It is often strange living far away from American culture and life because you soon realize that your daily interests soon become that of the country you are currently living in, not the country you came from. But since I grew up with the ideal that you could never go to bed without having watched the news (certainly ingrained in me since my grandfather was the editor of NBC news Chicago), I still struggle through the slow internet connection and impatiently wait as the headlines and photos download on my computer each evening.
What has become more and more evident is how each culture defines freedom, rights, hatred, laws, social norms, and sin. During the many weeks that racial motivated tensions were (and still are) mounting across the US, two tribes here in Mango began fighting, which resulted in many displaced families and destroyed property and livelihoods. While all is calm at present, it seems that these two tribes have a long-standing mistrust of one-another and the embers are always ready to burn for anyone stoking the fire.
When the Togolese hear about the fighting going on in the US centered around racial tension, they are often confused and find it ridiculous that black and whites would be fighting for no other base reason than color. But when I compared our countries difficulties with the tribal warfare taking place, they would just smile half-way and say, “oh, that’s just the way it’s always been.”
Meanwhile, we’ve recently been having very difficult discussions about what to do when married girls between the ages of 12-16 come into the hospital for pre-natal care and obstetric care. They are often brought in by an uncle or a female relative. More often than not, they are the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th wife of a man that is 20-30 years her senior. These types of marriages are technically illegal, but culturally they happen every day and it’s the norm to complain, yet turn a blind eye as the “transaction” has already been completed and there’s nothing to be done. Polygamy and child brides are the norm here, and regardless of approval, it is accepted by all. Our American minds are immediate to call this rape, molestation, slavery, or just illegal at best. But the husband did not steal the girl from a playground—her parents consented, a ceremony took place and they are living out in the open for all to see. These aren’t dark alleys or private internet chat rooms. While we, of course, do not agree with the practice, our first concern is figuring out how to make sure a 12 year old can deliver safely.
When the Togolese heard about the ruling of the Supreme Court yesterday, they were outraged. I didn’t make a comment either way, I just confirmed that it was, in fact, true. They were shocked and sad for us as Americans and for the world in general. We all just went about our day after the short blurb on American news realizing that our focus needed to be on the sick in front of us—a boy of 13 who came in as a near drowning after trying to save his brother (age 11) who had slipped while crossing the river. They were returning from a day of working in the fields. I was secretly hoping that his comatose state could last as long as possible since the nightmare of finding out his brother was already dead and buried had not yet been realized. When I later saw an American colleague we chatting briefly how cultural viewpoint changes everything. Togolese outrage on same-sex marriage while 12-year brides as 3rd wives having babies, although is looked down upon, is accepted as a cultural norm. We are thankful for the Word of God that speaks to all cultures at all points in time.
I rarely, if ever, discuss political agendas and Supreme Court decisions because I’m not in that culture currently, and I don’t find that it’s fruitful conversation. The Roman Empire was steeped in deep sin and idolatry. All of Jesus disciples were waiting for him to make a political stance and bring in a moral-political reign over the nation. His lack of doing this did not mean that he agreed with what was going on, but instead, that he knew that men’s hearts cannot be changed by laws or by force. The larger issue isn’t lawful rights or an outdated flag—although the issues themselves are valid discussions.
My job here in Togo is to help show that true happiness is found when we completely find our joy in the Glory of God. Issues of tribalism, child labor, and child brides are all worthy, and necessary, causes to fight against in the political arena, but no law can change men’s hearts. John Piper said, “sin is the suicidal exchange of the glory of God for the broken cisterns of created things.” Even the 10 commandments were not made because the Lord expected us to be able to keep them all. They were given to us as a mirror, that we might see how far we had fallen from the holiness of God, and repent; That we may all continue to turn to God to find our completeness; that we may all seek God’s glory and not cisterns of broken creation.
I have very dear friends I love here in Togo that were child brides, that participate in child labor practices, that have multiple wives, that have undergone female circumcision and would do the same to their daughters, and the list goes on. We openly talk about these issues and how, I believe, God speaks to those issues. They know what I believe in and love me as well. There is no hate crime going on here. We talk about our ways of life, in love, and hide nothing in regards to who or how we worship. It’s not my job to even change someone’s heart—only the Holy Spirit of God will choose to do that.
Please pray for Togo as we here pray for the United States. Pray that both nations could be known as Nations that seek the Glory of the Lord.