Birth, Childhood, and Difficulties
Traoré Kassilé was born around 1936 in Kotoura in the province of Kénédougou. His mother’s name was Ndjofon, and his father’s name was Konré. Kassilé was a Sénoufo Tagba, that is, of the Tagba ethnic group, and he spoke Sicité (a dialect of Sénoufo) and Dioula. He understood some French but did not speak it. As he was first a Muslim, he also had a Muslim name, Abdoulaye. He kept this name after his conversion. He had three brothers and two sisters. Kassilé had three wives. The first, Tchitilo Dissa (known as Sita), was from Kangala. The second, Tétala Traoré (known as Karidja), was from Kotoura and died early, around 1998. The third, Alimata Ouattara, was also from Kotoura. Kassilé had about twenty children. He also took care of the children of his brothers who had died young. His grandchildren from his sons numbered about twenty. As for the grandchildren from his daughters who married in the village, there were nearly thirty.
Kassilé suffered during his childhood, because his mother, after the death of his father, went to remarry elsewhere. He lived with his uncle in Kangala, and another woman raised him. He did not go to school. He was sickly, and he even had a foot that was a little deformed because of an illness. Kassilé’s older brother was in the army. When he returned from his military service, the family reunited because Kassilé and his brother brought their mother to the village to be with them. Kassilé’s profession was tailoring.
The Circumstances of Kassilé’s Conversion
Kassilé converted in 2005, at about age 69. His conversion was a long process with many steps. He began by changing his attitude toward the faith of his first son Mamadou. Mamadou, a nurse and a Christian, had begun praying since 1991 for his father’s conversion. At first, Kassilé opposed his son’s faith. But as a result of Mamadou’s prayer, he finally wrote a letter to his son saying that he accepted his faith. In the letter, Kassilé said he would no longer oppose Mamadou’s choice to follow Jesus. Kassilé acknowledged that he himself had been the first to betray his father (who was a hunter and fetishist) by adopting Islam. Logically, if his son now abandoned Islam to become a Christian, he could not blame him. He gave him the freedom to continue following his Jesus. But he strongly recommended that his son visit him every month.
Mamoudou obeyed this recommendation from Kassilé. On three occasions, Kassilé was amazed at how easily his son found him during his visits, to the point where he told his son that Christians must have a secret. Otherwise, he could not understand how his son could find him at these places without any prior communication. His son always answered that it was Jesus Christ who had arranged these meetings.
Kassilé continued to be thirsty to discover who Jesus was. For example, he enjoyed interacting with the Christians of Kotoura. He appreciated their songs of worship, and when these Christians told him that this worship would continue even in heaven, he kept this in his thoughts. On at least five occasions, he made the decision to go and convert and even made his way to the church, but each time he stopped at the door and turned around. Each time, something told him that he was already old, and that it wasn’t worth it to associate with children who did nothing but sing, play instruments, clap and dance. Each time, he turned back.
Kassilé’s conversion finally occurred at the home of his son Mamadou in Sindou. Mamadou had visited Kassilé, who was ill, in Kotoura. When he wanted to go back to Sindou, an inner voice told him not to leave without his father, otherwise he would not come back to find him alive. Since Mamadou had had a revelation that his father would not die without knowing the Lord, he took this seriously. Kassilé, who was prepared for the trip with his son, left without question.
When he arrived at his son’s home in Sindou, Kassilé had a dream one day. In his dream, he was on his way to Maon. When he arrived at the Kotoura-Kangala-Maon crossroads, there were men repairing the straw roof of a house. Kassilé heard a wail and turned around to see what was going on. As he entered the vestibule of the house, a hut with two doors, he saw that a young man was tied up next to a large fetish inside a piece of an earthenware dish. People were putting up the roof, after which they were going to slit the young man’s throat. Kassilé reproached the men that their roofing work was not good. He asked them why they would not sacrifice an animal instead of the young man. At these words, two lepers came out and barred the two doors of the vestibule. They said to him, “Everyone who passes by here has seen the young man tied up and has not said anything. But since you cannot pass by without keeping quiet, you will be the one to have your throat slit instead of him.” Kassilé began to cry out and call the name of Jesus in Senoufo: “Jesus, come save me! Jesus, come save me!” While he was shouting, a man came down into the house, stopped between the lepers and Kassilé, and told him to leave the house. He was a man dressed in white, with a long, very white robe and beautiful hair - an indescribable man. When Kassilé went out, this man stayed with the lepers. It was then that Kassilé found himself in his bed. Then he saw Jesus - who looked like the one in the Jesus film - at his bedside with his arms outstretched. Jesus said to him, “Look. If I hadn’t come, you would have died today. I came to save you. Look at my hands. Kassilé saw the blood falling in big drops from Jesus’ hands. Then Jesus said to him, “Will you accept me now? Kassilé said, “Yes. Jesus answered, “Your son has spoken to you about me, but you have never accepted me. If I had not come, you would have died. Even your grandson has told you about me. After seeing all this in the dream, Kassilé woke up in his bed.
It was after this that Kassilé made the decision to convert. Pastor Bado led him in prayer. Afterwards, he went back, converted, to his home in Kotoura.
The Impact of Kassilé’s Conversion
Back in Kotoura, one day Kassilé sent a letter to his son telling him to choose a date with Pastor Bado to burn his fetishes, including a genie hut that he had. At this hut, a ram was sacrificed every year. And the hut was obviously without a door. That is, there was a semblance of a door, but it was completely sealed off. It looked like a stone, which no one could lift by himself. Under this big stone, there were fourteen rams’ skins, not counting the rotten ones. These were the rams’ skins that were sacrificed every year at the genie’s house. All these skins, the genie’s house and the fetishes were indeed destroyed.
Seeing the destruction of his fetishes, including his genie hut, the people of the village were astounded. Everyone was astonished. Knowing Kassilé, some people said that he would not be able to stand firm in his faith. Others even said that if he managed to spend a year with Jesus Christ, everyone in Kotoura would convert. But by the grace of God, Kassilé lived with the Lord for twelve years.
Kassilé’s commitment after his conversion turned out to be genuine. Before his conversion, Kassilé had been particularly fond of his bulletproof war shirt. He had demanded that, according to custom, his son Mamadou wear this shirt on the day of his father’s death, to express that he was his worthy son. He even threatened him, saying that Mamoudou might well be a Christian, but if on the day of Kassilé’s death he did not wear this shirt, his father would come back to haunt him! But when Kassilé converted, he got rid of that shirt. This had an impact on another of his sons, named Tiéba, who, wanting to obtain this garment, found it in a well, spoiled and eaten away by termites. This was a sign to him that his father had truly converted.
Kassilé’s sincere conversion led some of his family members to follow Jesus. His two wives who were still alive, Sita and Alimata, were converted. In his family, a man named Brama also converted.
Kassilé also witnessed his faith to those around him. For example, he gave a Dioula Bible to an elder in the Kotoura church to give to one of Kassilé’s children on the day of his death. He wanted this gesture to serve as a testimony to this young man, and for him to understand that Kassilé his father was encouraging him to follow everything in this book so that he would be converted to Jesus Christ.
Throughout his Christian life, Kassilé actively participated in the life of the church by regularly paying his tithe. He also gave gifts and donations. He donated an ox to the church about four times in a truly selfless way. In doing so, he was blessed more fully by the Lord.
Kassilé’s testimony was an encouragement to many people, who were impressed to see someone who was willing to believe despite his advanced age. Except when he was sick, Kassilé never missed a Sunday service at Kotoura. The church members thought that if someone like him, despite his age, could get up and dance in church, it showed that there was something important in the Gospel. They learned the lesson that one must be committed to the matters of God with all one’s heart. Whether you are a child, a youth or an elderly person, these matters concern everyone. Similarly, many people thought that the Christian faith was a matter for the poor only. But Kassilé left a notable impact, for everyone knew that he was wealthy. Before his death, he had nearly three enclosures of oxen that others pastured for him in the fields between Sokouraba and Moussodougou. People also believed that the whites gave money or wages to those who could get someone to convert. Even his own sons said that the Christians had deceived their father into the Christian faith in order to get the price of his conversion. But Kassilé’s testimony made people understand that it was not misery that led him to the Lord. On the contrary, when God calls, we come to him from the position we are in. It is true that he was miserable at the beginning of his life, but before his death there were many who were indebted to him.
Kassilé did not found a church, but he remained in the Kotoura church until his death. Once a year he visited Pastor Bado of the Sindou church, with whom he had been converted.
Before Kassilé’s conversion, a marabout who predicted the future told him that he would die at age eighty. When his son Mamadou heard this story after his father’s conversion, he prayed, “Now that he is in Christ, Lord, may he not die at eighty. Even if it’s one more year, may you give him that.” In 2017, Mamadou heard the Lord say to him, “As you asked me to lengthen his life, I answered you. But this will be his last Easter.” Indeed, Kassilé became ill. After having been treated in Kotoura, Sindou, and finally in Bobo-Dioulasso, he could no longer bear the illness. Thus, Kassilé breathed his last on October 19, 2017 at the Bobo-Dioulasso hospital. It was a victory of sorts, because he died at the age of eighty-one, exceeding the marabout’s prediction. His burial took place on October 20, 2017 in Kotoura with dignity and honor.
Traoré, Mamadou. Retired nurse and Kassilé’s first son. Interviewed by Kari Traoré on December 17, 2021, in Sindou, Léraba province, Burkina Faso. Mamadou is in the process of compiling all the events of Kassilé’s life in order to write a book about his Christian life, but the writing is not yet completed or published.
Traoré, Seydou. Kotoura church elder, friend and brother-in-law of Kassilé. Interviewed by Kari Traoré on December 18, 2021 in Kotoura, Kénédougou province, Burkina Faso.
Traoré, Daouda. Pastor of the Kotoura church. Interviewed by Kari Traoré on December 18, 2021 in Kotoura, Kénédougou province, Burkina Faso.
Author’s discussions with Kassilé during his life.
This biography, received in 2022, was researched and written by Traoré Kari, pastor of the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Saraba, Masters student at the Université chrétienne LOGOS de Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, under the supervision of Dr. Anicka Fast.
Kassilé Traoré before his conversion in 1996, wearing his bulletproof shirt. Photo taken in Kotoura during the ceremony of his consecration to the brotherhood of the donzos.