Feature

A Power All Its Own

A Malian man shines the glory of Christ

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Seydou Traore, 40-something years old, is the son of the chief in a village of about a thousand people in southeastern Mali. He just became the first Christian in town.

George Goita, the pastor of the C&MA church in Ngolonianasso, a neighboring village, had long sought a relationship with the people of Seydou’s village. Over the course of several visits, he befriended the chief by securing the repair of a broken water pump in one of the village’s principal wells (not a minor problem in Mali). It was in extending this practical help that George met Seydou, the village chief’s oldest son, next in line to become chief when his elderly father dies.

Like many men in Mali, Seydou has two wives. They live as an extended family in a mud-brick compound with his father and four generations of Traores. In visiting the family at their compound, George met Modibo, the six-year-old nephew of Seydou. Months earlier, Modibo had swallowed caustic chemicals, which led to progressive scarring of his esophagus and the subsequent inability to swallow anything but the thinnest of liquids. Modibo had been treated unsuccessfully in Bamako, the capital city, and was clearly wasting away. Pastor George brought Seydou and Modibo to the Hospital for Women and Children in Koutiala.

When Dr. Brett MacLean received him, the boy was extremely dehydrated, having been unable for two days to swallow even water. Under anesthesia, and over the course of several weeks, Dr. MacLean began progressively enlarging the diameter of Modibo’s esophagus with larger and larger rubber dilators. His recovery was dramatic. Seydou watched, unable to escape the conclusion that Pastor George’s God had saved his nephew’s life. As a result, he and his wives became regular attenders at the Ngolonianasso church.

Over the next two years, Seydou’s faith in Jesus began to grow. Sitting in church week after week, he knew that he was encountering the one true God, but the thought of publicly confessing Jesus as Lord terrified him.

More than 90 percent of Malians follow the same religion, and unless you live in this culture, it is hard to truly appreciate the social implications of believing something different. Honor and shame figure prominently in any major decision here, and it is common for Jesus followers to be completely ostracized, excommunicated if you will. Occasionally there are even concerns of bodily harm. Malian families live in much greater solidarity than the typical American family, so a new Malian believer has frequently counted costs that entail the possibility of homelessness, with no land to farm in a country where subsistence farming is usually necessary for survival. Also, the extended family functions as one’s financial resource in times of crisis, so a first-generation Christian may find himself unable to procure a loan to pay a medical bill or to feed his family in the event of a bad harvest.

In an American context this would be akin to risking your family, job and insurance coverage to publicly take the Name of Christ. And yet in many cultures, this is far closer to the norm for a new Christian. In Seydou’s case, it also meant quite possibly giving up his birthright to the chiefdom.

With all of these fears pressing on him, Seydou continued to attend church. But the Truth has a power all its own. As the courage to act on what he believed began to germinate within him, so did the desire for his extended family and village to hear it. Last year, though he still had not publicly declared his faith in Jesus, Seydou arranged for Pastor George and an evangelistic team to show the JESUS film in his father’s courtyard, with all of the village elders present and the entire village invited to attend.

I was privileged to be part of that team, and the excitement was running high as we watched a couple hundred people pack into the chief’s compound at dusk. Then, just before the movie started, the clouds broke open and pounding rain fell for nearly an hour. We evacuated to a nearby mud building, and in the darkness, over the din of the rain hammering the metal roof, I could hear the village call to prayer blaring out over loudspeakers just 50 meters away. When the rain stopped, we showed the movie, but only a fraction of the people remained. No one responded to Pastor George’s invitation, and I remember thinking that we had been soundly thumped in a spiritual battle.

Seydou and his wives continued to attend church. Fear of persecution and the social repercussions kept him publicly on the outside looking in, even though he knew that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and had died for his sins. Slowly he was beginning to surrender his heart to the King. He began to read the Bambara-language Bible that Pastor George had given him. People from his village would come to him with their illnesses and ask if he would pray to his God on their behalf. He would politely refuse, telling them he could not pray for them, for he himself was not a Christian.

Despite being married for more than 20 years, with two wives, Seydou had no children. Last year he came to Pastor George and asked for prayer that God would grant him a child, and shortly thereafter, his second wife, Sali, conceived. At the hospital late last year, she delivered a healthy baby boy they named Yacouba (Jacob).

Last month, Pastor Tim Wright, an Alliance worker, was trying to schedule an evangelistic outreach in another village and, frustrated at the lack of progress, called Pastor George at the last minute to set up something in Ngolonianasso. Upon hearing Tim’s voice, George promptly said that he knew exactly why he was calling. Intrigued, Tim listened as George recounted that just hours earlier, Seydou had pled with him to arrange for another evangelistic team to come to his village. Excited now, Tim and George scheduled the outreach for the following week. Again it was in the chief ’s courtyard and again, hundreds came.

After the movie Pastor George presented the gospel. No one responded, but this time Seydou asked if he could speak. He took the microphone and boldly said, “I just want everyone to know that all that you have seen in this movie and everything that Pastor George has said is true. It’s all really true!”

Afterward, 50 or 60 people, mostly youth, stayed on, asking questions, wanting to know more of Jesus. Seydou came to Pastor George and announced, “I am ready to become a Christian.”

In December 2011, not long after Yacouba’s birth, Seydou very publicly confessed his faith in Jesus Christ. Smiling from ear to ear he said, “My heart used to be so loaded down. Now it has been set free.” He changed his name to Emmanuel, “God with us.” He has not yet experienced persecution, but as the only Christian in town, people bring him their sick, asking him to pray to his God on their behalf. During the three hours I spent in the village recently, seven older men came and asked us to pray for them in the Name of Jesus!

Seydou has brought several villagers with him to church in Ngolonianasso, and both of his wives have decided to become Christians. Please pray for Emmanuel (Seydou), Pastor George and Emmanuel’s village, filled with precious people for whom Christ died.

“My neighbor said that I have a glory on my face now, and he didn’t know why,” Seydou said. “I told him it was because of Jesus.”

Learn More

For another story involving Pastor George, see “A Light in This Dark Place” in the March 1, 2011, issue of alife.

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