A First for Mali
MY HUSBAND serves as a traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mali, a sparsely populated country in western Africa. Its northern part is covered by the Sahara Desert, and most of the rest of the country is made up of rolling grasslands. Mali is larger than England, France, and Spain combined. Although these countries have over 140 million inhabitants, Mali has a population of only some ten million—about 150 of whom are Witnesses.
Our home base is Ziguinchor, a small city in neighboring Senegal. In November 1994 we flew from there to Dakar, then on to the capital of Mali, Bamako, a large city of well over a half million inhabitants. From Bamako we traveled either by bush taxi, bus, or train to smaller cities, such as Ségou, San, and the ancient city of Mopti. We stayed in each of these places about a week to share in the Christian ministry with the few Witnesses there.
In December we returned to Bamako to enjoy the district convention, which had a peak attendance of 273. How delighted we were to see 14 new ones baptized! The day after the convention, we left by bus for the small city of Sikasso, where the first Kingdom Hall in Mali constructed by Jehovah’s Witnesses was scheduled to be dedicated the following weekend.
A Real Challenge
The congregation in Sikasso is made up of only 13 Witnesses, 5 of whom are pioneers, or full-time ministers. When we arrive on Monday, we are anxious to hear what their plans are for the dedication. They tell us that they are counting on my husband, Mike, to arrange for it! So after unpacking our luggage, we are off to look at the Kingdom Hall. When seeing it, we are thrilled that such a building could be built by just this handful of Witnesses. However, much is yet to be done. There are no curtains, the outside is not painted, and there is no sign “Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
We realize that in a few days, at least 50 visitors are coming from Bamako to attend the dedication. Local people have also been invited. The congregation has just one elder, Pierre Sadio. When we ask him how he expects to finish the hall before Saturday, the day of the dedication, the friends draw closer to hear his reply. “I think Jehovah will help us to finish in time,” he answers.
So much has to be done in such a short period of time! I hesitantly ask if I may help provide the curtains. A big smile of relief appears on the faces around me. Then Mike suggests that we get a sign made for the front of the hall. Soon we are all talking at once. Everyone is so excited. It will be a real challenge to put the finishing touches on the hall in time!
A Flurry of Activity
We Christian sisters rush off to the marketplace to pick out the material. Afterward we find a tailor to make the curtains. “You have four days to finish them,” we tell him. To provide something decorative, Mike volunteers to do a lovely macramé plant hanger for the front of the hall. So off we go again, this time to find the rope needed for the plant hanger as well as to find a flowerpot.
Arrangements are also made for someone to provide the Kingdom Hall sign. Inside and outside the hall, there is a flurry of activity. A group of neighbors gather to watch. There is so much to do! How will we feed the 50 visitors? Where will they sleep? We race all week to prepare, but nothing seems to go smoothly.
We are up early Friday, the day before the dedication. The air is filled with excitement because the visitors from Bamako are to arrive. Around noon the Kingdom Hall sign arrives. When Mike unveils it, the brothers sigh in admiration. Even the curious onlookers watch in appreciation. We wait impatiently as it is attached to the front wall. Now it is evident that this is not just an ordinary building. It is the “Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Nearby, at a pioneer’s house, the sisters are busy cooking. A big, black caldron boils over with food. We just finish clearing the paint pails and brooms from the side of the hall when shouts ring out: “They’re here! They’re here!” The friends come running from the hall, others from the house. The neighbors are amazed by it all. The brothers dance in excitement. What a reception the friends receive when they get off the bus! I feel so very proud to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses!
I look around at the visitors—friends from local tribes as well as from Burkina Faso and Togo. Americans, Canadians, French, and Germans have also come. That night we have a big feast. We build a huge fire to light up the yard. I feel like pinching myself to be sure that I am actually having the privilege of being part of the event. As the evening wears on, we reluctantly begin to leave for our respective lodgings.
As many as 20 are housed in one dwelling. I can tell it is hard for some. I see a local sister help a French visitor to the outside toilet. The visitor is a relative of one of the missionaries, but she is not a Witness herself. As they return, she says: “You people are so poor, but you really are so loving and kind.” I feel like saying: “No, they’re not poor. All of Jehovah’s people are rich!” Really, where else can you see such a diversified group of people living in peace and harmony?
A Moving Dedication
The night is short, and dedication day arrives quickly. After a meeting for the field ministry at the Kingdom Hall, the Witnesses go out and invite people of the town to the dedication. I stay behind to arrange flowers and plants. The local sisters bustle around cooking for the evening.
Finally, at four o’clock, the time of the dedication arrives. A total of 92 are present, yet the hall is not overcrowded. I’m so excited that it’s hard to sit still. Pierre Sadio gives the history of the work in Sikasso. When he was assigned here, there were just he and his wife and their two children. Life was very rough, but in time Jehovah blessed their service. The first person to become a Witness in Sikasso is now a special pioneer. Then Pierre explains how the few Witnesses were able to build. They hired a mason, and every Sunday the whole congregation worked all day on the project.
Now Mike interviews friends who worked on the hall. One by one, he asks them if they ever thought that this day would come and how they feel when they look at the Kingdom Hall full of people. Most become so choked up that they can hardly finish their comments. Among the Witnesses present, there is not a dry eye.
Next the dedication discourse is given by Ted Petras from the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Senegal. The dedication prayer is given, and the brothers clap for the longest time. Afterward Mike invites everyone who helped build the hall to come forward. There they stand, their faces beaming, tears of joy rolling down their cheeks. As we sing the concluding song, I’m feeling so very happy. Being a missionary allows me to be in on the most wonderful experiences. We would have missed so much if we had stayed home in the United States.
Further Warm Association
After the dedication, refreshments are provided. The sisters file in carrying large plates of watermelon on their heads. They are followed by two brothers, wearing chef’s hats for the occasion and carrying platters of cakes. The flat cakes are gaily decorated with orange slices and lemon slices. The whole atmosphere is so festive.
The visitors leave after they are served. Then the Witnesses proceed to a nearby house for the evening meal. We all sit outside under the full moon, a roaring fire lighting up the yard. I am so excited and tired from the day’s activities that I can’t finish my meal. I give a half-eaten chicken leg to a little girl. The local pioneers watch our plates, and if anything is left, they finish it. Leftovers do not exist here. We are so spoiled in the United States.
As our evening comes to a close, a brother reminds those who came from Bamako that the bus will pick them up at 9:15 a.m. The next morning the brothers are sitting all over the yard, waiting for the bus to arrive. Then we sing one last song, “We Thank You, Jehovah.” The tears start flowing, and just as we are finishing, the bus comes into view. All the brothers and sisters hug one another.
We stand there waving as the bus slowly pulls out. All in the bus wave until it disappears from sight. After that, those of us who remain turn to look at one another. It was a truly wonderful dedication and a wonderful week.—Contributed.
[Picture on page 15]
First Kingdom Hall built by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mali
[Picture on page 16]
This happy group traveled by bus