LWF’s Regional Secretary for Africa, Rev Dr Samuel Dawai said the idea for the consultation began with a desire to convene a space for Francophone churches to learn from their similar contexts of living and working in Muslim majority countries. He said a similar meeting will take place in Anglophone Africa in the future, in order to support all the African churches and communities effectively in the area of interfaith relations. He said the Christian belief that salvation is found in Christ alone “must be made manifest in how we treat those who are different from ourselves. We must learn to respect what each other’s beliefs are, even if we do not understand them.”
In her greeting to participants, Rev. Dr Jeanette Ada Maina, LWF Vice President for Africa echoed Dawai’s words, saying that whatever our different beliefs may be, “we are under the same command to love the neighbor.” She added: “Christians and Muslims are all created by God and we are called to love, which is the only means to make the gospel visible to all.”
Building capacity for constructive engagement
Rev. Mbilinyi noted that the goal of the meeting was to build the capacity for Francophone African churches “to engage proactively and constructively with people of other faiths.” By exploring opportunities together, he said, participants can support each other and help each other to grow through networking and learning from the other’s experiences.
At an opening worship service, host church preacher Rev. Moussa Marone from the Lutheran Church of Senegal said the consultation was an opportunity to reconnect and learn from friends in the ministry. He noted that learning more about interfaith relations was “timely and highly needed, especially in the Francophone West Africa region” where most churches are living among Muslim majority communities. “As Christians and Muslims,” he said, “we have to live together in peace with respect and understanding. We must engage people of the other faiths with open minds and with respect, so as to be able to live our faith in Christ and be good to our neighbor.”
Rev. Dr. Salli Effungani, Program Officer for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA), spoke about some best practices, noting that good interfaith relations depend on effective communication to enable relationships to develop. Learning to accept the differences of other faith communities is a first step towards building trust and facilitating positive conversations. “The best practice starts with relationship building, then we must understand and accept the differences and be willing to live together with these differences.” She highlighted the need for Christians and Muslims to identify cultural and religious differences and to promote capacity building in the areas of interfaith literacy.
Through careful listening, better relationships are built.
- Rev. Latyr Diouf, President of the Lutheran Church of Senegal
Rev. Latyr Diouf, President of the Lutheran Church of Senegal, thanked the LWF for organizing the meeting in Senegal, saying it will help church leaders and theologians in Francophone Africa to widen their understanding of interfaith engagement and religious liberty and learn how to diffuse tensions in inter-religious relations.
He called for careful listening to people with different beliefs, stressing that “through careful listening, better relationships are built.” Rev. Diouf said the meeting will consolidate relationships among the French-speaking member churches in Africa. “The meeting has helped us to know each other better and this will build stronger relationships among the churches.”
Rev. Abdou Thiam, Director of the Department of Theology and Training in the Lutheran Church of Senegal, said respect and understanding of others are keys to effective evangelization in the region. “For us to be people of faith, Christians and Muslims in Africa must get to understand the joys, the pains and fears of each other and bring hope in how we relate to one another.”