of the people.”
Throughout the day, Kamina’s residents danced and celebrated as the men installed the permanent steel frame of their new church. Children squealed in awe and delight at the aerial drone the team brought with them, and older believers commented gladly that since the new structure is steel, persecutors of the church would not be able to burn it down as easily as a church built of thatch and mud.
Located next to the village school, the church building will become a major anchor and outreach point for its community. The walls and floor will be finished by the residents themselves.
That night, on a projector donated by Faith Assembly, 400-600 villagers gathered to watch the newly completed Akebu translation of the JESUS film.
From Kamina, the team continued to the villages of Wadagdni and Djakpodji, where they installed two more tabernacles and again premiered the JESUS film. Between the three villages, a total of 1,500 people came to see the movie, and 300 accepted Jesus as Savior after viewing it.
“It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of the answer to the Akebu pastor’s prayer,” Haag says. “Of course, we have to leave the heart part to the Lord, but by all outward appearances it was a great response to the new church and the film. It was also very eye-opening for the guys from Faith to see the Akebu receiving for the first time things that we take for granted here at home, like having a church or the Bible in our own language.”
In each village, Sossoukpe introduced the team to local chiefs of police, village chiefs, pastors and other village leaders to foster relational development and express respect for Akebu culture. The team was warmly received. Relationships with Togolese AG leadership and the West Africa Advanced School of Theology (WAAST) were also renewed and nurtured.
Hohoe – the fourth village in which the team had planned to build a tabernacle – experienced a meningitis outbreak requiring a quarantine.
“That was a disappointment,” Haag admits. “We had planned to conduct a mini-seminary for the village pastors who had had no formal Bible school training.”
In lieu of a visit to Hohoe, the men visited a village where Wycliffe translators have been practicing ethnomusicology with the Akebu – helping them develop hymns and songs of worship in their own language and musical style. The Akebu had even created their own CD, which was being dedicated on the day of the team’s visit.
“It was amazing!” Haag says. “The villagers were dedicating their new CD with traditional Akebu dancing, singing, music, and more. It was a beautiful honoring of their culture and the coming of the Bible to it. Because until God’s Word is in your language, He is a foreign God. Equipping people with music to celebrate the coming of God’s Word to their language is a transformative experience for everyone involved.”
Haag and the Faith Assembly missions team believe their work among the Akebu people will grow. Ten more tabernacles have already been purchased and are ready to be installed in West Africa, and the church continues its support of Wycliffe’s Akebu Bible translation. The books of Mark, Luke, John, James, and 2 Timothy are currently available, with more on the way.When asked what’s next, Haag responds, “Who knows! Answered prayer has a way of inspiring your faith. When God answers all your prayers for a people group, you must ask for more. As stated in Isaiah 64:4, ‘No ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him.’ Pray big, and wait on the Lord!”