August 29, 2017

Pastors begin building Christian-Muslim bridges in Uruguay, Paraguay

Written by  Emily Jones
In Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, EMM Christian/Muslim Relations Team member Andres Prins and Imam Fadi Aljafarawi meet at the city mosque, Mezquita del Este. In Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, EMM Christian/Muslim Relations Team member Andres Prins and Imam Fadi Aljafarawi meet at the city mosque, Mezquita del Este. Photos provided by Andres Prins.

SALUNGA, Pa. — In Latin America, where 90% of people identify as Christian and only 0.1% as Muslim — according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center — Christian-Muslim relations is not often emphasized. However, with an expected 12.5% increase in the Muslim population there by 2050, understanding between Christians and Muslims is a growing need. 

In his home country of Uruguay and its neighbor, Paraguay, Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) Christian/Muslim Relations Team member Andres Prins arranged for South American pastors of various denominations to visit local mosques to start building bridges with their Muslim neighbors. Throughout Prins’ July 11–August 9 trip, many of these pastors set foot inside a mosque and engaged in conversation with Muslims for the first time.

In Chuy, Uruguay, as in many other border towns, a community of Muslim businessmen has developed. In partnership with Manarah Latino, a ministry helping Latin American Christians better understand Muslims, Prins arranged a visit to the local mosque along with two church leaders: Church of God pastor Washington Rosa and Sergio Rodriguez, a Brethren Assemblies leader.

“Observing the Muslim prayer time and then greeting and interacting with several of the people present was a first for the two local pastors, who were quite excited about possibilities for the future,” said Prins. The pastors were glad to establish a positive relationship with Imam Yasser Assal, with whom they spoke for about an hour.

Prins said he observed that some Latin American pastors thought they needed to keep their commitment to Christ hidden when relating to Muslims. Throughout his trip, he encouraged Christians to seek instead to identify clearly with Jesus and represent Him well to everyone.

Twenty thousand Muslims are said to live in the border region of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, and Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil. When Prins arranged for a group of 10 local evangelical pastors and leaders to observe Friday noon prayers at the main mosque in Ciudad del Este, Mezquita del Este, they were pleasantly surprised by the warmth, openness, and interest with which Imam Fadi Aljafarawi received them.

“For many it was their first time inside this grand new mosque, and the first time they were identifying as Christian leaders among their Muslim neighbors,” said Prins.

In the Paraguayan capital Asunción, Prins’s Friday afternoon visit to the local Islamic center with five pastors, including two Mennonite leaders, was initially met with some hesitation from the imam. However, after an afternoon of friendly introductions and conversation, the imam invited the pastors to come back anytime.

“There are a lot of misconceptions between the two groups,” said Prins. “The church leaders who came with me were very surprised and encouraged that such meetings could take place.”

During his month-long trip, Prins also spent time in Latin American Christian circles advocating for peaceful Christian-Muslim relationships coupled with faithful Christian witness. In addition to serving as a Christian-Muslim relations trainer for over 100 participants in the Manarah Latino training, he spoke in a number of churches, appeared on Paraguayan Christian radio stations Obedira and ZP-30, and met with Uruguayan Member of Parliament Gerardo Amarilla.

Each venue was an opportunity to break down misunderstandings and present the possibility of peaceful Christian-Muslim relations marked by dialogue, Christian witness, peacemaking, and hospitality — the four pillars of the Christian/Muslim Relations Team’s approach to building life-giving relationships with Muslims.