Kassoum Keita was a church planter and pastor as well as a Bible translator, and served as national and regional director for Campus Crusade for Christ.
Kassoum was born around 1937 in Torosso in the Yorosso circle during the French colonization of Mali, a time when forced labor was a common practice. All of his half brothers died of meningitis in 1942, but Kassoun was saved by a miracle of God. His father, Siozanga, and his mother, Bougounière, were both from the Minyanka tribe and spoke Bambara. They were from the village of Torosso, near Yorosso, in the southern part of the Sikasso region in Mali.
Keita had an early conversion experience in 1949 prompted by the desire to pass his examinations in order to enter High School. His brother-in-law had convinced him that the Christian faith, which he equated with a fetish used by African traditional healers, would make him successful in his studies. Unfortunately, Keita failed the examinations in spite of his efforts. His father, a World War II veteran who had served in France, was extremely disappointed and Keita’s dreams were shattered by this experience. Worse still, people in his village made fun of him and of his faith. He regretted getting rid of his amulets and contemplated suicide. But God had a plan for Keita. He truly found Christ in 1954 at a church twenty kilometers away after the pastor clearly explained the way of salvation to him.
When L. Wright, a missionary from Koutiala in charge of the Yorosso translation program for the Bambara Bible, learned of Keita’s situation, he came to ask Keita’s parents if he could work for the translation project. After an older uncle overruled his father’s opposition, Keita left for Koutiala to work for the missionary as a translator and a houseboy. But Keita did not feel at ease working for the missionary because he felt the need to preach the gospel instead of doing translation work.
Keita started evangelizing along the Mali-Burkina-Faso border on his bicycle, planting several churches still active today. In Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina-Faso he worked at a hardware store to earn money for his upcoming marriage and also successfully finished several secondary school correspondence courses. He joined a church, taught Sunday school, was a youth leader in the RDA political party, and formed a folkloric orchestra. He was resisting God’s call at the time because he had discovered how little a pastor’s salary was.
Keita’s father sent his brother to Bobo-Dioulasso to bring him home for his wedding. To convince him to come home, his brother told him that his father was very ill. Thinking his father was dying, Kassoum returned with his brother only to find that his father was in fact alive and well, and only wanted him to come home to marry the bride they had chosen for him.
Keita believed that God used his father to turn him from other pursuits of life to the service of God. His wife, Koutan, was a strong believer who challenged him to serve God full time. They had eight children, two of whom died.
Through a series of events and visions, Keita joined a Bible College at N’Torosso (San circle) in 1957. At the end of the first year, he was teaching at the college while taking courses at the same time. In 1958, he was recruited to join the French army, which was mandatory. He served in the army from 1961 to 1966 while helping various Christian communities in Timbuktu, Tessalit, Ségou, and Bamako. While in the army, he worked closely with missionaries to plant churches in the North for several years. Even though he was raised in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church–l’Église Chrétienne Évangélique–he later worked with the Gospel and Missionary Union Church–l’Église Évangélique–as a missionary.
He was ordained as pastor in Bamako in 1966 in the presence of all the administrative, political, and religious authorities. He pastored the central Bamako-Coura church from that time on. He was president of the leading bodies of the Protestant Evangelical Church of Mali from 1966 to 1988. He served first as assistant general delegate for the Association of Protestant and Evangelical Church and Mission Groups and then as general delegate from 1964 to 2002.
He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Briercrest College, Canada in 1990 for exemplary leadership. In addition to planting churches, Keita wrote manuals in Bambara for Youth Camps and for pastors. He wrote a book called Un Seul Sacrifice (Only One Sacrifice) and several evangelistic tracts in French. He was one of the few local ministers to participate in the translation of the New Bambara Bible. He was elected the first president of the Association of Protestant Evangelical Churches and Missions in Mali. After training in Monrovia, Liberia, and Nairobi, Kenya, he worked for Campus Crusade for Christ as National Director for Mali, and later, as Regional Director for Francophone Africa (1976 to 2004).
Keita served as president of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa (AEA) from 1993 to 2000. He played a remarkable role in conflict resolution in his country in association with the Malian Islamic Association in Mali (AMUPI) and the Catholic Church.
Keita died of kidney failure in 2006.
Glenn Davis, Assistant Director of SIL Mali, interview (Pan Africa Christian College, Nairobi, Kenya).
Email message (2008) with updates from Jennifer A. Bowers, United World Mission, Mali, West Africa. Email: [email protected]
This story, submitted in 2000 (updated in 2009), was researched by Dr. Francis Manana, Professor of Evangelism and Missions and DACB Liaison Coordinator, Pan African Christian College, Nairobi, Kenya.