WEST AFRICA (BP)–It’s the stuff superheroes are made of.
Clark Kent wasn’t just a reporter. Peter Parker didn’t just deliver pizzas. Mary Malone* isn’t just a librarian.
For more than 20 years, Malone has been sorting books and helping the students at a seminary in West Africa research their assignments. But her after-hours gig involves a bit more risk.
That’s when Fulani believers come to her house seeking guidance for their underground worship communities, which are popping up everywhere despite harsh new Muslim laws assigning the death penalty to Christian converts.
The Fulani people are traditionally quiet, nomadic cattle herders known for producing beef and milk and for spreading Islam throughout the region. Most live in isolated cattle camps deep in the bush. Few attend school. Even fewer are Christians.
“Most churches here have little interest in ministering to the Fulani because they see them as just too resistant to the Gospel,” Malone explained. She invited the Fulani pastors-in-training to her home for an informal support group.
The Fulani have no word for “librarian” in their native language of Fulfulde, but Malone quickly earned a more fitting title. She became their “madujo,” which means mother.
“In the whole nation I don’t think we could find a mother like her,” said Abdul*, one of the first Fulani pastors Malone mentored. “She prays for us seriously. She can joke and play with us. She can advise us spiritually with family. She knows how to settle us. She always wants our ministries progressing.”
With Malone’s guidance, those few Fulani started taking the Gospel to their own people. A few converts became a few more.
Then the region erupted in riots. People of different religions and ethnic groups clashed over the government’s installation of Islamic regulations, called Shari’ah law. Many were slain. Rioters burned the pastor school to the ground, along with churches and many homes of the Fulani converts.
Malone remembers her thoughts as she returned to her library to find all the books still smoldering, charred beyond use.
“I used to feel guilty about doing this ministry when my job was to be a librarian,” she said. “After that, I changed my way of thinking. I realized books are temporary. It’s the people that last.”
But the new religious tension forced some changes in the Fulani ministry.
“We’ve had to go more undercover,” Malone said.
She can’t visit the new Fulani believers at their homes anymore. Some of them lost children when their grass and stick homes were torched. Others have been detained without reason.
“If she visits them, they are going to have more problems with their neighbors and the Muslim brothers,” Abdul said.
So Abdul and his Fulani brothers launched their own evangelism plan, forming a structure for their worship communities. Small groups gather in homes for worship and Bible study. Sometimes larger groups assemble, but spontaneously, and not in the same place twice.
Two hundred believers before the riots multiplied to 3,000, and now the network has swelled so large Malone can’t keep count.
“It’s very rare that a Fulani becomes a Christian and then within a week or two doesn’t bring someone else,” she said.
These days, Malone focuses her ministry on about 10 core leaders. Nearly every day when she finishes at the library, she counsels them and trains them in new ways to minister to their worship groups — not officially called churches to avoid persecution.
Each of the leaders then imparts that training to fellowship leaders, who pass it on to their sub-leaders.
“We now have worship communities spread over 70,000 square miles,” Malone said.
She admits that sometimes she asks God why He brought all this to a librarian, but she has realized God can use any job for His glory.
“God has gifted each of us with interests, skills and abilities that He expects us to use creatively for His purposes,” she said.
*Names changed for security reasons. To learn more about missions in West Africa, visit GoWestAfrica.org.