GOSHEN, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) -- When 120 people braved wind chill below zero on Jan. 19 to get a taste of what God is doing in sun-baked Senegal, they received a mission imperative to cultivate friendships with their Muslim neighbors in northern Indiana.
Annual banquets help Friends of the Wolof connect North American supporters to followers of Jesus in northwestern Senegal. But at this year’s celebration, Jonathan Bornman, who has more than a decade of ministry experience in Senegal, emphasized the importance of worldwide understanding between Christians and Muslims worldwide if God’s love story is to be credible in this West African nation – or anywhere else.
After indicating that there are four Islamic centers within 30 miles of Silverwood Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind. where the banquet was held, Bornman said, “Don’t wait for Muslims to come to you but reach out to them. Friends of the Wolof is a growing ministry in Senegal and here in this area too.”
Bornman suggested several ways to begin relating to Muslims, including invitations to meals or special events and visiting mosques.
Invitation to Senegal
Village visits are an important part of the Friends of the Wolof ministry in Senegal. They are inviting 6-12 participants to join them from November 20-30, 2008 to carry greetings to the villages around the city where their ministry has been centered for the past decade.
The FOW brochure states, “Virtually every one of the 50 villages within a 10-mile radius of the central city has no Christian witness.”
Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mennonite Mission Network’s director for Africa, recently accompanied FOW personnel on a similar mission trip. He likened FOW village visits to Jesus’ manner of sending out disciples – going to people’s homes and receiving hospitality.
“In a concrete, basic way these village visits obey Jesus’ command,” Wiebe-Johnson said. “Too often we share Jesus in places where we are secure and in control instead of risking hospitality on the turf of the other.”
For more information about the trip, contact Charles Buller: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Christian – Muslim relationships may be the biggest story of our time,” Bornman said. ”Why are we so antagonistic when we share so much?”
Some prophets and holy writings – the Torah, the Psalms and the Gospels – belong to both religious traditions, Bornman said, as do the importance of prayer, a concern for the poor and a desire for our children to inherit a better world.
Despite the significant commonalities shared by Muslims and followers of Jesus, the good news that FOW has been called to live out resides in the differences, Bornman said.
“God incarnated in Jesus absorbed violence and hatred through his death on the cross – and he forgave. This is incomprehensible to Muslims,” Bornman said. “However, absorbing violence also confounds Christians. We miss Jesus’ point when we support the government’s war on terrorism.”
Bornman urged FOW to make love the axis of their actions.
“God’s love lived out among humanity is the real revelation of Jesus,” he said.
Since 1996, FOW - a group of congregations, businesses and individuals established by LifeSpring Community Church - has engaged in ministry in Senegal through a partnership with Mennonite Mission Network. During the first years, small business ventures and experimental agriculture helped to build friendships and trust among the Wolof, of whom 99.9 percent are Muslim.
FOW understands that asking Wolof people to change religions is perceived as a denial of their heritage. They present God as a Wolof-speaker and Jesus as God-on-earth, who fulfills what is truly good about Wolof culture and who transforms that which is not of God in all cultures.
FOW workers come from “Christian” nations, Canada and the United States, which creates barriers in relating to the Wolof, who equate Christianity with the medieval crusades, colonization and the western media.
“Many Muslims I know don’t differentiate between religious television programs and lurid soap operas. For them both are ‘Christian,” Bornman said.
Now, entering into the second decade of living among the Wolof, FOW workers are finding that their long-term commitment to telling the Bible story, visiting and engaging in the daily life of their neighbors is opening doors. New villages are asking to have the Bible story told regularly in their courtyards. The weekly worship services are attracting more people. Women are daring to become followers of Jesus without the blessing of their husbands or families. Perhaps most importantly, Wolof leadership is emerging.
Ibu*, who had been a clandestine talihibé Insa (follower of Jesus) before the arrival of FOW workers, will officially join the FOW team this year through Mission Inter Senegal, a partner agency with Mennonite Mission Network. Yascine, Ibu’s wife, and Irene Bornman, travel together to tell the Bible story in villages that are hearing about Jesus as God’s way, truth and life for the first time.
In their daily prayers, Muslims ask Allah 17 times to reveal the straight way, Jonathan Bornman said.
“As Christians, we need to be completely open with scripture. Muslims often think that we are hiding some mystical secret,” he said.
The FOW team in Senegal consists of six adults and five children: Carol and Jonathan Bornman with their three children, Irene Bornman – Jonathan’s mother, Margaret DeJong and Jim and Paula Hanes with their two children.
In 2008, as the Hanes family is taking a study leave at Wheaton (Ill.) College, Ibu and Yascine, will expand the FOW team along with their seven children.
*Wolof names have been changed