Below is an update from Dan Zimmerman, former missionary in Mali. Please take time to read, pray, and increase your awareness of the progress of the gospel around the world.
The sound of automatic rifle fire and the cries of Allahu Akbar pierced the early morning stillness as rebel forces made their way into the city of Gao, Mali, on March 31, 2012. They arrived in Timbuktu the following day. This was the beginning of the end of almost 61 years of continual missionary outreach among the Muslims in the northern regions of this West African country.
In 1951, Dan and Ann Zimmerman pioneered the ministry in Gao, Mali, under the auspices of Africa Christian Missions (later known as Evangelical Baptist Missions). Other missionaries soon followed and moved into Timbuktu and a couple of other cities in that region. In 1979, we were the first of a group of second generation missionaries (and the second generation of Zimmermans) to arrive in northern Mali. By January 2012, there were established churches with Malian pastors in most of the major cities of northern Mali. A Bible college in the city of Gao (with a Malian director) had already graduated 30 students, most of whom were serving as pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and Christian workers in areas such as translation. There were also a number of ongoing projects with the goal of reaching the Muslim communities with the Gospel. This all changed the end of March.
Early this year, rebel forces made up of a combination of heavily armed Tuaregs returning from the conflict in Libya, Al-Qeda, and other terrorists groups began attacking desert outposts with the goal of eventually taking over the northern two-thirds of Mali and establishing their own territory which they call Azawad. This has been their desire since some of these men first attacked Menaka when we lived there. With the fall of Menaka, Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu, they accomplished their goals.
As these Islamists began implementing sharia law, looting and pillaging, terrorizing citizens, raping women and girls, the populations of these cities began to flee. God was gracious in allowing some 200 Christians from northern Mali to escape to the south of the country totally unharmed physically, although many were traumatized emotionally from all they experienced. However, every church, the Bible college, the various projects, homes of pastors and believers have all been looted and destroyed. It has been heartbreaking to see the destruction of all physical aspects of 61 years of ministry in these cities. At the moment, there isn’t a lot of hope that ministry will ever again be able to take place in these regions. Yet, we are reminded that the church isn’t in buildings and equipment, but rather a group of believers who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. His work still goes on in the lives of these men and women. These particular men, women, and children need your prayers in a special way.
This has been a vivid reminder of the need to redeem the time because the day in which we live is very evil and growing more evil with each passing day. We do not know how much time we have left to share the gospel message. No one ever thought the large city of Gao, Mali, would fall into the hands of Islamist terrorists. It is mind boggling to know that almost overnight, the Christians were forced to escape for their lives and all churches were destroyed. The same thing could happen anywhere. Are we doing all we can for the furtherance of the Gospel?