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April 1, 2019

Christian-Muslim relations books encourage dialogue in the Horn of Africa

Written by  Joyce Maxwell and Micah Brickner
David W. Shenk felt like this February PCCI consultation in Ethiopia shared many parallels to the late Ahmed Ali Haile's 2010 tour of East Africa, almost as a continuation to a meaningful experience in Nairobi when it felt as though "heaven came down." Photo by Lisa Immel. David W. Shenk felt like this February PCCI consultation in Ethiopia shared many parallels to the late Ahmed Ali Haile's 2010 tour of East Africa, almost as a continuation to a meaningful experience in Nairobi when it felt as though "heaven came down." Photo by Lisa Immel.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Two books from “The Christians Meeting Muslims Series” are making new inroads for Christian-Muslim relations in Ethiopia and Somalia.

Leaders of the Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) were eager to launch the new Amharic translation of “A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue,” co-authored by Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk.

MKC, the largest Anabaptist conference in the world, hoped to release the book during the Peacemakers Confessing Christ International (PCCI) gathering in February at Meserete Kristos College in Bishoftu.

However, publishing was put on hold until there was an opportunity to “secure the participation of the leadership of the Amharic-speaking Muslim community,” said Andres Prins, translation coordinator and Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) worker.

In an effort to engage Muslim leaders in Ethiopia, MKC leaders approached the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). The request was to “ensure that the Islamic concepts and terminology were correctly expressed in Amharic” and to designate “a respected representative of their religious community to write a foreword for the book,” said Prins.

During the PCCI consultation, both Christian and Muslim leaders met at the offices of the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE) in Addis Ababa on Thursday, February 21. Participants included:
— Tewodros Beyene, MKC president
— Zerihun Degu, IRCE chair
— Haji Mahimud Sheikh Oumer, EIASC representative
— Haji Messaud Adem, EIASC representative
— Kelbessa Muleta, MKC vice president
— Andres Prins
— David W. Shenk
— Siaka Traore, Burkina Faso Mennonite pastor

Oumer and Adem, along with Degu, indicated strong support for this project and were thankful for the invitation to participate.

Returning to the participants of the PCCI consultation, Beyene and Muleta both expressed gratitude for the enthusiastic reception of this project by the Muslim leaders.

Considering the national emphasis of regional, political, and religious peacemaking led by Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, Beyene and Muleta felt as though this project could not have come at a more opportune time.

The third and largest PCCI consultation was initiated by an invitation from MKC leaders ministering to Muslims. The consultation was coordinated by a steering committee composed of Kenya Mennonite Church leader Patrick Obonde and two members of EMM’s Christian-Muslim Relations Team (CMRT): Jonathan Bornman and Prins.

PCCI’s mission is “to equip Christians around the world for life­-giving relationships with Muslims through dialogue, witness, peacemaking, and hospitality.”

Attendees came from Burkina Faso, Canada, Ghana, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, the Netherlands, Tanzania, and the U.S. Around 30 Ethiopians, most of whom are involved in relating and witnessing to Muslim neighbors, also participated.

Reminiscing on an event in Nairobi, Kenya, from nearly 9 years ago, Shenk felt like this February PCCI consultation in Ethiopia shared many parallels, almost as a continuation to the experience in Nairobi when it seemed as though “heaven came down” in the midst of the Christians who were gathered together.

In 2010, a friend of Shenk, the late Ahmed Ali Haile, having devoted much of his life to peacemaking throughout East Africa, decided to travel throughout the region to say goodbye to friends when he was diagnosed with cancer. This event in Nairobi occurred during Haile’s tour.

Haile, whose autobiographical account is told in “Teatime in Mogadishu: My Journey as a Peace Ambassador in the World of Islam,” was born into a Muslim Somali family, but later experienced — and decided to follow — Christ as Lord and Savior. Told to Shenk by Haile, “Teatime” is also part of “The Christians Meeting Muslims Series.”

At the PCCI consultation, reports were heard of how the book is enjoying growing acclaim as a praiseworthy example of Somali language and culture, reaching Somalis in the Horn of Africa and throughout the world.

Much like Haile committed his life’s work to peace and reconciliation throughout East Africa, Shenk is eager to see a similar peacemaking process among Muslims and Christians emerging in Ethiopia.

If you would like to contribute to the translation and publishing costs — about $10,000 for 5,000 copies — for this book into Amharic, you can give toward this project by mailing a check to EMM or giving online and adding a preference memo for “CMRT book translation.”