“God bless those who have come to our aid today. It makes all Mali’s Churches feel proud.” Emmanuel Coulibaly is an elder at the church in Yirimadio, a suburb of Bamako, the capital of Mali. Today he is taking receipt on behalf of his church of sacks of rice donated as part of the project Humanitarian Aid for the Churches, which is being supported by the French Bible Society.
Rice and Bibles
There are two elements to this holistic project being run by the Bible Society in Mali. Sacks of rice and other grains are being delivered to churches in the south affected by famine and the large-scale influx of Christians fleeing the arrival of jihadists and war in the north. At the same time, Bibles are being provided to Christians from the north taking refuge in the south who have lost everything, including their Bibles.
Jacques Dembélé, Executive Secretary of the Bible Society in Mali, has seen for himself that people are equally grateful for the food aid and the Bibles.
“We northern Christians find it vital to read and listen to God’s Word in order to resist the advance of Islamic extremism,” said Jokebed Touré, a young woman who has taken refuge in one of the camps in Bamako but hopes to return to the north soon. She received a Bible in the français courant (Today’s French) translation from Mr Dembélé.
Refugees continue to arrive
“I can’t find the words to express our gratitude,” said Pastor André Théra, president of the crisis committee in Bamako. “This aid has come at just the right time. We are receiving fewer donations now, but refugees continue to arrive. Every week, one or two more families join us.”
There are currently around 500 Christian refugees from the north in camps in Bamako alone, and more are living with relatives. It is a significant burden for Christians in the south to take care of Christians from the north as well as finding enough food for their own families. Food distribution efforts are therefore needed both in Bamako and in the villages.
Christians and Muslims
In one village near Bamako, Mr Dembélé met Rosine*, a 14-year-old Muslim.
“The Christians are sharing with us the little that they have,” she told him. “I feel happy when I pound the millet or maize they give us, because I know that my parents and I will have something to eat.”
An unprecedented crisis
Thanks to the food aid that the church in Dafara, and many other churches, is receiving, whole villages are surviving. The aid has come just in time.
“The crisis we are experiencing is unprecedented,” explained Pastor Enock Coulibaly from Koutiala, a village around 400 km east of Bamako. “We have suffered times of famine in the past, but then the country was not divided and the Christians were not facing such huge challenges. Our Church has 73 places of worship in this region, and 80 per cent of Christians are affected by the famine. This little girl I am holding came to stay with me, along with her parents, because there is fighting near their home.”
‘Far away from us’
Pastor Coulibaly added that he was very touched that the Bible Society team had come as far as his village to bring Bibles and sacks of rice.
“It reminds us that, although Christians are far away from us, they share our suffering. And your role is vital, because – as you are very aware – spiritual wellbeing is very closely linked with physical wellbeing. If the Bible Society didn’t exist, it would have to be created!”
* Name changed to protect her identity.