Transforming Timbuktu through discipleship and holistic witness
Nouh Ag Infa Yattara grew up in a staunch Muslim home in Timbuktu. As a young boy, one of Nouh’s friends showed him a pen that he had received from local missionaries for memorizing Scripture. Nouh, too, wanted a pen that didn’t leak. His contact with the missionaries eventually led to his conversion. When his father learned of this, he disowned his son. Nouh’s mother tried to poison him, but his baby brother drank the poisoned milk and remains crippled to this day. Despite many obstacles, Nouh has courageously served the Lord for more than 20 years, pastoring the church in Timbuktu and later founding TNT. Nouh is married to Fati and has three sons.
Ministry Vision & Strategy
Our partner in Timbuktu is Tahanint N’Massinag E Tinbuktu (TNT), which means “Merciful Grace of God for Timbuktu” in the Tamasheq language. TNT’s vision is to establish churches among the tribal groups living in the “Belt of Misery,” the extremely impoverished camps on the outskirts of Timbuktu. It is the only government-recognized Christian humanitarian outreach in the city.
Opening Our Eyes on Life
“We used to be nomads,” said 30-year-old Mohammed, “But because of successive droughts we lost all our animals. There were days when my family did not have even one daily meal. One day, I visited my cousin. I saw him absolutely transformed. He was a tailor and his wife was selling donuts in the streets. They ate easily and were far more at peace than us. He told me, ‘If you want to have mercy, real help, and know the truth on everything, go to the Christians. They have a center that will open your eyes on life.’ Today, I am a graduate of that center. I know how to read and write and make clothes, and I received Jesus as my Savior.
Thank you so much to all who contributed toward such blessings for the poor.”
Timbuktu, on the southern border of the Sahara Desert, was once a prosperous trading and cultural center in West Africa. Today the city and the surrounding region make up the poorest area in Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries. With few natural resources, inhabitants of the legendary city find survival a daily struggle.
Timbuktu has a proud heritage as a major center of Islamic learning in the 15th century. At that time non-Muslims were not even allowed in the city! Today, Islamic nations pour money into the country, aiming to rebuild this once mighty fortress of Islam.
It is in this environment that the largest of the few churches in the area decided to start a humanitarian outreach, TNT, to minister to the needs of the people. They work to establish a positive image of Christians, with the ultimate goal of growing the existing church and planting new ones.
The churches in Timbuktu face major challenges. For every ten people who convert to Christianity, eight eventually convert back to Islam or move to the south where Christianity is more accepted. The combination of persecution, isolation, ostracism, and the inability to make a living is a nearly intolerable burden for believers. “The challenge for us is how to build a bridge to the Lord’s sheep who are not yet in the fold,” said Pastor Nouh Ag Infa Yattara, TNT ministry leader. “Through a holistic approach, we are seeing people come to Jesus.”
>WOMEN'S CENTER: $438 per trainee
Women's Center, TNT
In Mali it is said, “If you help a man, you have helped one man, but if you help a woman, you have helped the whole family.” This is especially true in the context of TNT’s Timbuktu Women’s Center (TWC) which trains Muslim women each year in a nine-month training program. Four days a week the women learn sewing, knitting, embroidery, fabric dyeing, and literacy. On the fifth day a Bible class is conducted using films, Bible lessons, and comparative studies of Christianity and Islam.
Because many of the trainees are divorced mothers, widows, or single mothers, a marketable vocational skill means these women will now have the ability to provide the basic necessities for their children. The training program is well-known in the area and praised by many Malian authorities.
Since the ministry began in 1990, some of the women have received the Lord. Rev. Yattara says, “The women in the center take the Good News where often we cannot go.” Partners would like to provide funds to help another 100 women join the center this year.
>MEN'S VOCATIONAL TRAINING: $917 per trainee
Men's Vocational Training, TNT
With few job opportunities and large families dependent on them, men in Timbuktu are under tremendous strain to make a living. Many are illiterate and jobless, thus are eager to be taught a vocational skill. In November 2003, TNT began the Men’s Vocational Training Center to train men in tailoring and baking. Upon completing this nine-month training program, which also includes literacy and health training, these men have valuable skills that help them in finding work and providing for their families.
As the men go through the training program, ministry workers have the opportunity to share the Gospel. In fact, the men’s center came about as a direct result of the success of the women’s vocational training center. Many of the women trained were interested in the Gospel, but afraid to come to church as they would be ostracized by the community. Culturally, there is a need for men to step out in faith for Christ, making it more acceptable for women to take a stand. Gifts to this project will be used for training expenses, equipment, and teacher salaries for 30 men to attend the center.
>RADIO MINISTRY: $320 per day of broadcasting
Startup Radio Station, TNT
For seven years, TNT broadcast the Gospel over public radio each Sunday evening. The broadcasts became popular in the city as it is a discreet way for local people to learn about Christianity without going to a church. However, because the stations were Muslim-owned, it was difficult to gain more air time for Christian programming and the ministry was censored in what they aired.
In 2007, in partnership with a number of U.S. partners and international organizations, TNT was able to secure its own FM radio station. The station is officially licensed by the government as an information/education/culture station, with evangelism programs falling under the “education” category. With more air time and a broadcast radius of 60 miles, many more Malians are hearing the Good News for the first time. Your gifts will provide operating costs for the station and help the ministry develop and produce new programming. Gifts to this project will also help fund TNT’s Christmas and Easter radio programs that are synchronized on all six radio stations in Timbuktu each year.
>BIBLES & LITERATURE: $9 per Bible
Bibles & Literature, TNT
TNT distributes Bibles in French, Tamasheq, and English as gifts to Muslim businesses, government offices, and other organizations throughout the region. These officials are some of the few people in the area who are literate enough to read the Bible, and though they are Muslim, they have great reverence for the Scriptures. TNT also distributes thousands of Christian tracts and calendars each year which are proudly displayed by business owners. This project fulfills TNT’s vision to “fill their Jerusalem with the teachings of Jesus.” Partners is helping TNT continue this Christian witness, keeping alive the interest in Christianity.
>MULTIMEDIA & LITERACY CENTER: $13,400 for project
Training Centers, TNT
Dire is a small town of 15,000 people located about 80 miles from Timbuktu. TNT is working to reach this area for Christ and has established a small community of believers there. They are requesting new ways to not only meet community needs but also reach the people with the Gospel. This year, they would like to launch a multi-media and literacy center to serve the local people who are just 20% literate. This center will allow local people to learn professional skills in computers, office administration, management, and literacy, increasing their ability to find better jobs.
Daily contact with the local people will open opportunities to distribute Christian literature, share the Gospel, and invite them to Christian meetings. Gifts to this project will cover the facility purchase, furniture, supplies, and equipment such as cameras, printers, copiers, and computers.
>ELIJAH YOUTH CENTER: $350 per child per year
Elijah Youth Center, TNT
Partners International and TNT are reaching the youth of Timbuktu through an evangelistic youth center called Elijah House. Children living in the Belt of Misery are from families who are so poor their parents cannot provide even basic essentials such as food, clothing, and education. Many times, a family of 10 to 12 will live in a small one-room hut made from sticks roped together and covered with braided mats. Other children may have lost one or both parents. These children are then the obligation of other family members who are also struggling to survive and cannot meet this additional burden.
At Elijah House, 65 children ranging in age from 5 to 18 receive meals, clothing, and medical care, and are registered in public school. Weekly Bible classes are held using stories, videos, Bible memorization games, testimonies, books, art, and sports. These are powerful tools to help the children understand the Gospel, and several children have placed their faith in Christ. Elijah House’s reputation has spread throughout the region, and city officials praise it despite its strong Christian emphasis. Partners would like to provide support for 45 children to participate this year.
Sponsor A Child, TNT
In 2001, in coordination with TNT, Partners International helped construct a village well, clinic, and elementary school in the village of Tassinsak near Timbuktu. For the first time in their lives, these desert nomads had the opportunity to send their children to school. Today, with Partners’ assistance, three schools have been established with hundreds of children taking part.
Through Partners International’s Sponsor A Child program, children from these villages and from Elijah House are able to attend school, enjoy improved health through better food and medical care, and receive clothing and school supplies. Rev. Yattara came to know the Lord as a child and thus has a strong desire to reach children for Christ. In addition to ongoing sponsorships, Partners would like to find 30 new sponsors. The cost to sponsor a child is just $25 per month or $300 for one year.