When foreigners come to Africa for the first time, they are often surprised that racism exists, when everyone is black! But tribal identities are strong, so it’s not skin color that determines their opinion of other “races,” but ethnicity.
Mali has been spared much of the deadly tribal conflict which exists in other parts of Africa (for reasons which would take an additional blog post to explain!), but we still hear subtle forms of prejudice expressed.
One of these is animosity of the Malinké, with whom UWM has worked since the 1950s, toward the Fulani, with whom my husband, Jim Bowers, has worked for about 20 years. We’ve even heard a Malinké pastor, Pastor Don, make wisecracks from the pulpit toward Fulani visitors in the congregation! It’s all done in a joking manner and thus is considered acceptable. Further, if you challenged those remarks as racist, the reply would be, “They are only racist if they are untrue. But they are true, so they’re not racist!”
Some years ago, we got to know some Fulani refugees from Mauritania, and some of them came to Christ! There were two brothers, one of whom I will call Jamal. They lived north of our city of Kayes, but when Jamal’s son fell deathly ill he had to bring him to the hospital in town. This posed a crisis above and beyond the illness. Being originally from Mauritania, Jamal had no support structure in Kayes. He needed a place to stay. He needed food to eat, for himself but also preferably for his sick son (hospital food is so bad that most families take meals to their patients). He knew the boy needed to be in the hospital but didn’t know what he would do from there.
Somehow Pastor Don heard of his need, and in spite the fact that Jamal was a Fulani, more importantly he was a believer, and so he organized the church ladies to provide meals, and gave him a place to sleep while he awaited his son’s release! (The church happens to be less than a 15-minute walk from the hospital, so that was icing on the cake). We were surprised by the love demonstrated by one who had appeared to us as a bigot, but Jamal (who had never actually heard any of the pastor’s remarks, but knew that typically tribes look out for their own) was even more surprised! If there is a better way to demonstrate to a new believer what it means to belong to the Family of God, I don’t know what it would be!
Jamal and his brother were eventually repatriated to Mauritania. There are no churches where they live, but they returned to their homeland with not only salvation in Christ, but with an experience of the Body of Christ and the surprising love which the Holy Spirit creates between believers.
By: Jennifer Bowers, Serving in Mali
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