By Martin Roth
My novel Festival in the Desert is set in Timbuktu, in northern Mali. It concerns a fictional mission hospital in the region, under attack by Islamists.
It was during the writing of the novel that Islamists actually seized control of the entire northern region of Mali, including Timbuktu. Very quickly they began the process of eradicating the small Christian presence.
Certainly my fictional Christian hospital would have been an early target of the Islamists. This created a dilemma for me. Do I continue writing as if nothing has happened? Or should I bow to the new realities? But the hospital was the centerpiece of the novel. Without it there would be no story.
I decided to carry on as if nothing had happened. And now with the French invasion it is possible that the Islamists will be beaten and the region will again be ruled from the Malian capital Bamako.
Yet the Islamist invasion has unquestionably been a disaster for Christians. In the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith Mali placed seventh. It was previously not on the list at all.
According to a press release:
Open Doors said its contacts in the country reported that most Christians fled the north, abandoning homes and churches that later were confiscated or destroyed. “If you stayed, you were killed,” said Ronald Boyd-MacMIllan, who directs Open Doors strategy and research. “All the churches were closed. There were house-to-house searches. It was pretty clear they were looking for Christians to kill.”
Just today CBN News reported that “churches in Timbuktu, Mali were destroyed this week by the Islamist terrorist group Ansar Dine. Members of A.D. are reportedly searching for the pastor of one church hoping that he will deny the cross and join them in their armed struggle against Mali government forces and French troops.”