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Mali takes its name from the medieval kingdom of the same name that straddled the Sahara Desert and the Sahel grasslands to its south, and acted as a conduit for trade between the north and the south. The famous city of Timbuktu is synonymous with this region and era. Not much is known of the era before this time although one ancient writer describes the king of Mali converting to Islam sometime in the 11th Century. Sometime around the 14th Century a significant minority of the population adopted Islam and Timbuktu became the southern outpost of Islam and a major source of slaves taken from the black Africans further south. About this time the great Mali kingdom began to grow in influence, aided by the fact that the mighty Niger River penetrates north into the Sahara before turning south east.
The Mali kingdom declined around the 17th Century and from then until French occupation in the 1892 Mali was ruled by a succession of short-lived kings. Mali was ruled as a section of the French West African Federation. As with other French colonies, economic and social development was never encouraged as France was more interested in exploitation and suppression. No Protestant ministries were allowed in this era and sadly, it was during this time that the major Islamisation of the country took place. The spiritual story of Mali and all other Sahel countries would now be so different if evangelical ministry was allowed to take root a 100 years ago.
Mali finally won its independence in 1960 and for a few years the new country included modern day Senegal. Its current boundaries are ethnically artificial so it includes many different people groups in near equal numbers, except for the 30% Melinke-Bambara peoples. Mali is one of the poorest countries on earth and has many depressing statistics that back-up that unfortunate distinction. Perhaps the worst two are life expectancy at just 48 years, and literacy at 20%. Drought, locusts and desertification are all considered normal in Mali. Drug lords use the unpatrolled desert to ship South American drugs to Europe and there is always a break away Islamic militia somewhere on the northern horizon.
3. Evangelical Highlights
In the midst of all this there is a remarkable democracy and freedom of religion present in the country, a rare commodity in this part of the world. Mali is 87% Muslim but it is a tolerant form of the religion as it is not deeply engrained in the culture. It is still 10% Animist and many Animist practices are still prevalent in the Muslim majority. Occult and voodoo practices are rife in Mali.
Just 2.5% of the country is Christian of which Catholics make up 4/5ths of that figure. There are only 100,000 Protestant Christians out of 16 million people but most Protestants are evangelical believers. This true church grew rapidly between independence in 1960 and 1990 but has since stopped growing and has even shrunk as a % of the population. This is very unusual for an African country of any type and the cause is simply rapid population growth exceeding meagre church growth. Second generation Christianity is proving to be a shallow witness to the surrounding culture (as it is in most Western countries!). Even though the country is spiritually receptive, many who do make decisions for Jesus are poorly discipled and go back to previous practices.
Mali is still very much a mission field and there is some missions work going on, but not nearly enough. A culturally sensitive Muslim-focussed church planting movement is desperately needed.
4. Prayer Points
Pray for African ex-Muslim followers of Jesus to the get a vision for Mali.
Pray for the local church to awaken to the call of the Great Commission
Pray for apostles to be raised up who can initiate change
Pray for prayer warriors to engage the spiritual battle
Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit
Pray for the semi-nomadic northern people who have zero contact with Christianity
Pray for existing believers to throw off fear and begin to engage in spiritual warfare
Pray for radical Muslims to have power encounters with Jesus, just as Saul became Paul.
Pray for the Good News to be followed by signs and wonders
Pray for the lack of Biblical church leaders