Simple message in Togo: God is the hero

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Missions

An 11-year-old boy who shared the story of Christ with his friend in Aneho, Togo, showed Heather Wilford the power of children’s ministry on her trip to the birthplace of Voodoo.

Wilford, the Hear, Near, Far outreach director for Westwood Community Church in Minnesota, made her first trip to Togo in October. She said Westwood has supported work among millions of least-reached people in Togo and neighboring Benin for four years.

The five people from Westwood connected deeply with Ashley Freeman, who started serving Togolese children in 2017. Wilford said Freeman’s intentional labor produces fruit, like the 11-year-old boy already sharing the gospel.

“It’s happening because of the way Ashley has poured into this church, poured into these leaders,” Wilford said.

She opened boxes years before God opened hearts

As a high school student, Ashley said she felt confident God had designed her to invest her life through missions, particularly to people in Africa. Then, in college, just as Ashley and her friends were pondering a service trip to Africa, JJ and Melissa Alderman spoke at a chapel service at Freeman’s college.

The Aldermans said they were moving to Togo to start planting churches. In response to Freeman’s interest, the Aldermans invited her to come and serve not long after they arrived. She went and saw the beginning of New Life Church. That group of believers then planted Grace Church, the same congregation where the 11-year-old boy now brings his friends.

First, though, Freeman was opening moving boxes and painting walls. Such labor helped the Aldermans lay a foundation for family life alongside a future ministry. On that trip, she learned much about becoming a global worker. Plus, she grasped the philosophy of ministry that guides the 6 Degree Initiative.

Related: The initiative motivates witch doctors to ask for churches.

Freeman returned to the United States, finished college and worked four years as a Christian school teacher. Then, in 2014, she returned to Togo for New Life Church’s fifth anniversary. By then, the church had land, a little building and a whole lot of kids.

“All of the kids, that’s what really got my heart,” she said.

Kids don’t always get to be kids

Young children in Togo, and certainly teenagers, struggle from an early age with a need to care for their younger siblings. Freeman saw small children carrying younger siblings on their backs during her 2014 trip.

“They get a lot of responsibility early on,” she said of Togolese children.

Seeing them struggle fueled Freeman’s motivation and formed her methodology: help kids come to Jesus and learn to trust him, all while having some fun. Freeman collaborates with Stephanie Alderman and James and Jenna Roberts on the different projects serving the children of Togo.

Together, the team creates camps for children and youth that introduce them to Jesus, impart leadership skills and increase childlike pleasure in their lives.

“Camps are a time where they just get to be kids,” Freeman said.

God has recently stirred a surprise opportunity for Freeman: After a women’s conference, several women asked the 6 Degree Initiative ladies’ ministry to come to their churches to teach them to become disciple-makers. The invitation enabled Freeman to share some of her teaching principles that they could use at church on Sunday, but more importantly, in their homes during the week.

“They’re around their mamas a lot more than they’re around us at church on Sunday,” Freeman said. “So, if they can learn how to disciple their kids at home, I think ministry will be much more effective than just what we’re doing on Sundays.”

After they’re kids, these children will be leaders

Thanks to such a team effort, these camps also grow teenagers into leaders. Many youths serve at Togo Palms youth camp, applying vocational skills and personal gifting to the needs of their neighbors and community members. 

Helping these children become disciple-makers and national leaders is a priority. That’s a way Converge’s team hopes to start a gospel movement among the least-reached of the two countries.

Ashley’s husband, Josh, the initiative’s operations leader, explained that such an ambition applies to all the initiative’s ministries. He said growing youth into leaders means the nation will have pastors and evangelists among Deaf people and children or influential people who know Christ.

“We want to see gospel saturation through leadership development,” he added.

Josh, the son of a pastor, didn’t automatically feel called to ministry or missions. Yet he wanted to make eternal accomplishments with his life by being part of a gospel movement among unreached people. Togo allowed him to play a small role in God’s global harvest, so Freeman moved to Aneho in 2020.

Once Josh joined the team, he and Ashley discovered that the Lord designed them to be together forever. Their marriage, Josh and Ashley now know, was part of God’s plan for their life in missions in a way neither of them anticipated.


The Togolese are learning what it’s like to live with the light

Today, the team currently focuses on new churches in Togo, with the prayer of starting congregations in Benin, offering the Togo Palms youth camp, providing vocational training and ministering to the countries’ Deaf communities.

Wilford and the other servants from Westwood invested 10 days among people who’ve heard little about the light of Christ. During the trip, the visiting disciples saw vocational training sites, met with pastors and saw their worship spaces. After a week and a half, they grasped the initiative’s full scope.

In addition, the Westwood team offered a two-day conference for developing leaders. The church shared 100 audio Bibles with leaders. Wilford said the leaders from across Togo came to learn more about spiritual practices to be with God, not just serve God.

“They recognize they need to continue to grow and elevate their team to become disciples who make disciples and leaders who make leaders,” she said.

She said the conference offered leaders time to unpack their past and reflect on any trauma. That’s especially helpful because the past’s formative experiences influence the ministry and future of the leaders. Because Christ can heal their pain and wounds, she said the leaders must bring the trauma into the light.

Related: Converge’s Deaf Ministry pursues the least-reached of the world’s least-reached.

The Freemans tell the Togolese a simple message: God is the hero. Whether the person is young or old, a leader with trauma or a person needing vocational training, the Freemans glorify the King of kings. Christ is the center of their message as they speak to people oppressed by centuries of fear and lies tied to Voodoo.

Thankfully, wonderfully, Togolese, like the 11-year-old boy Heather Wilford encountered, are listening. Many now understand that Christ has the power of an indestructible life and eternal hope. In addition, the children motivated and equipped to share the gospel with their friends demonstrate God’s Spirit using the Freemans.

“This work is so necessary because there’s such a spiritual darkness there,” Wilford said. “There are people who’ve never known what it is to live with the light.”

Converge is asking God for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group — in our generation. Learn how we are playing a role in accomplishing the Great Commission and how you can be involved.

Ben Greene, Pastor & writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

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