By Blake Tommey
Unlike the tropical flowers he sold on the roadside in Lomé, Togo, Bruno was withering away. His father, who owned the horticulture business that employed him, mistreated Bruno and refused to pay him a living wage. As a result, Bruno, his wife, Fafa, and their newborn son, Romerick, would frequently go hungry. Then, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Lynn and Mike Hutchinson came looking for a gardener.
Bruno seized the opportunity and showed up at the Hutchinsons’ house the very next day. But Mike quickly discovered that Bruno knew almost nothing about gardening. Bruno confessed his desperate situation.
“I’m no gardener,” Bruno admitted. “I work for my father, and he doesn’t pay me anything. I’ve been looking for any job that will help me feed my wife and child.”
Since 2000, the CBF Offering for Global Missions has supported Lynn and Mike Hutchinson as they share abundant life with the people of Togo. When the Hutchinsons met Bruno, the couple was searching for a cultural guide as well as a director for Togo House, a then newly-formed center for helping the people of Lomé develop their God-given assets. Bruno was the perfect candidate. Eventually, he, Fafa and Romerick moved in with the Hutchinsons and Bruno began as Togo House’s first director.
Togo, a small West African nation on the Gulf of Guinea, remains one of the top 10 poorest countries in the world. Despite decades of Western aid, 65 percent of the population still depends on subsistence farming and many more lack basic resources. Yet, the people of Lomé—Togo’s capital city—are exceedingly skilled and hardworking. Togo House provides opportunities for them to teach, learn and develop those skills into profitable trades.
“Togo House is a place where everyone comes together to learn and discover; it’s a family here in the neighborhood,” Bruno said.
“Some people say there is no work in Togo. Others want to leave the country. But we want to stay and be part of the journey. With your collaboration, God will help you and you can move forward,” Bruno said. “At Togo House, children often learn English. They do Bible study, sports, games, choir and cooking. But adults learn too. Some sell things by the side of the road. Some families make vegetable gardens. There are carpenters and mechanics. Everyone does a little bit of everything to make a living.”
Along with his work at Togo House, Bruno turned again to gardening. This time, however, he studied hard and became an expert, especially in composting.
The problem was that most Togolese were paying high prices for Chinese fertilizer, which would inevitably wash out of Togo’s loamy soil. On the other hand, local fertilizer, made from compost and manure, is cheap, sustainable and holds inside the soil. Bruno began producing his own compost at Togo House as well as hosting expositions for local families, who now grow better tomatoes, lettuce and eggplant to sell or eat for daily meals.
As director of Togo House, Bruno was an invaluable asset, Mike noted. An indigenous and respected member of the community, Bruno rallied neighbors around Togo House’s workshops and classes. He also learned how to manage a budget, recruit volunteers, create publicity and evaluate various community programs. More than anything, Bruno said, Togo House helped him discover the courage and self-worth he always knew was inside.
“In the past, I suffered a lot. I knew I could do something, but I couldn’t afford to develop my ideas,” he said.
“Today, my life has changed. I learned a lot with Togo House—patience and courage. I am passionate about the garden too. Mike and Lynn showed me that I’m able to do something, that I have intelligence. They helped my family in all things. Even if my children are sick, they are present. I am grateful to them and to CBF, and I say thank you to God.”
When Bruno’s year as director concluded, he moved into full-time gardening, and now creates ceramic planters to sell alongside his many plants. Fafa even started her own business, cooking chicken wings and selling them on the roadside. She typically sells out in three hours, and some days, she brings home more money than Bruno. Both businesses, however, allowed them to send Romerick, now six years old, to private school and to have a second child, Yahira, who is now four years old.
When you give to the CBF Offering for Global Missions, you share abundant life with families like Bruno, Fafa, Romerick and Yahira. Watch a video about the impact of Togo House below.