Feature

Preparing the Table

Malians use good food to spread the good news

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For at least 10 years the mission team in Mali has desired to effectively communicate the gospel to professional-class Malians. They live comfortable lives financially but find themselves juggling conflicting influences—prevailing religion, tradition, Western secularism and family demands.

The few Christian doctors, lawyers, bankers, government officials and business leaders have an additional challenge. Because the majority of believers are subsistence farmers or poor laborers, the churches the professionals grew up in do not reflect their new social status. The C&MA churches in Bamako are no exception. Though professionals attend regularly, they cannot imagine bringing their friends to small mud brick sanctuaries or thatch shelters.

Encountering God

My wife and I have been assigned to help reach professionals in Bamako. One option would be planting a church among them. Since a few professionals are already active in local churches, finding one that would be willing to meet the needs of new believers from that class seemed like the best place to start.

The professionals at Sabalibougou church and their pastor, Christophe Dembélé, accepted our invitation to study Experiencing God together. Throughout the study (written by Henry Blackaby and translated into French) we challenged the participants to “see where God is at work and join Him in it.” Each time the class met, we encouraged one another with new insights about God and our relationship with Him and shared how we were applying these changes to our lives.

At the end of the course we asked the participants what God was leading them to do. Each member of the class wanted to be more effective in witnessing and discipling other professionals. We hoped to begin home groups that would combine believers and nonbelievers to study Scripture, but our students did not think their friends were ready for such a commitment.

Then Pastor Christophe spoke up. “God has been speaking to me about organizing an outreach dinner at a hotel,” he told us. “I felt reluctant because of the cost, but this discussion has confirmed God’s leading.” With the Malians taking the initiative to reach out, we gladly offered to partner with them. Through the GCF, our field budget was able to cover part of the cost.

Come and Dine

Pastor Christophe found a nearby hotel, and we helped to select a menu that would appeal to the broadest spectrum of attendees. Our theme was “Malian Couples Facing Today’s Realities.” The speaker was Pastor Yiranou Traoré, an experienced evangelist well-known for his radio and television ministries.

Hotel staff told Pastor Christophe that the conference room could hold 80 people. We doubted that many would come, so we printed 24 invitations and planned for around 50 people to accept. A local Christian band that plays a variety of music agreed to perform. Pastor Christophe invited a believer who holds a prominent government position and often appears on television to act as emcee.

When we looked at the conference room, however, our hearts sank a bit. To seat 80 people around tables would involve packing them in tighter than passengers in Bamako’s taxi vans. “There won’t be more than 50,” we said. “We can squeeze that many in.” Setting up tables was challenging, but we managed to arrange 56 seats.

On the day of the dinner, we arrived at the hotel to find a number of believers with their guests already there. We greeted them and began serving soft drinks. People kept coming, and we kept finding seats for them. Finally, more chairs had to be brought in.

Of course, minor dramas were nothing compared with what was happening at the spiritual level. Eternal issues were at stake. As we looked around, we realized that all the members of our Experiencing God class had just taken a major step in their witness—each couple had brought guests, some of whom were in a Christian environment for the first time. We were thankful for everyone who was praying for the event.

The emcee, a fairly recent convert, prayed in a style that left most of us feeling uncomfortable. We wondered if people would start leaving, but everyone remained seated. In fact, it was obvious that a positive atmosphere filled the room. Conversation was lively; the musical group provided a pleasant atmosphere; and the servers unobtrusively made their way through the crowded room.

Pastor Traoré did a great job tying the challenges of daily life to our need for Jesus. At the end, eight guests indicated that they wanted to follow Christ. Pastor Christophe prayed with them and scheduled their next steps of discipleship.

No one was in a hurry to leave. Many stayed to talk while the musicians continued playing. The next day we rejoiced over the results; counting the musicians, we had served 69 dinners. God inspired the dream, prompted the dinner and gave a successful conclusion to the drama.

Since we were nearing the end of our term and preparing for home ministry assignment, we wanted to be certain that the new believers would receive follow up from the Malian church members. Pastor Christophe is discipling a family of four who came to the event prepared to make a decision for Christ. Jatrue, one of the attendees, is an acquaintance of ours. We know he wants to follow the Lord but has not yet made a public confession of faith. Just before our departure, one of our Experiencing God students came to say goodbye. “Oh, by the way,” he said. “Jatrue is in my English class.” Even though we had wondered who would continue to contact Jatrue and his wife, God had already cared for the situation by putting him in the same class as one of our students. The three other new believers are being discipled by the friends who invited them for the dinner.

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