Christians who fled extremist terror in Mali return to the churches that were reduced to ruins

Tuareg separatist rebels from the NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad) drive through a street in Timbuktu, MaliAP

While the world's attention is focused on the threat of the Islamic State in the Middle East, Christians in northern Mali have returned to their shattered communities after French forces wrested control back from Islamist groups.

Churches were desecrated and looted when the region fell under radical groups in 2012. French forces were able to take control but the reconstruction is slow and costly, and peace talks between the government and mainly Tuareg armed groups are still ongoing.

Dr Mohamed Ibrahim Yattara, president of the Baptist Church in northern Mali, told World Watch Monitor most Christians who fled the region had now returned to their homes but their churches are "in ruins".

He said the church there has lost most of its buildings and valuable property, including vehicles. The damage done by the extremists has also affected the church's work in the area of community provision. In Timbuktu, the church's water project set up over a period of 20 years has been rendered unusable as most of the materials were stolen.

Dr Yattara also expressed disappointment that the government and international community was not helping the church rebuild.

"So far nothing has been done," he said. "Actually, with regard to the current post-conflict situation, we have no means to undertake reconstruction projects. We can only rely on the generosity of people of good will to walk with us in these efforts of reconstruction."

But he remains grateful that the church is at least still there and was not wiped out completely by the radical groups.

While Mali remains a difficult place for Christians - it was ranked No 7 on Open Doors' 2013 World Watch List for persecution - Dr Yattara is determined that the churches will continue doing what they were called to do.

"We had this feeling that jihadists wanted to wipe out any trace of Christianity in the north of Mali. But God in his goodness has not allowed such an eventuality," he said.

"The church is still there and most of the believers have returned, albeit in very difficult conditions, without external assistance or the financial resources needed in such circumstances.

"And despite such adversity we are determined to resume our ministries because after all, this northern Mali is ours. We have the right to freely exercise our faith and we are firmly committed to make this happen."