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  • Senegal: Christian-Muslim Engagement Immersion

    ELCA Interunit Task Force for the Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence

    Wednesday, Feb. 10 – Seek Peace and Pursue It

    Posted on February 11, 2010 by equip4peace

    Psalm 34:14. Seek peace and pursue it.

    As I write this at 9:19am Dakar time on Thursday morning, it’s very hard to believe that our time in Dakar has flown by so quickly.  Our last scheduled day here was set aside to work together as a group to discern what we would be bringing home and how we would share it.  We spent the morning working on a vision and mission statement while afternoon was a time to ‘brainsail’ about what we will do at home to expand the ELCA’s capacity for peacemaking in our congregations and communities.  Here is our plan so far:

    • Pray for peace and for encouragement, strength and guidance for all who are working for peace
    • Continue this blog as a means for sharing what’s happening and generating more ideas for engaging in Muslim/Christian dialogue
    • Create a power point/video presentation
    • Host a webinar that would be open to anyone interested in participating
    • Connect with our Muslim brothers and sisters through conversation, meals and celebrations
    • Share stories in upcoming issues of the Equipping for Peacemaking E-Newlsetter

    So, here is your opportunity, blog readers, to bring this to your community and congregation.  Comment on this post and let us know that you are interested and willing to seek peace and pursue it. Begin by joining the ELCA Equipping for Peacemaking Network ( ).  And, be sure to read all of Psalm 34.

    Valora Starr & Jean Morehouse

    Building Trust Takes Time

    Posted on February 11, 2010 by equip4peace

    Today we returned to “the classroom” or the conference space at the EELS office.  Pastor Joseph Diop assembled an assortment of guests to help open our minds to the journey of Christian-Muslim relationships through PRICA/PROMCURA.  Purpose of this group is to address “How we relate to Muslims without compromising our commitment to the gospel?” It is exclusively Christian, Pan-African, established in 1959 with a focus on peaceful co-existence since the continent and Senegal have been invaded by 2 missionary religions that have had and continue to have great potential for conflict to erupt. To date, 10 countries have hosted workshops and scholarships are being developed for Christian students to receive an MA in Islamic Studies at St. Paul School, Nairobi, Kenya. The group seeks to be intentionally Christian so that it does not appear to be syncretistic, while it has an intentional focus on engaging and reaching out to the Muslim community for dialog and mutual understanding.  In 1990, PRICA in Senegal originated in a retreat center outside of Dakar. This led to making visits with Imams in order to get their input to avoid conflicts experienced in other parts of the world where Muslims and Christians live. An obstacle in forming the group was the attitude represented in “The only dealings we need to have with Muslims is to preach  the gospel to them and leave it at that.” Another obstacle was gaining the trust of fellow Christians as well as the trust of the Muslims.  There was a spirit of suspicion on the purpose and motive of this group.  A leading Sheik and Islamic teacher joined our conversation and outlined the climate of trust needed to engage in conversation:

    Unless a person feels safe with you there cannot be a conversation!

    Conditions for Conversation:

    • Feel safe with whom you are engaging
    • For the other to feel safe with us
    • If a person agrees aloud that there is safety and ground of agreement.  If there is not agreement, it is important that the other is not left as an enemy.
    • Mutual respect in the humanness of the other
    • Conversations are not holy–they can be right or wrong
    • In the end we are still brothers or sisters–All people are one family of God
    • The person closest to God is one who helps the family of God

    Like any relationship, trust is something that develops as risks are taken to know the other and share oneself.  Maybe this is why in the Bible we have over 350 references to God, angels and Jesus saying “Don’t be afraid.”  

    Steve Talmage

    Tues. – Feb 9, Six degrees of separation…or less.

    Posted on February 11, 2010 by equip4peace

    Six degrees of separation (also referred to as the “Human Web”) refers to the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth. (Wiki)

    Such is the concept. Within religious circles, it is likely even less. Upon arriving in Senegal, I met Philipe Badji, with whom I am only separated by one degree in Christ. He is the Business Administrator for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Senegal. He is also a graduate of Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa, class of ’93. As a faculty member of Wartburg, I was delighted to learn of his significant contributions to the life of the church here. He oversees payroll, contracts, employer tax, social security contributions, health insurance programs, and deals with legalities of the church status as an NGO in Senegal.

    Philipe fondly remembered his years at Wartburg to me, especially Lynn Olson, his math professor. I take pride in learning first hand of the contribution of one of our colleges of the ELCA in this capacity. Lynn, and many others of us, have other fine examples of alumnai making important contributions to healthy communties around the world.

    Additionally, members of the faith community related to Father Abraham (Christians, Muslims, and Jews) might find themselves less than six degrees from each other as I have here in Senegal. Peter Hanson, missionary in residence, escorted me to meet Adnan Demir, General Director of the school Yavuz Selim here in Dakar. I had brought his name along with me, having received it from my friend Ismail Demirkan in Denver. Recently, Ismail and Pastor Paul Carlson shared in a dialogue sermon based on Scripture about Noah, reading the story from the Koran and the Bible, at my church in Denver, Colorado. At that time, I told Ismail about my impending trip to Senegal. He suggested I look up Adnan who knows his father-in-law in Turkey. Not only did Adnan receive us on short notice, but he arranged for Director Ismail Yegit to tour us around a grade school, from which we learned of their efforts in quality education also.

    The value of personal relationships in building community has been repeated in different ways during this immersion in Senegal.  These meetings, mentioned here, were made all the more meaningful since it was members of  God’s family meeting each other from across the miles. The intentionality of experiences like this one, also strengthen my experience of God’s presence. No degrees of separation there.


    Monday – February 8

    Posted on February 10, 2010 by equip4peace

    It is amazing how hours in a vehicle can be a blessing through space for sharing stories, thoughts, prayers for safe travel, and a good laugh or two. We returned from our trip to Linguère late Sunday evening.  The first half of the new route ‘home’ to Dakar was a repeat of the trip to Linguère: we endured another three hours of swerving around and bumping over the many potholes in the asphalt.  The second three hours of the trip found us alternately cruising along the highway with few other vehicles and caught in traffic, crawling toward our destination.  We were most likely among the two million Muslims who had made the annual pilgrimage to Touba to celebrate the anniversary of Cheikh Amadou Bamba’s return from exile, stayed through the weekend, and were now making the trek back to Dakar just as we were.  We were slowed several times by traffic in towns as we passed through busy marketplaces and by slow-moving dump trucks and buses packed to their roofs. 

    Monday afternoon we visited the Africa Consultants International – Baobab Center ( ). The Center offers cultural competency and language classes for individuals and organizations, a study abroad program, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health initiatives, social justice and conflict transformation and technical assistance and other services.  Looking toward the peace-building work that will happen in the US as a result of this experience, there are four ‘pearls of wisdom’ that have been gleaned from the work at the ACI-Baobab Center:

    1. What happens in our local communities has repercussions in our global community. The tools for peacemaking must be contextualized to address local issues in a world context.  We do not and cannot live in seclusion in the United States.  It is time to acknowledge and strengthen our connection to our brothers and sisters who live across the street as well as around the world.
    2. Use of a transformational model for our peace-building.  This has to do with changing the hearts and minds of people for a passion to do this work.  Look for creative ways in which we can use conflict and tension to build community rather than to destroy us all.
    3. We must first know and understand ourselves in order to be peacebuilders.  This is a process of reflection, visiting our history, envisioning the future, then coming together in a sacred space to talk with others.  When we do gather with others for conversation, we do so with respect and openness, trying to understand rather than trying to impose our own expectations.
    4. Cultivate patience.  This is a characteristic that can be practiced daily.  It is important to cultivate patience in children as well as in ourselves. 

    The day ended with a delicious dinner at a local restaurant and time together to share thoughts about the weekend and to begin to think about the ways in which each of us would take this experience home. Truly our time together has been blessed by a gracious and loving God.

    Jean Morehouse
    Coordinator, ELCA Equipping for Peacemaking Network

    Feb. 7 – Sunday morning best

    Posted on February 8, 2010 by equip4peace

    It was Sunday morning, and we heard the call to prayer. It is a good reminder to pray, no matter your tradition! We were off to church. The fifty of us gathered for worship, enjoyed each other’s company tremendously. In this context, Lutherans and Roman Catholics worship together, sharing in liturgy and eucharist. With the nearest priest some km away, Dirk is the Christian pastor in Linguere. Much in common for us to share. I do wish my congregation at home could harmonize like those singing here!

    Another communal meal around a common dish, and time to linger and talk. Sharing stories of life in the church in Linguere. No matter the context, freedom in Christ is a common theme.

    As Bishop Steve shared in his sermon, all we have is a gift from God, so all we give back is in thanks to God. Today I thank God for these relationships. It is in God’s name that these relationships have been built over many years. One woman I met at worship told me she first met Viking when she was 13. She is now 31, married with four children. Her seeing Viking this trip, was the joy of seeing a good friend. It is this time and energy and love that has required huge commitment over many years of the ELCA, but especially from the missionaries on the ground, from which we benefit now. There is no way I’d find my way around Dakar, let alone head out of town to Linguere, not to mention having visited several hamlets of Fulani people  in the bush which you wouldn’t even know were there without a guide.

    But so, so, so much more than a guide. For all the wonderful technology (and it is wonder that I can write this now and you have it instantly),  drinking from the same cup at worship with Christians, dipping my hand in the same bowl over meals with Muslims, having conversations together about life and death, finding common understandings while recognizing the obstacles, is best done face to face.

    There are many ways that people are brought face to face, but doing so in the manner in which we have come, equips us for peace for the long haul. We keep learning new ways of respecting each other, honoring each other, guiding each other through old methods of meeting face to face. Such meetings have always been important. In our time, these conversations are just as vital, if not more so.  Thanks be to God who is present in the meeting.

    Driving back to Dakar, our car load had a conversation about the presence of the Holy Spirit, and how Lutherans describe that presence. I think I just did.  

    Rev. Bonita Bock, Co-Director, Wartburg College West, Denver, Colorado

    Blessing from Sufi Khalif

    Posted on February 6, 2010 by Robert Smith
    Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba, founder of the Mouride brotherhood.

    Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba, founder of the Mouride brotherhood.

    When we started looking into this Interfaith Immersion trip for the ELCA’s Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV), one of the visits we made was to see Serigne Touba—the Khalif (leader of a Muslim school of thought) of the Mouride brotherhood. This visit was set up by one of our Senegalese coworkers, Vieux Sy, who is the Administrator for the Linguere-based programs of the EELS (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Senegal). Himself a dedicated and faithful member of this Sufi movement, Vieux arranged a meeting with his own sprititual advisor or marabout, who in turn arranged a meeting with the Khalif.

    As we explained the vision we had for this immersion trip—to have an opportunity for ELCA members to see, hear, and experience first-hand the kind of Christian and Muslim interaction people in Senegal live everyday—the Khalif said that such an undertaking was a noble cause, and he not only encouraged us to pursue it, he unequivocally gave his support to the idea. If the group were to come to Touba, he said, he would give them extraordinary access to the holy places, along with permission to photograph and video in them. Perhaps more remarkably, he said that even if the trip did not have the time to come to Touba itself, he would nevertheless give his whole-hearted benediction (blessing) to the trip and to the goals and vision behind it. He assured us that he would be praying for us and for the success of our trip.

    As it turns out, the trip won’t have enough time to truly visit Touba, particularly since the timing coincided with the Magal, and annual pilgrimage during which close to three million faithful crowd the city and its mosques.  Still, we have had wonderful discussions with many Mourides—including a deep and enlightening one Robert, Darryl and I had tonight with Vieux. And it is very clear to me and to others that God’s blessing—and the blessings of many of God’s faithful people—have been upon this pilgrimage of ours.

    Pr. Peter Grow-Hanson
    ELCA Mission Personnel, Dakar Senegal

    Feb. 6 – From Tourism to Immersion

    Posted on February 6, 2010 by Robert Smith

    One of the mega-trends in US congregations is participation in what has come to be known as “short-term mission trips.” Most often focused on youth and centered on a service project in a non-US context, mission trips have come under great scrutiny. Do they expand tourist consumerism rather than Christian discipleship? Do they focus on “doing” something rather than simply “being” with persons of faith in other context? Are they really a nice getaway with a thin veneer of faith instead of a deep experience?

    From its planning stages (with other members of the ELCA task force of the Decade to Overcome Violence) to now, midway through this journey, this immersion experience in Senegal was never intended to be a “short-term mission trip.” Every member of our group is conscious of why we are present here. We have spoken openly about our hope that we are not simply tourists. We are committed to deeply engaging with and learning from the people we meet rather than consuming them with camera lenses and quick drop-in visits that are more about us than them. We have consciously chosen not to “do for” the people we meet (we’re not building fences they don’t need and nobody in our group has more experience with cattle and sheep than the Fulani we visited today); we are, instead, focused on “being with.” We are fully present when encountering the persons and peoples of the places into which we are privileged to be welcomed.

    In keeping with the Accompaniment model of global mission engagement put into practice by the ELCA, we are focused on receiving the gifts of our companions rather than focusing on what we may perceive they lack. And we have received, and received, and received again.

    Women and Children of Ñiri (Ñiery)

    There is much to be proud of in the ELCA’s long-term work and presence in Senegal. We have a great story to tell about what our church has done here. But, as a church, we are conscious that it is not we who have done these things. The glory is God’s alone, and the credit for the work behind these projects goes to our local companions. Our missionaries here, past and present, are proudest of the relationships they have built here over the past decades. It is these relationships that form the heart of the ELCA mission in this place, as well as the heart of the ELCA’s understanding of the particular heritage of Muslim-Christian relations in this country.

    The majority of short-term mission trips cannot help but miss this vital center of deep and abiding relationship: when groups arrive to engage in a project and rush to the beach, they simply don’t have the time to sit and be fully present with the persons they encounter, to achieve some measure of the relationships built in the place into which they are welcomed. Perhaps it is time for a new model. We know that American Christians will travel, and we know that American Christians yearn for faithful relationships in the world around them. Perhaps the immersion model we are experiencing in this context—a model that so many on our journey thus far affirm is capable of changing American Christian lives at a fundamental level—is one worth exploring.

    Robert O. Smith

    Day 5 – Bye-bye Muslim-Christian Relations?

    Posted on February 6, 2010 by Darryl Thompson Powell

    One of at least 3 mosque in Tivaouane

    We were refused entrance into a mosque today (Feb. 5).  So much for Christians and Muslims working together in peace.

    If you read Bishop Talmage’s post (if you didn’t, do it now), you know we stopped in Tivaouane on our way to Linguère.  We were able to go easily as a group into the Grand Mosque (probably because it wasn’t finished), and our guide – Ibrahim (Ibou) – was hoping to show us another mosque.  It’s Friday, the Muslim equivalent of Sunday, when the men come to the mosque for midday prayer and to hear a message delivered.

    We arrived at the mosque with time to spare before the prayer, and Ibou asked at the door if it was OK for us to enter in and view the mosque.  (The conversations happened in French.  I’m not fluent in French, so this is what I understood).

    “Yeah, yeah.  It’s OK.  You need to take of your shoes first.”

    “Women may enter, too?” Ibo asked.

    “Yes.  But they have to take off their shoes.”

    Ibou relayed the message to our group, and we all took off our shoes and started up the stairs to the door.

    Before we could enter, an older gentleman walked up to the first, younger gentleman.

    “What’s going on?” he asked.

    “They are from the United States, and wanted to see our mosque.”

    “What?  No!” the elder exclaimed.  “Not today.”

    After that, the conversation got heated (at least on the elder’s side) and continued in a combination of French and Wolof (the tribal language) as the younger man questioned why when they’ve allowed tourist in before, and the elder essentially saying, “This is a holy day.  This isn’t a day for tourist!”

    One of our coordinators for the trip, Peter, quickly and politely apologized for bothering them and thanked them for their time.  As we put our shoes back on and walked away, we could still hear the elder speaking with agitation to the younger man.

    This was a bit of a surprise for some in the group.  We’d heard so much about teranga – hospitality – from so many people (and experienced it as well).  Senegal is known for its hospitality.  Why would somebody turn us away like that?

    When I stopped to think about it, would Christians have done any different?  How would we feel if Muslims came to our church on Sunday morning, right before worship, just to take a look around?  Let’s be real: as much as we talk about our congregations being welcoming, we wouldn’t be happy about them using our “holy day” as a tourist attraction, no matter how meaningful the reason.  And let’s be even more real:  we have a hard time welcoming Christians looking for a church home that show up in “our” church.

    I’m not talking about this abstractly.  I know this from personal experience.  As a youth I stopped going to my home church because a runaway girl, somebody I and some other youth had invited to church, was turned away at the door by an “elder” of the church.  Why? Because she was surviving on the streets as a prostitute, and she came to church in her best clothes.  Her “best clothes” was a streetwalking outfit that she saved for when conventions were in town.

    If you’re thinking “That was 30 years ago,” I’ve experienced similar situations at Lutheran churches as a pastor.  Plus I know many – especially people of color – who can say the same thing.  We talk about being a welcoming community, but too often we are not.

    We were upset with a Muslim because we were turned away from a mosque on Friday as they were preparing for prayer.  We should have been upset with ourselves for having the gall to think we could barge into the mosque on their holy day.  If damage was done to Muslim-Christian relationships today, it was because of us, not them.

    -Darryl Thompson Powell

    Going In Country

    Posted on February 5, 2010 by equip4peace

    The Grand Mosque in Tivaouane

    Today is my 51st Birthday.  Who would of thought it would experienced in Senegal, West Africa?  Our day began with making our way out of Dakar and fueling up the two Toyota Prados.  Gas is about $5.00/gal here, so I will quit complaining about the $2.65 I paid last week in Phoenix, AZ.  Our destination for the day was the Lutheran work in Linguere about 200 Km from Dakar.  On our way we stopped to visit the Grand Mosque of the Tivaouane brotherhood in Tivaouane.  This is one of the four brotherhoods of Islam at work in Senegal.  The town has several mosques supporting its Muslim population.  The Grand Mosque is like the Cathedral of the brotherhood, and like any Cathedral it takes time and money.  In this case the money flows from Morocco and the time, well the project started 25 years ago.  I have discovered it is universal that patience is a virtue when it comes to construction projects!  We were hosted by a local family with a connection to the mission work in Linguere.  We continue the practice of eating around a communal serving plate that also serves as our dinner plate.  Rice, goat’s meat, and carrots were served.  We also shared the experience of dining by sitting on the floor.  Could not help but think of Jesus at the Last Supper, especially as we helped each other wash hands prior to eating.  From Tivaouane we continued on the trail to Linguere, however Peter and Viking failed to mention we would be participating on a simulation of the great Paris to Dakar Road Race.  From Diourbel to Linguere we spent more time traveling off road and than on road.  There were more potholes than asphalt on much of the 120 Km to Linguere.  I mentioned in my car I felt we were on the Indiana Jones Ride at Disneyland!  The terrain remained sandy and dotted with trees, but the thermostat continued to climb over 100 degrees F. as we made our way from the coast to the desert grassland of the Fulani people, who for generations have existed by raising cattle, sheep, and goats.  Throughout the journey I was amazed at the number of herds, without fences or corrals grazing the land.  It was good to pull into Linguere, though some of us may want to see a chiropractor.  We were graciously hosted by Dirk and Sarah Staetdlander and their little girls, Eva and Ellen for a delicious dinner of beef, carrots, potatoes, and peas.  We ate Senegal style, our right hand was our eating utensil and pieces of bread helped serve as spoons.  Our conversation flows freely as we look forward to hearing the stories of the Christian converts and those who are a part of the mission work in this rural and heavily Muslim area of the Fulani people.  I encourage you to continue to pray for the people of Senegal and thank God for the servant leaders of Peter and Sara Grow-Hanson, Viking and Marissa Dietrich, and Dirk and Sara Staedlander.  I am also grateful that unlike the urban island I normally inhabit,  when the thermometer passes 100 F. in the day here that the night air actual can drop 30 degrees.  Thanks also to all who are allowing this group to be participants in this journey of understanding and representing the ELCA.

    Steve Talmage

    Dome of the Grand Mosque in Tivaouane

    Thursday, Feb. 4 – Yeumbeul

    Posted on February 4, 2010 by equip4peace

    “I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.”  Ps. 138:2.

    The group started this morning at 9am and drove to Yeumbeul —  a fast-growing, under-served community on the outskirts of the Dakar urban sprawl.  It is about 20 minutes north and east of Dakar. We visited the Centre Communautaire Galee Nanondiral of l,Èglise Evangelique Lutherienne du Senegal  and met with people who work there.  The center is very significant to the people of Yeumbeul, especially to the Muslim community, because it provides community programs that enhance the daily lives of children, youth, men and women.   It also houses the only library in town.  The whole ministry at the center is sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and supported by people like you and me who share their gifts of time, talents and treasures.  Today I was very proud to be a Lutheran and to see and be a part of a ministry that is far away from home. For me, this ministry is God’s love in action, strengthening the lives of people from a different faith tradition through mutual work together.

    Throughout the day, we continued to experience the love of God as we visited the public school, the health clinic, and walked through the streets of Yeumbeul. One of the significant highlights of the day was visiting with Muslim families and experiencing their wonderful hospitality. They welcomed us as their brothers and sisters and we experienced/shared their amazing skill of cooking.  The meal was prepared specially for us in an outside kitchen which was one small room in the backyard.  They cooked their traditional dish called thiéboudienne which consisted of rice, fish, vegetables, tomato paste and spicy hot sauce.  We finished the meal with a drink called bissap, made from hibiscus flowers, sugar and water.  The hosting family was graciously welcoming to our questions related to inter-cultural relations, religion, and daily life.

    I would call today another amazing and life changing experience for me. I am praying that this trip will continue to be eye-opening and prepare me and the group to be instruments of peace-making among Christians, Muslims and all of God’s people.

    In Jesus’ Name,
    Rev. Gabi Aelabouni
    Faith Lutheran-Brookfield