Delivered From Darkness

A church in Togo fights occult-based traditions to free a 6-year-old girl from a Voodoo shrine.

In Togo, more than 50 percent of people practice Voodoo or other animistic religions, and fetishes are common in markets.

A boy in Akodessewa, Togo, holds up an animal skull at a market here. Voodoo practitioners believe this fetish has powers, like other amulets and animal parts for sale here. While the practice of Voodoo varies widely across cultures, it generally involves communing with spirits of ancestors for guidance and powers.

Since Voodoo, or “Vodun,” is endemic in Togo, some children work at fetish markets and live in shrines, sometimes abused, instead of going to school. Voodoo priests and priestesses consult spirits to determine how and when children in the community should be initiated into their congregations. The initiation can require children to live in a shrine for years, consuming animal blood, raw meat and worse. Some kids earn money for the shrines by working at fetish markets or begging.

Even many Christians in Togo mix animistic beliefs with their faith in Christ and build fetishes like the one above in hopes of receiving protection from evil spirits. The promise of prosperity and control seems especially attractive in impoverished places, where people who have never had access to an education are desperate to ease their suffering. Some Togolese parents allow their children to live in shrines because they fear punishment from spirits if they don’t.

Only about 29 percent of people in Togo are Christian, and Compassion’s church-run centers are a safe haven for children as they play and learn about Christ. Many Voodoo followers reject black magic and do not harm others. But in some communities, the use of body parts and fluids in rituals turns children into targets. Compassion’s church partners commit to knowing, loving and protecting every sponsored child. That commitment became evident recently when a girl named Aklobessi, pictured above center, stopped showing up for Compassion activities.

Keep reading to find out how Compassion’s church partners rescued 6-year-old Aklobessi from a Voodoo shrine where she was being forced to live.

Six-year-old Aklobessi’s mother, Sogbossi (pictured above with Aklobessi), is a member of the Voodoo shrine across the street from their home in a village in Togo. The girl’s father, Lossou, works as an upholsterer but doesn’t earn enough money to support the family. Both Aklobessi’s parents volunteer at the shrine as fetish experts, ensuring the priest has all the materials he needs to conduct ceremonies. In 2015, workers from a nearby church that partners with Compassion visited Aklobessi’s home and others in the community to tell parents how the sponsorship program provides children with food, health care, education and Bible lessons. Many parents declined to register their children because they feared offending their idols.

“If we dare to leave the idols, we don’t know how it will be. Some of us tried it, and they died. That’s why we are afraid, because we are intimidated every day."

Lossou, pictured above outside the shrine, decided that Compassion’s benefits were worth the possible risks. “Our situation is just complicated,” he says. “If we dare to leave the idols, we don’t know how it will be. Some of us tried it, and they died. That’s why we are afraid, because we are intimidated every day.” Aklobessi began going to the Compassion center, but she stopped showing up after a month. Fernand Hloinvi, director of her center, immediately went to Aklobessi’s home. There, Lossou told him that the Voodoo priestess had taken his daughter when he wasn’t home. The priestess said Aklobessi must live in the shrine for three years of initiation. So Fernand and the church began an 11-month fight for her freedom. They went to the shrine to meet with the priestess, who just shouted incantations and threats. Then Fernand contacted social services to report that Aklobessi wasn’t in school, which is required in Togo up to age 15. While he waited for social services to act, Fernand recruited other churches to fast and pray. On Aklobessi’s birthday, he went to visit her, taking a social worker to observe. When it came time to leave, Aklobessi broke down. “When they were going back, I kept on crying because I wanted to follow them,” she says.

Under pressure from the church staff, social services and Aklobessi’s near-constant crying, the priestess agreed to let her go — but not before a month of rituals she said were necessary for her early release. The priestess required Aklobessi’s parents to provide animals and drinks for ceremonies. Since they didn’t have any animals or money, they asked relatives for help. When Aklobessi was released at last, her Compassion center organized a feast to welcome her back. Although Aklobessi’s parents still belong to the shrine, Lossou trusts the Christians helping his daughter. Aklobessi — pictured above with her family — resumed school and receives tutoring at her Compassion center. There she learns that she was created to live in freedom and light, not in the fear and darkness that keep so many Togolese in bondage.

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December 2017

A church in Togo fights occult-based traditions to free a 6-year-old girl from a Voodoo shrine.

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A church in Togo fights occult-based traditions to free a 6-year-old girl from a Voodoo shrine.

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