Mali Memories, Part 6: The True Heroes of Mali – the Women!

Posted on May 12, 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.

No Vacation!
For the two women of First Orlando – Tracey Bolin and Mary Ellen Hollis (not those pictured below) – who went to Mali, “free time” was an unheard of concept.

“When we pulled into [B-Village] on the first day, Mary Ellen and I had to unlock the two houses [the men’s and women’s quarters], bring out our cots and mats, sweep out the houses, set up the individual sleeping quarters, get the kerosene lamps out so they could be filled, fill the trash can with water from a well [which was about 120 yards away] – by the way, that took about 12 trips – put a bucket of water in the shower [there is no electricity or plumbing in B-Village], fill up hand-washing buckets, fill up the toilet tea kettle, set up our stoves in the cooking tent, wash and sanitize the dishes, cook supper for about 18 people, boil water for washing and cleansing, mix powdered drinks, and get the water bottles dispersed so people wouldn’t die of dehydration – that would have really put a damper on the trip.”

That vivid description and touch of dry humor comes courtesy of Tracey, who, take our word for it, was definitely not making any jokes at the time.

And, she adds, that was all within two hours of arriving in camp.

“The rest of the [5-day] week consisted of being awakened by a rooster who graciously got us up at dawn, making sure there was water in the shower [a small concrete room with 8-foot walls and no roof], cooking three meals a day, constantly carrying water from the wells in buckets, handwashing all the bowls, silverware and cooking utensils following meals, going over to the ladies’ village to help them pound corn and sift millet, helping wash their clothes by hand and then hang them up, cutting okra, making shea butter and shea detergent, meeting with and teaching the women and children of the village. And that’s not even close to all of it.”

Whew! You break into a sweat just reading it!

What About the Men?
So, while the women were slaving away, where were the men, especially the First Orlando men?

“Mary Ellen and I knew from the get-go that this was a male-dominated society,” Tracey said of the Bambaran people to whom the team ministered. “Women absolutely, positively, carry the brunt of daily living. The men will plant and harvest the corn and millet and that’s pretty much it. They work two months of the year.”

In other words, the First Orlando men joined their Bambaran counterparts in just, um, pretty much sitting around and lounging in the shade.

And, for what’s it worth, it was very tough for the First Orlando guys to sit by while the women were laboring so fiercely in the scorching African sun. But, in truth, there was not much we could do about it; the men of B-Village would have lost all respect for us.

“That’s the backdrop of why we had to do what we did,” Tracey said. “For a man to receive respect from his wife, she must do all these things. We knew we had to do the same to show respect for our men. The eyes of the village were on us in terms of how we showed respect to the men.”

Despite the good intentions, conforming to such rigid traditions took a lot of teeth-gritting by the women. “In that culture, the messenger is more important than the message,” Tracey said. “By us doing what we did, we showed our credibility and had a much better chance of being believed [when we shared the Gospel].”

But that didn’t make it any easier, she admitted. “Was it stressful? Were there times when I wanted to dump a bucket of water on somebody? Yes!”

Our team at the airport in Paris. The 2 women — Tracey, standing next to me, and Mary Ellen — were the true heroes of the trip!

All Worth It!
And now, the $64,000 question: Was it all worth it?

“I would do it again next week!”

Say what, Tracey?

“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Teaching the [village] women and seeing them come to an understanding of Christ was incredible. I said to them, ‘Whenever anyone walks the “Yeshu Road” [the phrase used for following Jesus], it doesn’t mean our difficulties go away, but the difference is that Yeshu walks with you. I told them that for those who walk the Yeshu Road, I would see them again.

“Three or four of them nodded their heads, and one of the women said, ‘We will follow you.’ That was the sweetest reward of all and what made everything we went through so worth it.”