An Operation That Launched a Church 

A life-threatening illness leads to a transformed community in northern Togo.

From Message magazine issue "Transformed: Lives Changed Across the Globe"

The early morning rain cut through dusty air, splashing against the parched, red earth.

As channels of water flowed off National Route N1, the shallow streambed below filled waist-deep—one of countless answered prayers witnessed by the 14 new believers scheduled to be baptized that day. 

The skies had cleared by the time the church members set out in joyful procession from their village near Mango, in northern Togo, to the baptism site. With few water sources available in their arid climate, they praised God for providing the downpour they needed to observe this church ordinance—the very day they needed it. Nakime, the Togolese pastor of the growing congregation, and ABWE missionary Ethan Molsee scrambled down the embankment to the muddy stream and immersed each man and woman who had recently professed faith in Christ. 

“As I joined my Togolese brothers in the murky water . . . I could not help but think back over the years that this group has been meeting,” recalled Ethan, “and I marveled at how God has protected and grown this group.” 

From Death to Life 

Ten years earlier, Aboudu lay in the village dying. A Togolese farmer still in his 30s, he was accustomed to spending his days laboring in his fields during the rainy season to provide sufficient crops for his family to survive the dry season. When illness struck in 2013, his tall frame grew increasingly gaunt, and pain prevented him from leaving his mud-brick hut.  

His family transported him to a hospital two hours south in Kara, but surgery proved unsuccessful. In 2014, he underwent a second surgery at the small government hospital in Mango, but it too was unable to heal him or relieve his pain.  

Aboudu’s last hope arrived in 2015 with the opening of ABWE’s Hospital of Hope in Mango. ABWE’s then-medical director and surgeon, Todd DeKryger, discovered what the other hospitals had missed: Aboudu suffered from Typhoid Fever, which had perforated his intestines.  

“By the time he came to our hospital, he was in bad shape,” recounted Ethan. 

Hospital of Hope Chaplain Dieudonné shares the gospel with recovering patients and their families. Photo: Hannah Strayer.

Todd provided a series of life-saving surgeries, and Aboudu began to recover. Over the next six months, Aboudu remained at Hospital of Hope, first in the men’s ward and then in the cuisine, long-term hospital housing for patients who need regular checkups but no longer require full-time care. Through daily interactions with the medical staff, he regularly heard the gospel. Noticing his interest, one of the chaplains, Dieudonné, showed him the Jesus film and began meeting with him for Bible study. As God restored Aboudu’s body to health, he breathed new life into his soul, and Aboudu trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior.  

Aboudu immediately became burdened to share the gospel with others in his village, members of the minimally reached Gangam people group. Knowing that the village had no Gangam-speaking church, he arranged for Dieudonné and a few ABWE missionaries to begin a Bible study at his family’s compound of huts. Upon his release from hospitalization, several of Aboudu’s family members and neighbors gathered to hear Dieudonné teach from “The Story of Hope,” ABWE’s evangelistic Bible study resource. 

“That began a weekly Wednesday Bible study that continued for several years and grew in numbers,” said Ethan. 

The Gospel Takes Root 

The leaders of the small Bible study immediately confronted challenges. Despite the village’s accessible location alongside National Route N1, the one paved road extending through Togo from south to north, the Gangam people have remained isolated from the gospel due to language. Only the New Testament has been translated into Gangam, and high rates of illiteracy keep it beyond reach.  

In addition, many Gangam devoutly practice animism and ancestor worship, with increasing numbers converting to Islam.  

“Those early days as we met at Aboudu’s place, it was common to drive our motos on the path past the neighbor’s outdoor mud pedestals that worked as an altar or shrine and see a freshly killed chicken on the pedestal as a sacrifice to the gods,” Ethan explained. 

Dieudonné, with assistance from ABWE missionaries Ethan Molsee and Alain Niles and previous teammates Patrick Vincent and Josh Farver, strategized a unique approach for the Bible study. Dieudonné would teach in French, the national language, and they would recruit a local village leader to translate the lessons into Gangam. This arrangement allowed Dieudonné to use resources available in French and ensured that the missionaries would understand the meetings. More importantly, it provided an opportunity to train a local leader in preparation for establishing a self-supporting, Gangam-led church in the village. 

One young man, Nakime, was perfectly positioned to serve as translator.  

Nakime held a respected role in the village, tasked with registering cotton harvests. When the cotton trucks arrived to collect the season’s harvest, he weighed each person’s crops and calculated how much of the profit each should receive based on the weight produced.  

Unlike many of his fellow villagers, Nakime had attended school, where he had learned French and listened to a pastor teach biblical truth—tilling the soil in which the gospel could take root in his heart. When the Bible study began at Aboudu’s compound, he decided to attend based on his friendship with Aboudu’s relative who had stayed with him in the hospital.  

In late 2015, after translating the lessons into Gangam for a couple of months, Nakime received Christ as Savior. With a growing hunger for the word, he dedicated himself to assisting Dieudonné through translation.  

“This was a wonderful system since Dieudonné also spoke Gangam and would frequently stop Nakime to correct an idea or make something clearer,” said Ethan. “It helped Nakime grow in his ability to lead and allowed him to be a part of the teaching.” 

Nakime teaches the Bible study at the group’s third location, a mud-brick structure they soon outgrew. Photo: Ethan Molsee.

To provide formal training, the missionaries enrolled Nakime in a Bible institute in Kara, where he traveled regularly for course modules. 

Crisis struck the small group, however, when Aboudu, the group’s founder and first believer, entered his eternal home. His death came shortly after Todd DeKryger, who had once saved his life, completed his faithful service on earth and passed away in February 2016 of Lassa Fever.  

“Even through his death, Todd left a lasting spiritual impact on  those he had ministered to. Seeing the ABWE team mourn their loss biblically, the new Togolese Christians realized that God had not abandoned them in their time of human need,” Andy Kirby, executive director for ABWE GO in Africa, shared. “I think of 2 Corinthians 1:4, which gives us purpose in our trials to build up and comfort others in their trials to help them continue in the way. What Todd started years ago did not end with either his passing or the passing of Aboudu. Death is just the final step in being with our Lord.” 

The remaining Bible study members decided to continue meeting—and when the missionaries gave them a radio and SD card containing an audio recording of the New Testament in Gangam, they began gathering on their own several evenings a week to listen to the Bible. 

“In fact, they wore out the first radio and had to be given another one,” Ethan recalled. “While most in the group could not read or write in any language, they knew the Bible and the stories of the Bible from all their listening.”  

Aboudu (kneeling in front) and Nakime (fifth from left) hold radios with SD cards containing an audio recording of the New Testament. Photo: Ethan Molsee.

For additional outreach, the missionaries and Togolese believers showed the Jesus Film in the village, projecting it onto the wall of the elementary school. National ministry partners have also begun teaching Gangam people to read and write in their own language, enabling them to read the Bible. 

‘In Awe of What God Is Doing’ 

With the partnership between Togolese leaders and American missionaries, the Bible study has flourished, developing into a church under Nakime’s leadership as pastor. Nakime also now serves part-time as a chaplain at Hospital of Hope. 

“Our role was really to support and mentor when needed,” Ethan explained. “It is our desire to help enable nationals to reach nationals, so unless absolutely necessary, we want to coach and cheer on rather than lead.” 

When the nascent congregation assembled at the roadside stream in July 2023, the baptism marked the beginning of a weekend-long celebration to dedicate their first church building. On Saturday evening, following the baptisms, more than 200 people from the village assembled to watch a gospel film projected onto the side of the new church building. The building was dedicated on Sunday, and during the service, numerous Gangam believers stood to testify to God’s work in their lives for salvation, which for many had occurred through the ministry of Hospital of Hope. 

“Our hospital, or any institution, is just the starting point for ministry. We can minister through our work and skills as well as through evangelism and discipleship within the hospital walls, and that platform gives us a jumping-off point to also be heard and respected in the broader community. Whether it be in the prisons or the offices of the chief, mayor, or prefect, our missionaries are listened to because the people know that they are there to bring help,” Andy Kirby explained. 

“Our goal in northern Togo is to raise up strong nationals, discipling them to be the face of the gospel to their brothers and sisters in their villages,” he continued. “We don’t want Jesus to be mistaken as merely a North American god but as the way, the truth, and the life for all peoples.” 

“We don’t want Jesus to be mistaken as merely a North American god but as the way, the truth, and the life for all peoples.”

Andy Kirby

Ethan echoed Andy’s joy. “A group that started when a young man wanted to share his new faith with his family has grown so that, on this Sunday, it included men, women, and children that numbered more than 100,” he conveyed. 

“Knowing this history, having participated in weekly Bible studies in this town, and watching Nakime become a humble leader of this group left me in awe of what God is doing.” 

The congregation gathers in their newly constructed church building. Photo: Ethan Molsee.