The church in northern Mali consists of first generation Christians who need grounding in new attitudes to sin and morality. For example, in Islam stealing is no great sin provided nobody catches you! In Christ, people discover genuine honesty.
Many Christians are under pressure from family and friends to return to Islam. Being part of the family group is important, so a new Christian usually finds himself rejected. He is refused food and lodging, and may be ostracised. He is treated like a dog.
Most believers in Mali are young men still dependent on their families. But what if their biological family wants nothing to do with them? Can their new spiritual family help? Can a Christian community, where the majority are unemployed, carry the burden of physical needs?
It is a great challenge. But the Word of God says, ‘I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread’ (Psalm 37:25).
Many times the Lord has provided, solving the most desperate situations. The gospel’s progress in northern Mali is largely due to the faithful prayers and support of the Lord’s people everywhere.
Not every church can send a missionary to Mali, but all believers can share prayerfully in the conflict.
What other problems face us? Firstly, access to sound Christian literature is limited. Believers are poorly educated and find it difficult to read the Bible. Christian books in French are scarce and the indigenous languages offer none at all.
Reading is not a priority anyway — the struggle for daily bread is what matters.
Secondly, there are ‘rice Christians’ who attend Christian churches to get material help. They think they will be paid to become Christians. Christianity is associated with white people; and ‘white’ means ‘rich’!
Thirdly, there have been few conversions among women. If it is difficult enough for a Christian man to be rejected by his family — for a woman it is catastrophic! Most women have little education or means of self-support.
The churches are full of young Christian men who cannot find Christian wives. Sometimes, families tempt them back by offering a young Muslim girl as a wife.
But the young church of Mali does have strengths. There is a good understanding of the doctrines of grace. All the northern pastors have been trained in the Bible Institute in Gao, run by the Evangelical Baptist Mission.
There is a vision for mission. Although the church is young, church leaders have begun to recognise their responsibility to evangelise.
Over the last few years the Gao church has sent believers to Gossi to plant a new church. An indigenous missionary has moved to Ansongo. New ventures in Kidal and other towns are planned.
At this stage the churches are not self-supporting, nor can they fully support church planting. But they are doing what little they can. Both in Gao and Timbuktu the Lord has opened a door for broadcasting the gospel over the radio three times a week.
Churches are translating the Bible into the local languages of Tamasheq and Songai. The New Testament in Tamasheq was completed last year after 10 years labour.
As far as we know, the church in Gao is probably the only one in Mali to hold a regular gospel service on a Friday. The Christians there realise the priority in evangelism of preaching God’s Word and witnessing through individual contact — rather than using methods verging on entertainment.
Every Friday morning a group of believers distribute invitations for the service. It is encouraging to see young people, open to the truth, hearing salvation explained in a straightforward way. However, the response among older people has been nil.
Christian work in northern Mali is a marathon — a faithful long-term witness of life and lip. Believers have to learn by experience both to be and to make disciples — with no encouragement from unconverted friends or family.
Yet those who have been truly converted, and have experienced the mercy and goodness of the Lord, know that no cost is too great to serve the living Saviour.