As soon as a team from Orlando, Florida, arrived in the Akebu village in Togo, West Africa, a group of 15 women greeted them with hymns of praise and joyful dancing. Drums accompanied the serenade of gratitude to God. Still singing, each woman began tilling the soil, preparing it for the construction of a church. Children beamed and squealed, surrounding the visitors. Then the village men, with tools in hand, extended their greetings. They came to help replace their leaky thatched-roof church.
In total, about 100 Akebu villagers joined hands that day, serving together with the American team.
Doug Haag took a moment to mentally capture the scene. This was his third construction trip to Togo; he’d come each year since 2017 with fellow members of Faith Assembly, Doug’s home church in Orlando.
“As I watched all that was going on, I had to choke back the tears,” Doug said.
Doug rejoiced, but not just because a new church was being constructed — he was also thankful to be in Togo while the Bible was being translated into a language that the Akebu could truly understand.
A translation team has currently finished more than half of the New Testament. While the Gospels are complete, several major books need work to begin, including Romans, Hebrews and 1 and 2 Corinthians. About 50,000 to 70,000 people speak Akebu. The majority follow traditional ancestral rituals and few are Christians.
But praise God that the whole New Testament is set to be completed in 2023 and dedicated to God for his glory!
COMMITTING TO THE AKEBU
Doug is a former missionary pilot. He and his wife, Jo, joined Wycliffe Bible Translators USA in 1995 and served in Papua New Guinea for almost four years before moving to Orlando in 2001. He currently serves at Wycliffe USA’s headquarters as the senior director of strategic prayer.
Doug’s connection to the Akebu dates back to mid-2013 when he and his colleague, Dan Moury, started meeting every Monday for lunch. They’d dream, plan and pray about how they could link their love of cycling with Bible translation
The two eventually decided to do an epic 24-hour bike ride from Orlando to Key West — a 364-mile journey. Amazingly, that wasn’t the hardest decision the avid cyclists had to make: it was which people group to commit to!
They needed a project that would include a translator who was fluent in English, was Internet-savvy, and could help them raise awareness, prayer support and funds for the project via Facebook.
Doug pored over Wycliffe’s extensive database of nearly 200 translation projects, but was overwhelmed. Then he remembered a talk by Bernie May, a past president of Wycliffe. Bernie had talked about how he asked God to help him fall in love with a people group.
“Lord, help me fall in love with a people group” became Doug's prayer for a week.
About a week later, Doug sat down with that project list again. As soon as he saw the Akebu, he knew that was God’s answer. He recalled the people group from when he and his two young daughters had read and prayed through Wycliffe’s book, “From Akebu to Zapotec: a Book of Bibleless Peoples.”
“Ashley, Emily and I had prayed often for the Akebu,” Doug explained. “God started answering my prayer to fall in love with a people group 14 years before I prayed it!”
Doug shared his joy with Dan and then, over the days that followed, connected with Jacques Sossoukpe, the lead translator of the Akebu project.
And so, with a translation project to raise funds for, Doug and Dan began preparing for their 24-hour bike ride.
A RIDE TO REMEMBER
After training for months, Doug and Dan, followed by two teams in separate vehicles to keep them hydrated and fed as well as chronicle their trip, set out from Wycliffe’s parking lot at 10:07 a.m. on April 10, 2015. Their goal was to raise $15,000 for the Akebu translation project. With the tumultuous cheers of Wycliffe colleagues ringing in their ears, the two began their arduous journey.
“We knew once we got rolling, we’d settle down in a familiar routine. But there was no way to predict or to know how our bodies might react,” Doug said. “It was just one pedal stroke at a time.”
At 11:40 a.m., 28 miles into the ride, they stopped for a drink and to grab a sandwich. Dan quipped, “Okay, we’re done.”
That afternoon, as the sun beat down on them, the two started to labor. When a heavy rainstorm hit at 5:30 p.m., they became apprehensive. But the rain turned out to be a blessing, cooling them down and allowing them to get a second wind.
Almost four hours later, Doug and Dan stopped again. When asked how he was feeling, Doug responded, “It’s one hour past my bedtime and we’ve officially gone 171 miles. That’s one mile farther than we’ve ever gone before.”
At 3:30 a.m., with 105 miles to go, the duo were struggling. They calculated that they were behind the pace needed to get to Key West within the 24-hour limit. Jo posted an urgent prayer request on Facebook that Dan and Doug needed God’s strength. The response was immediate and people began praying. With just 17.5 miles and one hour and four minutes left, Doug and Dan announced they believed they could make it!
And with just 11 minutes to spare, the pair arrived in Key West at 9:53 a.m. They were drained but in great spirits because they’d met more than their time goal — they had also surpassed their $15,000 fundraising goal!
“We want to thank everyone who supported this effort, those who prayed, those who gave, those who encouraged us along the way,” Dan said. “As crazy as this idea seemed, God empowered us to do this for his glory and to bring God’s Word to a people group who needs it in a language they can understand. What an honor.”
REVIVAL IN TOGO
Doug believes God is fulfilling Isaiah 55:5 among the Akebu: “You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey. ...” (NLT).
Today, lead Akebu translator Jacques is still encouraged about what God is doing and will continue to do as the Bible translation progresses. “We are so grateful that there is revival in the Akebu region,” he said. “I can say this is greatly due to the fact that the Bible is there. More and more people can go to church and hear the Word of God in their local language.”
Doug concluded: “I’m praying that the Akebu will be transformed by the gospel and there would be an unquenchable fire in people’s hearts. I’m praying it would be like the first-century church and that it would look like the Book of Acts coming alive among the Akebu, with a movement to Christ sweeping among them.”