Assemblies of God minister Rev. POIDI Benjamin never imagined he would be in full-time ministry, let alone a ministry born out of his own suffering. As a teenager, he dreamed of playing football (soccer) for the Togo National team, and even received an invitation to try out for the cadet team.
Bitterly disappointed when he didn’t make the team, Benjamin committed three days to prayer, asking the Lord for direction for his life. On the morning of the third day, the Lord spoke to a retired pastor nearby and told him to go to the church and pray for a young man in need of help. The pastor was over ninety years old and frail, but he made the long, painful walk and found the church empty except for Benjamin. The pastor stayed with him and prayed for him. When he finished, Benjamin felt an overwhelming knowledge that the Lord had heard his prayer and would reveal His plan by steps. As the elderly pastor rose to leave, he told Benjamin, “I will continue to pray for you every day until the end of my life.”
Benjamin enrolled in the accounting program at the University of Lomé and began his studies. On the evening of June 26, 1995, he was riding his motorcycle across the campus when a man waved him down and asked for a ride to the library. Benjamin didn’t realize the man was an armed thief until the man reached around him and stabbed him, cutting him open from his navel around his flank nearly to his spine. The thief took the motorcycle and fled just as a nearby soldier in the Togo armed forces heard Benjamin’s cries for help.
Togo had very little in the way of ambulance or emergency services available at that time, but the soldier did the best he could. Benjamin laid on the ground bleeding into the dust for nearly an hour while the frantic soldier summoned others to go get a vehicle. Eventually they returned with a truck and transported Benjamin to the hospital.
The medical system in Togo works on a pre-pay system. Hospitals do not provide services on credit, nor do they underwrite them. The patient or the patient’s family must visit the pharmacy in advance for medicine and supplies, and they must pay the doctor in advance. Once Benjamin arrived at the hospital, they quickly ascertained that he had no family in the area, and his only contact was a fellow church member who was unable to help. Given his lack of resources and the severity of his injury, the doctor decided, “he is going to die,” and walked away, leaving Benjamin unattended on a gurney in the hallway.
The next morning, Benjamin was still alive. Surprised, the hospital staff decided to move him into a room but they still elected not to treat him. He continued to suffer in agony, alone at the hospital without even palliative care, waiting to die.
On the third day, he was still alive. An Egyptian doctor happened to be visiting the hospital as a guest that day and noticed Benjamin’s condition. He asked the staff, who explained the situation and showed the doctor Benjamin’s chart. As it happened, the doctor was a specialist in abdominal surgery and he decided to see if he could help.
The surgeon was obliged to do multiple procedures, including completely opening Benjamin’s abdomen to investigate the extent of the damage. After each surgery, new complications arose. More than once he would be ready to do another surgery, only to be forced to delay because the hospital did not have running water or electricity. After the fourth surgery, the surgeon said, “he will not live.”
But Benjamin continued to live. At one point, the surgeon, a Muslim, said to him, “Your God is a big God. You are not alive because of me or because of anything I have done. This can only be your God.”
For months, Benjamin lived at the hospital. As he endured setback after setback, he watched others come and go around him. He saw families who were forced to watch their loved ones die because they lacked the money to pay for care. He saw children suffer unimaginable pain. And while he watched, he prayed and asked God, “Why?”
Eventually, the surgeon decided that he was going to have to remove one of Benjamin’s kidneys. But Benjamin was at the end of his strength. On the way back to his room after seeing the surgeon, he decided he would refuse the surgery and let himself die.
Passing by the pediatric ward, he noticed a group of children playing. His eye fell to a little girl, about eight years old, who was recovering from a surgery to amputate one of her legs. He was angry.
“Why, God?” he prayed. “What did this little girl do to deserve to lose a leg like this?”
“Look at her face,” the answer came. “Do you see her joy? Do you think that I don’t love her? ”
Benjamin stopped to watch her. Despite her circumstances, the girl’s face shone with an inner joy. She was laughing and playing along with the other children. If this little girl could find joy even in her appalling circumstances, surely he, Benjamin, could too.
It was at that point that the Lord told Benjamin, “I have a project for you. This is not the end of your story.” Recalling all the miracles that had kept him alive up until this point, Benjamin surrendered, “Okay Lord. Because I am still alive, I give you my life. I will do what you ask me to do.”
Nine months and three days after the day a thief nearly cut him in half to steal a motorcycle not worth more than a few hundred dollars, Benjamin walked out of the hospital with a new sense of purpose.
“God called me,” he says today, “to serve the poor, to preach the Good News of Jesus to the people of my country, and to serve suffering children and communities.” From that time, the Lord directed his life, one step at a time, to bring him the right training, the right experience, and the right funding to do exactly that.
Today Benjamin’s ministry, Avenir Enfance Togo, is a thriving community ministry to orphans, widows, and to an entire neighborhood in Lomé, Togo. What he and his wife began just 10 years ago now has 24 orphaned children in full-time residence. They serve about 200 more who lodge with extended family. The ministry provides tutoring, meals, tuition-assistance, clothing assistance, and spiritual training. They offer vocational training to both orphans and widows. They operate a medical clinic staffed by volunteer medical professionals, serving their neighborhood with reduced cost medical consultations and pharmacy services. They manage two private Christian schools nearby, with 1,400 students from pre-school through high school, on a sliding-scale tuition structure that allows orphaned and impoverished children to attend. And although they have had outside help to start the ministry, it is now largely self-funded, which means that they are not dependent on foreign donations to continue the ministry.
POIDI Benjamin’s story is a story about redeemed suffering. Benjamin chose to cling to God in the face of overwhelming circumstances, and because he did, God was able to take his experience and use it to proclaim God’s mercy to a suffering world.
“Bear one another’s burdens, the Bible says. It is a lesson about pain that we all can agree on. Some of us will not see pain as a gift; some will always accuse God of being unfair for allowing it. But, the fact is, pain and suffering are here among us, and we need to respond in some way. The response Jesus gave was to bear the burdens of those he touched. To live in the world as his body, his emotional incarnation, we must follow his example. The image of the body accurately portrays how God is working in the world. Sometimes he does enter in, occasionally by performing miracles, and often by giving supernatural strength to those in need. But mainly he relies on us, his agents, to do his work in the world. We are asked to live out the life of Christ in the world, not just to refer back to it or describe it. We announce his message, work for justice, pray for mercy . . . and suffer with the sufferers.”
― Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts?