Amid Mali's upheaval, Christians stand firm
BAMAKO, Mali (BP) -- Most IMB missionaries assigned to the West African nation of Mali have left the country due to the continuing conflict between Islamist rebels and Malian military supported by French forces.
"Right now we have our personnel spread over a variety of countries because of the situation," John Grayson*, an International Mission Board strategy leader in West Africa, said. "All but one family has left the country."
Islamist rebels early last year used widespread instability created by warring factions in the north to impose Shariah law in areas where they gained control. They reportedly destroyed church buildings and sought to eliminate any hint of Christianity.
"Our personnel are concerned for the Malians who are unable to evacuate," Grayson said, particularly "those who are stuck behind in areas controlled by the rebels."
Anna Farmer*, a missionary to Mali who plans to return after a meeting in a neighboring country, said, "Believers are being targeted and persecuted."
World Watch Monitor reports that rebel groups controlled more than half of Mali from April last year until the recent intervention by France forces who have helped the Malian military push the rebels back north.
According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, about 230,000 Malians have been internally displaced and another 150,000 people left Mali seeking help in surrounding countries.
Grayson said IMB personnel are concerned for believers who have been forced to leave their homes and villages. IMB personnel are hoping and praying that these believers can do "as much as they can to reach out to their peoples in these surrounding countries where they have now been evacuated."
Despite the fighting, Farmer said, "Many believers are demonstrating their faith and care to their Muslim neighbors like never before.
"One of our Baptist churches [in Mali] held a prayer vigil at their church last weekend. This church usually runs 20 people. The prayer vigil had [more than] 100 people, including many non-believers. At the church service the next morning, there were at least 40 people."
This situation looks grim, but "we must trust God through it all," Grayson said. "My prayer is that there would be a quick resolution to this situation. I pray that it would be done peaceably."
Grayson added: "Pray for those behind the rebel lines, that they would be faithful and a strong witness for Christ, which also means that they may lose their lives as they remain faithful to Christ. Pray for them to find places and ways to care for their basic needs."
Farmer asks for prayer "that believers can point to Jesus as the only way to true peace."
*Names changed. William Bagsby is an International Mission Board writer based in Europe.