Story by Cooper Nelson
GCU Today Magazine
Late at night, a bespectacled Komi Lokossou sits inches from a large flat-screen television screen working on MBA homework streamed from his laptop. This is how he has to study after a coma from carbon monoxide poisoning in December 2013.
The west African native has four homework stations like this throughout his Phoenix home and the small outside guest room, the site of the accident that left him temporarily blind. The multiple locations are necessary for solace in the house he shares with his wife, four of his 10 children — ages 16, 14, 8 and 4 (the other six, ages 33 to 18, live away from home) — and often his five granddaughters.
Lokossou, 53, a Grand Canyon University public safety officer and online student known for his infectious smile and caring personality, emigrated to Arizona in 2000 after seven years as a refugee in Benin, the country directly east of his native Togo. Lokossou is on track to earn his first master’s degree next year, but he also possesses a handful of undergraduate degrees in criminal justice, private investigation, nursing assistance and paralegal.
His GCU degree, he said, will be another tool he can use to serve others — his mission in life. Lokossou spends most of his time on campus praying with students and acting as a father figure. He often offers advice while on patrol. After graduation, he plans to open an orphanage, something he believes a GCU business degree will help him accomplish.
“God has a plan for my life and brought me (to GCU) to help people and show His heart,” said Lokossou, who didn’t speak English when he arrived in America. He now speaks 10 languages fluently.
“I had many hardships in life,” he said. “I do not know if it is a gift from God, but if I see someone who is hurting, I am able to help them.”
Running for his life
On a quiet March evening in 1993 in Togo’s capital, Lomé, Lokossou, his wife and four children were eating dinner when a neighbor banged frantically on the door.
Lokossou, then 32, was a corporal in the Togo army and served as a personal bodyguard for the former president, whom anti-democratic rebels wished to assassinate.
Lokossou was warned that men were coming to kill him for supporting the president. After brief goodbyes, he fled. He crept between houses until he reached his brother, who drove him to the outskirts of town on his motorcycle.
By midnight, they reached the city limits — the farthest his brother could go. Rebel camps bordered the city, and the engine roar would give them away. So Lokossou ran. He hid in bushes and swam through rivers. He ran for three days straight — nearly 231 miles — stopping only to pillage food from farms he passed.
After reaching the Benin border, he ran to an American Red Cross outpost, where he pleaded for the rescue of his wife and children.
“My wife tell me that rebels have my son, who was a baby, and hold him by his feet with a knife and tell her that if she does not tell them where I am they will kill him,” Lokossou said.
“Thank God they did not hurt my child. I believed God had saved me and would deliver us to the Promise Land as He delivered His people from Egypt.”
Within a week, his family joined him and more than 1,000 refugees in a small protected community.
Perseverance, then deliverance
The family’s seven years in Benin were difficult. Rebels attempted to kill him six times. For a short time, Lokossou and his family — by then seven children — lived in a small, cramped tent. Most days he begged for food, and often the family went hungry.
After a couple years, he earned a nursing degree and opened a small clinic through Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. Over time, the attempts on his life and poor living conditions became overwhelming. Lokossou borrowed money from the Red Cross, more than $10,000 that he would eventually repay, and brought his family to Phoenix.
Life here proved difficult at first. His nursing degree wasn’t accepted by American companies. He worked low-paying security and factory jobs to support his family and pay for his college. After hard work and determination, he landed a job at GCU in 2012.
GCU Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin and Lokossou met soon after, and they talk on campus weekly. Griffin said Lokossou is one of the most genuine people he knows.
“Whenever I’m showing a parent or employee campus, I make sure to introduce them to Komi,” Griffin said. “I’m sure they think, ‘Why is he introducing me to a security guard?’ Then he speaks and they can see what a guy like Komi means to GCU.
“It’s neat to have someone on campus who, when you dig into his past and learn of his hardships, you can see God’s love and joy reflected in him. It would be great if we could have 100 Komis on campus.”
Delivered from death — again
Lokossou now considers America, and GCU in general, the Promise Land delivered by God. Once he got to GCU, he believed his hardships had ended. But after only a few months, he briefly died.
Similar to his brush with death in Togo, the day of Lokossou’s accident was just like any other. He returned home from his shift at GCU and lit a charcoal grill to cook dinner near the backyard guest room. He was home alone and rested on the bed inside as the meat cooked. Smoke from the grill filled the room, and he fell into a coma.
Lokossou’s son found him later that day, unconscious and not breathing. He was pronounced dead after three days in the coma but awoke shortly after. He lost his sight, hearing, ability to speak and feeling in his left arm but, within three months, all of it had returned. Lokossou immediately returned to work and enrolled in classes. People at GCU were overjoyed he was alive.
“He took 10 years off my life,” said GCU Director of Public Safety Henry Griffin, who hired Lokossou. “He never complains. If you ask me what comes to mind when I think of Komi, it’s that he always has a Christian heart.”
Blessings a ‘reason to smile’
Lokossou looks at his past hardships as a way to connect with GCU students seeking God.
Every morning before his shift, he detours to the College of Theology Prayer Chapel to organize the room and pray. He welcomes everyone he passes with a smile and offers advice and prayer to students in need.
Courage Chirandu, a senior from Zimbabwe, Africa, considers Lokossou a second father. They met earlier this year in the Prayer Chapel. Chirandu, 23, felt estranged from his biological father in Africa and went to the Chapel to seek guidance. Lokossou shared his story and offered Chirandu advice.
He considers Lokossou a Godsend.
“Komi always has a smile and kind words to fix whatever is wrong in your life,” Chirandu said. He reconnected with his father the night after meeting Lokossou.
“If you knew his story, you wouldn’t think that (he has a reason to smile), but he always is.”
Lokossou wants to continue to serve as a father figure to students seeking guidance. He hopes his story will encourage others to praise God for the blessings in their lives.
“I want to take a positive step and do good things today so others have a positive future and do God’s work tomorrow,” Lokossou said with a smile.
“I have no reason not to smile. God has put so many blessings in my life. Yes, I have been through so much. But why would I not smile?”
Contact Cooper Nelson at 602-639-7511 or email@example.com.