Pastor Kodjo Odah was dedicated as a child to become a voodoo priest, but has become the pastor of a growing Ifè church in Togo. Now he longs to be able to teach his church members from the Old Testament as well as the New.
‘When I was born my parents dedicated me to become a voodoo priest,’ recalls Ifè pastor Kodjo Odah – pictured above. ‘It was forbidden for members of the voodoo priesthood to go to school, so I have never been to school.’
Pastor Odah was born, like many Ifè people, into an animist family. Animism is the belief that there are many spiritual beings capable of helping or harming people. Voodoo, which originated in West Africa, is a form of animism practised by Kodjo’s family, along with many other people in Togo.
As a sign of his dedication to the voodoo priesthood, Kodjo wore voodoo jewels and a horse tail necklace (see picture). When he was a child, there was no church in his village. But when Kodjo was 15, an evangelist came to his village. ‘I was listening to the sermon,’ Kodjo remembers, ‘and I heard that sinners go to hell, but that those who accept Jesus will go to heaven. It was the first time Ifè Christians outside their church building for me to hear the gospel, and I was very happy to hear the message of Jesus.’
I was very happy to hear the message of Jesus
From that point on Kodjo and one of his village friends started going to a church. ‘After a couple of months,’ he explains, ‘I became very confident in what I was hearing and I decided to follow Jesus.’ Kodjo went to his father and explained what had happened to him.
His father reacted by saying, ‘No! Can’t you see on your neck the jewels and the horse tail for the voodoo priest? It is not possible. You are forbidden to go to church!’
‘But,’ Kodjo recalls, ‘I insisted.
From literacy teacher to pastor
One day, literacy teachers from Wycliffe’s partners ACATBLI – which in French stands for ‘Christian Association for Literacy and Bible Translation in the Ifè Language’ – came to Kodjo’s church and invited people to learn to read and write Ifè. ‘Since I didn’t go to school I found that very exciting,’ Kodjo explains. ‘So I said, “OK, I will go.” and I joined the classes.’ The Ifè New Testament had been published in 2009 and after Kodjo had learned to read, he loved reading the New Testament in church whenever he could.
‘The next year my church wanted to create another class,’ Kodjo explains. ‘And they asked the literacy leaders to choose a teacher from our community to lead it. They said, “Since you are the one always reading the New Testament in church, you are welcome to come and have the training and after that you can be a teacher.” So I went and I became a literacy teacher.’
After a while of being a literacy teacher, Kodjo sensed God calling him to become a pastor. ‘When I was thinking of how to respond to God’s call, the obstacle I saw was that, as I didn’t go to school, I can’t speak French,’ Kodjo says. ‘But thanks to God I then learned that the Baptist church has a training programme for pastors that is taught in Ifè.’
The church community has grown fast
When Kodjo had completed his four years of training, he was asked to pastor the church in a village called Efoufami, not far from the village he grew up in. He is still the pastor of that church today.
‘When I started at the church, not many people were coming,’ Kodjo notes. ‘But because I am teaching them in Ifè, it is very easy for them to understand, and the church community has grown fast.’
People are very happy they can read the New Testament for themselves
Kodjo explains the impact of using the Ifè New Testament in his church and offering literacy classes: ‘The people can read it, so when I preach on a passage they can follow it and see if what I preach is false or true. They are very happy because they can read and understand it for themselves.’
But something is missing.
‘I’m facing a big challenge in my ministry,’ Kodjo calmly explains. ‘Since I can’t speak or read French, I can’t use the Old Testament. I am praying that God helps ACATBLI with the Old Testament translation, so that we can have the whole Bible. It will really help me to be able to go through the Old Testament in my teaching.’
‘It is important to have the Bible in Ifè’
About a third of the books of the Old Testament have been translated by the dedicated Ifè translation team. A number of other books are in draft form, going through various steps to check for accuracy and understanding.
‘It will really help me to be able to go through the Old Testament in my teaching’
‘There are many stories in the Old Testament which help us understand the New Testament,’ explains Edoh Kaleb Agounkey, the leader of the translation team. ‘The sacrifices written about in the Old Testament are actually very similar to the animist sacrifices that are done in traditional Ifè life. Reading what the book of Leviticus has to say about sacrifices will help our people to understand what they were before coming to Christ, and how they have changed since coming to Christ. So it is very important for our people to have all of the Bible translated into Ifè.’
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