In a context where Muslim-Christian relationships are often violent, with religious conflicts causing more than 2,000 deaths last year, Mennonite and Muslim neighbors are helping each other in times of grief.
BOBO DIOULASSO, Burkina Faso (Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission/Mennonite Mission Network) — On a Sunday in November after worship, Alice Tou, a member of one of our Mennonite churches in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, asked if she could have a word with me. I could see she was worried. Large groups of Muslim neighbors kept arriving at her house, asking her to arrange a meeting with her pastor. However, they wouldn't say why they wanted to see me.
At this time in our country, tensions are high between Christians and Muslims. More than five percent of our people have been displaced due to violence and more than 2,000 were killed last year. However, trusting in God's protection, I agreed to a meeting.
Three community representatives arrived at the scheduled time. They were all Muslim believers. In West Africa, we begin every visit with greetings. After creating a space for meaningful conversation through these warm greetings, my guests told me that they came with a request for a collaboration that could unite our divided community. They said our community needs a hearse.
This request surprised me, because many Muslim believers don't want their dead to be defiled by any contact with non-Muslim people. Seeing my puzzlement, my guests filled me in on the history behind their request. They had been trying to procure a hearse for 30 years. Every time someone died in their community, they had to ask other communities for a hearse.
I bade them good-bye with no promises, except that I would consider their request. Then, I turned to church members for counsel. Together, we discerned that we wouldn't be compromising our faith in Jesus by collaborating with our Muslim neighbors in this way. Rather, it was an opportunity to build bridges and show that Christians are people of compassion and peace.
The request for the hearse coincided with the Peace Africa meetings. [Peace Africa is a Mennonite-initiated, informal and international network of individuals and organizations — including Mennonite Mission Network — working for harmonious Muslim-Christian relationships.] Peace Africa members saw the request for a hearse as a concrete way to move their online conversations into a real-life act of peacebuilding across an often-violent religious divide.
On the local community level in Bobo Dioulasso, a committee is being established to oversee the use of the hearse. At the January Mennonite Church general assembly, the national committee agreed to pursue this request. Abdias Coulibaly, national president of the denomination, described how, when his older brother died, Muslim neighbors helped to facilitate the burial. Coulibaly affirmed cultivating these kinds of relationships.
I was tasked with the research of importing a used vehicle from Germany to be used for our community's hearse. The cost will be around $8,000 USD. Our Muslim-Christian community has committed to contributing a tenth of the cost. We invite you, our global partners, to join us in building bridges between Christians and Muslims through our partner agency, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM). You can make a donation on AIMM's website. After indicating the amount of your gift, type "Muslim-Christian Hearse Project" into PayPal's space for "special instructions to the seller." On AIMM's website, you will also find mailing addresses, in case you would prefer to post a check. Write "Muslim-Christian Hearse Project" on the memo line.