Ever since he recited his first Bible verse for a pair of missionaries around the age of 12, Pastor Nouh (pronounced no-uh) Yattara said he has been drawn to Christianity, but in the predominantly Muslim West African nation of Mali, converting to Christianity comes at “a heavy price,” the Timbuktu native said.
Despite enormous pressure to follow the status quo and retain the Islamic faith he was born into, Yattara said he refused to be swayed. He accepted Jesus Christ as his savior at 15, and has been a powerful advocate of the faith ever since. As a result, he said, he has risked kidnapping and even death to practice what he believes is the one true religion.
Yattara and his wife Matala managed to safely operate the Evangelical Baptist Church for 37 years in Mali. Yattara said that all changed in April, when Timbuktu was overtaken by Muslim extremists during the Tuareg Rebellion, which has raged since around the start of the year. The extremists intend to institute the controversial Sharia Law nationwide, and eliminate Christianity at any cost, Yattara said. As leaders of a church, he and Matala were prime targets.
“They said I had converted many Muslim children there. They put a bounty on us, promising big money for anyone who could get us, dead or alive, so we had to leave the city,” he related. “Now, we are looking for political asylum in the U.S.”
In this country, the family is depending on the hospitality and kindness of Christian supporters around the nation for shelter and other needs, Yattara said. At 59, the father of three believes he is too old to start over. His hope is that peace will be restored to Mali and he and Matala can return to their homeland and begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
“We want to go back in our home country,” said Yattara, who added that he has been told the rebels have looted or burned everything they could find with a connection to the Christian faith. “That is our dream and prayer.”
Though the couple have been traumatized by their experiences, they continue to do the work they feel called to do. They were in Winston-Salem earlier this week, speaking at Goler Memorial AME Zion Church on Sunday and addressing students at the Global Leadership Training Center (GLTC) beginning on Monday.
“We are so excited to have him here,” GLTC Assistant Director Pam Phillips said of Yattara. “He’s spending three days with us. It’s going to give them a greater perspective on some of the things that we’ve been talking about. He is well versed in so many areas.”
Phillips said that people from around the world travel to the Center, which is located on Coliseum Drive, to take part in the program, which incorporates international mission trips, global education and other elements to prepare students to become leaders and instigators of humanitarian aid efforts around the world.
“The mission of the organization is to take students from war torn and developing countries and give them the opportunity … to go through a six-month training course, a holistic approach to development,” explained GLTC Founder Dr. Patricia Bailey-Jones, an internationally known missionary. “The students have a hands-on approach. They actually go in the field with me. They learn the classroom part as well as the practical.”
The Center is one of several several humanitarian organizations Bailey-Jones, a city native who has traveled to 134 different countries, operates under the umbrella of her Master’s Touch Ministries Global, Inc. Bailey-Jones, who also hosts her own show on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), said she brings foreign citizens in to speak with the students as often as possible.
Pastor Yattara said he was glad to help an organization whose values are so in tune with his own.
“I think that is the most excellent work,” he said of missions. “It is the most noble, worthy work possible, to strengthen the faith of Christians.”