Mali Memories, Part 1: Suddenly, God is Here!

Posted on May 7, 2021

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By David Ettinger

Note: Back in October of 2007, First Baptist Church of Orlando – for whom I worked as a writer – sent a team to Mali to share the Gospel in this West African nation. I had the privilege of being a part of that team. I am sharing 7 of the stories I wrote about that missionary outreach.

First Impressions
One look at the red dirt of Mali and you know you’re no longer in Kansas, Toto. In fact, turn your head in any direction and you can easily see the evidences of a third-world country: Maniacal drivers who scoff at traffic laws; filthy street markets where unprotected food sits just feet away from open sewers; hoards of humanity lining the streets everywhere you look – this is clearly an “outdoor” society; minarets rising high above the congestion, signaling this is a Muslim stronghold.

Me with the new friends I made!

That’s a first impression of Mali, especially its capital city Bamako. But a surface-level glance fails to reveal the more tender, more humane side of a nation that ranks 25th in size among the world’s countries. But while Mali is also among the globe’s poorest nations, its people, for the most part, are hospitable, warm, and welcoming to the visiting foreigner.

For full-time missionaries Steve and Susan Roach, Mali has become home. “There is a real hunger for Christ here,” Steve said. “Recently, we preached in a church in one of the villages, and thirty people gave their lives to Him.”

That is just the first trickle of what the Roaches hope one day will become a torrent of faith professions by the people of Mali. And that’s what appears to be happening.

For instance …

God at Work
“We had a volunteer [missionary] team that got stuck in the mud,” Steve recalled. “They waded through this brown, mucky water a mile-and-a-half to get to the nearest village to stay the night. Two days later, six people from the village became believers.”

Monumental news indeed, but agonizingly long in coming.

“This is not normal for Mali,” Susan said. “It’s like a descending of God. Missionaries have been coming here for years and years and nothing has happened. But suddenly, God is here.”

And according to Steve, God has arrived in a big way.

“Earlier this year, something started happening just south of us,” he explained. “There’s an African pastor who began praying that people would be healed. He prayed for people that were crippled … had polio … and they were healed. It’s been incredible. When you hear reports of healings and miracles, the American mind rises up and there is a great deal of skepticism. There’s an image of televangelists and false preachers. But here, it’s really happening.”

Mali Facts
So, just where is Mali and why should we care about it? First of all, Mali is home to the 4 million-strong Bambara people group, the first-ever people group adopted by First Orlando. That’s for starters. Now, the facts.

Mali, which gained its independence from France in 1960, is located in northwest Africa and is bordered by Algeria, Niger, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso. Its population is just under 12 million and the life expectancy of the people is frightfully short – 51.4 years for women and 47.6 years for men. Religiously, the nation is 90 percent Muslim, 9 percent indigenous beliefs, but only 1 percent Christian. The official language is French, but 80 percent of the people speak Bambaran. The literacy rate is a meager 46 percent.

The Niger River flows through the heart of Mali

In other words, the nation has proven to be a major challenge to missionaries over the centuries. But now, that’s changing.

“I don’t know exactly what God’s plan is for Mali, but it does include salvation,” Steve said. “It’s a joyful thing to see God work, but it’s also hard. I have more believers than I can disciple. But it’s not us. The message we share is almost 2,000 years old. It’s all about God moving at this time.”

And with His moving comes the need for more workers.

“I don’t go to new villages anymore,” Steve said. “I know if I did, I would get 30, 40, or 50 new believers. But I don’t have the time to help them grow [in the Lord]. That’s why I encourage churches [in the U.S.] to step in and be a part of what God is doing here. We need to evangelize, teach Africans to evangelize, disciple and build a good, vibrant Church that can continue reaching out to others.”

Guess what? That’s already happened. Granted, it’s modest and sporadic, but for Mali, it’s huge – worthy of screaming headlines and newsflash proclamations.

“Just recently,” Steve said, “we’ve had our first second-generation believers. Those who became Christians back in February are now turning around and leading people to faith in Christ.”

We don’t want to give the impression that this is a nationwide phenomenon in Mali, but it is a significant start.

“God is working in ways we’ve never seen before,” Steve said. “To be a part of this is amazing. God is calling laborers to Mali and your church is a part of it.”