Pastor and missionary Kokou Loko has sickle cell disease — and he thanks God for it.
Sickle cell anemia is a disease passed down through families in which red blood cells form an abnormal crescent shape. And despite the fact that sickle cell disease is much more common in people of African and Mediterranean descent, the doctors treating Pastor Loko couldn’t diagnose what he had, yet alone how to treat him.
In 1988, God must have lead Pastor Loko to come to the U.S. as an exchange student, as well as to minister and pastor, according to the pastor.
When he arrived in the States, he was already blind in his left eye due to the sickle cell disease from which he suffered. His eye was filled with blood and his retina was detached. But God again lad the way, the pastor said. Pastor Loko got a job working for the Salvation Army while in school. While there, he was hit accidentally in his blind left eye and rushed to a hospital, where the doctors not only diagnosed his sickle cell disease, but repaired his left eye.
“Now I have 20/20 vision,” he said. He remembers to this day how he felt when he left the hospital. He was so impressed with the medical system here in the U.S. He left the hospital on foot, walking to the bus station, but he kept looking back. “The hospital disappeared from my sight, but never from my heart.”
This is when Pastor Loko first had an idea that has turned into the purpose and goal of his life.
“In 1988, I had a wishful idea. I wished I could have something like this (U.S. medical system) in Togo,” he said. His own experiences made him wish that his people in Togo could have such a wonderful medical system as he found and was saved by here in the U.S.
Three or four years later, his right eye started deteriorating. This time, it was just a little too late. The doctors weren’t able to save this eye and he is now blind in his right eye.
“If I had never come to this country, I would have been totally blind a long time ago,” he said.
Between 1994 and 1997, Pastor Loko studied at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. After completing his undergraduate work in ministry here in the States, the pastor went home to Togo and established several churches — one main church, Eglise Baptiste la Grace or Grace Baptist Church, in the village of Adamavo in Togo, and four daughter churches. Although still a mighty feat, these churches are not like the ones Americans are used to. They are made of thin wooden planks and/or straw-like building materials used in Togo and are not very sturdy. They have easily been destroyed by storms over the years and had to be rebuilt.
In 1994, he also became good friends with pastor, Dr. Gary Richardson, pastor of Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans. They were in the seminary together getting their master’s. When Pastor Richardson asked his friend from Togo how he could help with his projects, Pastor Loko asked for medical teams — doctors and nurses, etc. — to come and help give medical care desperately needed in his country.
Many medical issues exist in Togo, such as malaria and AIDS.
Dr. Richardson was the first to help and help quickly. The first team to go to Togo went in 2005. Thirty-nine volunteers, mostly from North Oxford Baptist Church, in Oxford, Miss., of doctors and nurses went on that first medical trip to Togo.
“It seemed what I had in mind and what happened came together,” Pastor Loko said. “I never thought my dream would come true.”
And there have been several teams since, one in 2008 from the Broadmoor Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., lead by Pastor Rob Futral, and another combined trip in 2009.
Already on the 2008 trip, members of the engineering department from Ole Miss came to survey and put together initial hospital design plans.
This coming July, another team is scheduled to go to Togo that will break ground to start building a warehouse.
“I saw doctors cry like babies,” he said. “I never saw such a thing.”
Since that first medical mission, Pastor Loko has been inspired to build a well-equipped hospital.
“My philosophy is, when you stop dreaming, you’re dead,” he said. “When you’re not dreaming, you’re not living. And I’m a fighter.”
In 2008, Pastor Loko again came back to the States for medical reasons, this time to have laser surgery to again save his one remaining good eye, in addition to keep working on his project of setting up a hospital, medical equipment, as well as having medical teams go to Togo on a regular basis.
On a recent visit here in Cleveland this year, Pastor Loko attended a Sunrise Rotary meeting with his friend, Alvin Word, a Sunrise Rotarian and brother-in-law to Pastor Loko’s good friend Dr. Richardson. Word helped Pastor Loko get two EKG machines.
Pastor Loko’s mission here was to ship more medical equipment, beds and MRI machines, etc., that have been donated to Pastor Loko’s humanitarian cause.
“We are still looking for medical equipment,” Pastor Loko said. While on this trip to the Southeast, he was able to ship two containers of medical equipment, MRI machine, scooters with carts for some of the crippled patients, hospital beds, and one X-ray machine, which he didn’t plan on, money wise. “And the funny part is that, I still have nothing to fix eyes. I’m really looking for that.”
But right now, the most immediate and desperate need for Pastor Loko’s people is to drill a well for safe drinking water.
“Safe water is an issue. We need all the equipment to do this,” Pastor Loko said. “Or, we need a company to drill the well.”
Hunger is another serious problem. That’s why Pastor Loko is also “hunting for a tractor,” he said. A local mission in Togo has 228 acres on which Pastor Loko would like to start farming. “But farming in Africa is not the same as in the United States. We use machetes and tillers. Rain also is a big factor. Too little or too much, no crops.”
He is also in need of a rugged vehicle. He can only get specific models because of the minimal amount of parts available in Togo, so he is looking specifically for a Landcruiser. He’s raised half the money for one as of a couple of weeks ago.
Pastor Loko has returned to Togo within the last few weeks.
“I’ve left my family for too long,” he said.
Pastor Loko has a wife, Yvette, and three children, Esther, 17, Kevin, 14, and Kellygrace, 11.
“But I need to be home for another need,” he said.
He needs to get back to the radio station through which he broadcasts topics related to the Christian gospel, sermons received from several pastors, including Dr. Richardson, as well as educational programs on women’s health and safety. “I have to get back to that too,” he said.
“God has blessed us,” Pastor Loko said. “Things are good in the United States. I appreciate this great nation. Everything I am doing in Togo I couldn’t do without this country. I’m very appreciative of this great country and its people. God has blessed us.”
To reach Pastor Loko, contact the field office at Mission B.I.G., B.P. 1619, Lome, Togo, West Africa, or call 011-228-948-3565, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, Dr. Richardson also can be reached at POB 1700, Oxford, Miss. 38655 or at (662) 234-1101.
Or, contact Pat Boles at Global Impact, Inc., at 926 Selma Hwy., Prattsville, AL 36067-4528. This group can help get medical equipment to Togo.
For more information and/or to offer help, contact Evangelism Missions Inc. at P.O. Drawer 550, Thorsby, AL, 35171, or call them at (205) 646-0808.
For more information in Cleveland, contact Word at 595-2655.