Bringing Criminals to Christ in Mali
The Muslim prisoner in Mali wouldn’t say what crime she had committed. Most of the women at the facility had been convicted of infanticide.
Like most of the women in the prison on the outskirts of the capital, Bamako, in Mali’s tropical, sub-Saharan south, Aissata* was ashamed to say how she had landed in jail. Desperation commonly drives poor women in Mali to prostitution, but many of the prostitutes in prison were there not for selling sex but for killing the tiny lives produced from their customers.
Other women in Mali have been convicted of infanticide for giving birth to stillborn babies, while some are locked up for having children out of wedlock. Protesting injustice, however, often only makes matters worse, as the inmates are continually reminded by a large mural of a woman in silhouette holding her finger to her lips. It signals that Malian women should keep quiet or else face the consequences.
Likewise, Aissata tended to guard her painful secrets. She couldn’t risk having her crime revealed to the Sunni Muslims who make up 95 percent of the country – many of them also animists who would accuse her of stirring the wrath of spirits and ancestors.
“We first let the prisoners speak, then the prison officials,” the director said. “It is at that very moment that we have the unique opportunity to see how far our messages have had impact on them.”
Earlier this year, Aissata found someone she might confide in – an indigenous missionary who visited her and the 70 other women and female minors at the Bollé Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility for Women and Girls. She heard the native evangelist speak of Christ’s atoning death on the cross for the world’s sins. If she dared believe that Jesus had the power to undertake that mission as the Son of God, she kept quiet about it.
Aissata took the Bible the worker offered, and she treasured the message of salvation in her heart.
She began to believe but, trapped in a fish bowl where talking of things contrary to Islam could make her life even more miserable, she kept her faith secret.
“Knowing that they form part of a Muslim community in prison, they are afraid to publicly express this new commitment to obey the gospel of God, ” the director of the indigenous ministry said. “Some hope that when they are released from prison, they can take this important decision more seriously.”
Prisoners typically travel to different parts of the vast country upon their release, and opportunities for workers to follow-up with them are rare. When Aissata finished her sentence, however, she actually took the initiative to look up the ministry worker.
“Aissata received the gospel and kept the faith after her release from prison,” the ministry leader said. “After her release, she sought to contact us, and we went to get to know her better. Since then, we have continued to teach her, and then we baptized her and steered her to a nearby Christian church.”
Dark, Smelly and Dirty
The Bollé facility is one of the few prisons in Mali housing only females. On a four-hour trip to the prison at Segou, the native missionaries found seven women among the 115 prisoners.
Like most prisons in Mali, the Segou prison is dark and smelly and built on dirt floors. Sanitation is lacking; any soap and hygiene items come from prisoners’ family members, if any relatives are available and willing.
Deaths from “natural causes” in Mali’s prisons are said to result mainly from unsanitary conditions, poor nutrition, overcrowding and lack of clean water and medical care.
So the toilet disinfectant, soap and other sanitation items the indigenous ministry team brought were viewed as precious gems. The mosquito nets and sleeping nets were also warmly welcomed.
As was the gospel. Muslims who would never listen to talk about Christ under normal circumstances were eager to hear it in prison. After the team spoke of Christ’s love, the prison commissioner and the leader of the inmates enthusiastically thanked them, assuring them that they would take the message to heart.
“The joy was great within the prison – they greatly appreciated the message of the gospel and our advice on living in a clean and healthy environment,” the ministry leader said. “In the end, we shared several Bibles in French to the point that we ran out, because many others also wanted them. Some wanted Bibles in Bambara, the language they can read and understand easily.”
A regional official accompanies the ministry team to monitor the visits, and prison officials often give workers little time to speak to inmates. The indigenous missionaries waste no time in proclaiming Christ. They then offer a time for both inmates and prison officials to respond to the message.
“We first let the prisoners speak, then the prison officials – it is at that very moment that we have the unique opportunity to see how far our messages have had impact on them,” the director said.
“In their testimonies, the prisoners always express the desire to possess a Bible in French or Bambara. So we understand by this sign that inmates manifest the desire in their heart to go further with the gospel of Christ.”
The indigenous missionaries travel hours to reach these inmates. Will you help them to bring the love of Christ to prisoners of sin?
*Name changed for security reasons