"Mali...That's where Timbuktu is, right?"
Up until a month or so ago, that was the full extent of my familiarity with the West African country at the center of our attention for March, women's history month. In June of last year, I finally got to hug Madeleine Gouentoueu. Madeleine is Tirzah's regional leader in Francophone Africa. I've spoken with her over email during the last two years I've worked at Tirzah and have heard incredible things about the conferences that she organizes for Christian women in West Africa.
The numbers and stories from years past were hard for me to envision: Over 1,000 women gathered. They chose to meet in C.A.R. even though some had advised against the dangerous territory. Many of the leaders left the conference so empowered by the vision God has for his preciously created women that they went back to their regions and villages and destroyed their FGM tools and began teaching the scriptures they learned to their friends and neighbors.
Once I met Madeleine in person and saw the fire she has for the Lord and the women of her home region, those numbers and stories were grounded as absolutes for me. She spoke passionately about the need to equip women leaders in Western Africa and disciple them so that they could disciple others. "We can go further together," she said. They share resources, insights, encouragement, and ideas. For many of the women in attendance, this is a rare opportunity to connect with another Christian woman as they are not only a minority but often oppressed in their home countries for their beliefs.
This year, I am eagerly anticipating the stories back from the conference in Mali during July 7-14. And I already know the numbers well:
- 2,000 women will attend
- $17,000 we need to raise to support this conference
- $8.50 to cover conference costs for one woman
When you Google Mali like I did, you'll find that it wasn't the natural choice for a conference location. "At one time tourists used to pour into Timbuktu to ride camels across the desert. Now most of the foreigners at the airport wear army uniforms," notes the Economist. The Global Conflict tracker highlights the fact that unless you're a native Malian, a foreign aid agency, a militant, or a para-militant, odds are that you are not going to Mali.
So who is going to Mali?
UN peacekeepers (and it's said to be the most dangerous mission in the world). Oh, and Madeleine and her league of 2,000 Christian women.
Violent terrorism by extremist groups has been on the rise in the region. But we know that God sees Mali and has compassion for the people there whose lives are in danger and who are praying for peace. Tirzah leaders in Francophone Africa chose Bamako, Mali as their conference site to make a statement powerful work God does through women who wage peace.
I want you to envision this with me:
A woman who has heard the gospel, but is treated as a second class citizen at home because she is, well, a woman gets to attend the conference in July. She spends a week meeting women who are like her. She didn't know there were so many! They speak of similar hardships at home - they are seen as incapable of more than household work, certainly not meant for powerful works of God, mostly relegated to caring for the family but not invited to participate in making important decisions.
She starts to hear other women mention that God created them equal to men. That God made women on purpose, with purpose, not as an after thought or a simple companion. That God throughout the scriptures uses women and their unique skillsets of leadership, care, passion, and courage to move nations, to save entire people groups, to bring peace, to draw people back to him. She feels inexplicable joy at hearing for the very first time in her life that God loves her not in spite of being a woman but as a woman because that is how God made her.
At the end of the conference, she goes home and stays in contact with women in nearby villages who also attended. They meet up sometimes and remind each other of the truths and leadership tactics they learned. They determine to reach out to the refugees in their area. They vow to counter-culturally abandon the practice of female genital mutilation and challenge others to do the same. Their daughters (and sons!) will grow up hearing the truth that they are loved and created and capable.
What impact can $8.50 invested in her today have on entire families, communities, nations years down the road?
I for one am willing to bet that my investment will grow far beyond covering fees for a 7-day Christian women's conference. I get chills when I think about the daughters of these fierce leaders who will someday fight for peace in their homes, unity in their marriages and communities, and closeness in their relationship to Jesus. They will do these things because they will have mothers and family friends and mentors who bravely traveled to Mali in 2018.
It is one of the easiest investment decisions I can make - to say YES and AMEN to these women and share my resources.