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Ken Elliott, “Savior of the Sahel”: A Faithful Hero

Dr. Ken Elliott, medical missionary in Burkina Faso
Dr. Ken Elliott, medical missionary in Burkina Faso

In 2000, I went with Dale to the landlocked country of Burkina Faso, Africa (Old Upper Volta)—one of the poorest countries on the continent. We landed in the capital of Ouagadougou and, after a couple of days, got into a Toyota pickup truck and headed north. Our destination was Djibo (Jeebo), some 200 kilometers from the capital. Nearing the border with Mali, I saw a sign that said, “Timbuktu - 300 kilometers.” I had always thought of Timbuktu as the figurative “end of the earth.” As someone (maybe it was Mark Twain?) once said about a particular place, “This may not be the end of the earth, but you can see it from here.” That’s kind of how I felt that day staring at that sign. Then, leaving the semblance of pavement, we turned east and negotiated some almost impassable desert-like terrain, finally arriving in the Burkina city of Djibo. Thank God for that four-wheel drive truck; without it, we would never have made it. Djibo turned out to have a population of 61,000—mostly tribal Fulani Muslims—a city with no running water and not one paved road.

African women carrying water on their heads

We were in Burkina to teach seminars and classes at several locations around the country. Dale was especially anxious to visit Djibo, since he and his family had spent several years there. To say the Bible School in Djibo was a primitive place is an understatement. Actually, it was just outside the city of Djibo. The students watched over goats and chickens, and the ladies brought water on their heads from a nearby well. Trying to sleep at night was a bit of a chore—since I was carefully warned to “look out for snakes.” As for some of the things we ate, I have no idea what they were! Frankly though, all this was really no big deal; by now, I had pretty well been there and done that —several times over.

There is so much to tell about that visit to Burkina, but the reason I am writing is to share a particularly heart-warming episode. While we were in Djibo, Dale took me to visit a 120-bed clinic. He wanted to visit his “old friend” —the missionary doctor who founded and ran the clinic. The good doctor, a surgeon, and his wife, a nurse, were tending to a line of patients stretching 25 yards out the door. Dale and the doctor had a delightful moment of reconnection, and then I heard the doctor say, “Please bring your friend and have dinner at our house tonight.”

Simple mud house in Africa

We arrived to find a humble dwelling—simple, but orderly and clean. I learned we were in the home of Doctor Ken Elliott and his wife, Jocelyn. Without the slightest pretense, they were very impressive people, pleasant and unassuming, both speaking fluent French and Fulani. Doctor Elliott charged nothing for his services, and unbeknownst to me, the Burkinans referred to him as the “Doctor of the Poor” and “Savior of the Sahel.” We sat down to a nice dinner of chicken and rice, a welcome meal compared to the interesting “dishes” we had eaten at the school.

I learned quickly that they were Australian and had raised their children in Djibo. I calculated in my mind how long they must have been there—thinking at least 15 or 20 years. Trying to make conversation, I blurted out, “So how long have you been here?” Jocelyn calmly responded, “Twenty-eight years—and there was one period of 11 years straight when we did not leave the country at all.” I was taken aback, and all I could think of was, “How could someone from an entirely different culture and ‘world’ manage to live in such primitive conditions for 28 years?” I then went full stupid and said something like, “How have you managed to live in circumstances like this for so long?” It was Jocelyn who gave me an unforgettable answer. She said, “When you are in the will of God, it is manageable and you have peace in your heart.” Her profound response left me speechless. Without pretension, she had graciously conveyed the conviction of her heart, and through the years, I have never forgotten her words.

After many days of profitable and fascinating ministry in Djibo, Koudugou, and Ouagadougou, Dale and I departed Burkina. I knew that I would never forget Doctor and Mrs. Ken Elliott. I admired them greatly, and they would always be a pleasant and inspiring memory for me. Then, fast forward 16 years. In January of 2016, I was shocked to read the following news bulletin:

“ISIS-related terrorists crossed the border from Mali into Burkina Faso and took hostage Doctor Ken Elliot and his wife Jocelyn. Authorities report that the hostages have been taken to an unknown location in Mali.

It was incredulous to think that these two gentle souls—now in their early eighties— were being held by al-Qaeda terrorists. Three weeks after being captured, Mrs. Elliott was released, but Ken Elliott remained in captivity and would remain there indefinitely.

I joined thousands of other Christians in regularly praying for Doctor Elliott. From time to time, a cryptic news bulletin would report that he was still alive, but little other information was available. One brief news item implied that the terrorists might be negotiating for his release, but nothing ever happened. A couple of years turned into three, then three turned into four and five, then years five and six rolled by—and after seven years, hope truly faded. The bits of information became less and less, until many felt that Doctor Elliott—now in his late 80s—was no longer alive.

Then on Saturday, May 27, 2023, I opened the Christian Post online site. Suddenly my eyes were drawn to this headline:

Australian Doctor Kenneth Elliott Freed 7 Years after Abduction by Qaeda-linked Militants

I was stunned—and overwhelmed with joy. How wonderful to know that Ken Elliott has finally been reunited with his family. Words cannot express my appreciation for the few hours that I had in the presence of these incredible servants of the Lord. I will never forget them.

Globe highlighting the nation of Burkina Faso

Pray for the nation of Burkina Faso and continued training of believers in that nation.

27 unreached people groups in Burkina Faso still need to hear the Good News of Jesus for the very first time!


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