|United Methodist Church Thrives in Senegal|
The Holy Sprit is working through The United Methodist Church to accomplish God's mission in Senegal. In just the seven years since the first of eight United Methodist missionaries were assigned to the West African nation by the General Board of Global Ministries eight churches have been planted and several mission projects are thriving.
Indeed, The United Methodist Church has planted more churches in a shorter amount of time than any church that has sent missionaries to Senegal, including the Baptists and the Lutherans.
Doreen Tilghman, consultant for the Senegal initiative, points to two reasons for the church's success in this country where some 92 percent of its 10.2 million people are Muslim, either by faith or by culture: The church has formed strong ecumenical mission partnerships and has offered a faith alternative to people who "have not found a faith community that they feel comfortable with, can be faithful in, and that they have chosen for themselves."
"There is a perception," she continued "that everyone in Senegal is a Muslim, just as there is a perception that everyone from the United States is Christian. That is not the case." In addition to the Senegalese Christians there is a sizeable population of nonprofit and other international government agencies in the country, many of whom are United Methodist or who are looking for a church "that more resembles what they are used to" and so have come to The United Methodist Church, Tilghman said.
The United Methodist presence there, which began as an urban ministry with services conducted in people's homes in the city of Dakar, now consists of eight congregations in the city and rural areas. Pastoral leadership is provided by four Senegalese and four West African pastors. The church, L'Eglise Methodiste au Senegal, hosted the 1999 GBGM Mission Study Travel Seminar for clergy, laity, and seminary students.
The church's ministries include a women's prison ministry that provides food, counseling, and literacy courses for inmates, a health and wholeness ministry that operates four fitness centers, a sewing center, and an urban rooftop gardening project. The church also is developing a community based primary health care ministry and a youth ministry.
A unique aspect of the church's ministry is its ecumenical nature, an important factor in the church's success. "Many people really didn't believe that we would be invited into the prisons after we asked permission or that our missionaries would be allowed in," Tilghman said. However, permission was granted within three days, most likely Tilghman pointed out, because of the denomination's openness to an ecumenical approach. "We didn't just have our United Methodist missionaries. We also had a Senegalese Christian and two Senegalese women of the Islamic faith who work hand in hand with the team. And there is no question that all the women in that prison know who The United Methodist Church is and they welcome us and just get so excited anytime we come to visit."
The fitness centers, initiated by missionary Al Streyffeler of the Northern Illinois conference, present a whole other approach to evangelism. The idea was born of the interest in exercise and physical fitness, particularly among young people, that the missionaries noticed. Dakar is situated along the sea and on any given day, Tilghman said, "you can see runners."
The church opened a welding shop and hired people to make equipment for the centers, which now have "become a kind of quiet way of introducing who we are and what we stand for," Tilghman explained. Out of respect for a culture that requires men and women to be separate in many activities, the centers offer separate workout times for women and men.
The church, rather than cloister itself from the people has moved out into the Senegalese community. Tilghman recounted the experience of Missionary Mavis Streyffeler, whose family rented a house in the community and had to learn to speak French or Wolof:
"Mavis, in her usual jubilant way, met three women who had bread stalls and wanted to learn to read and write. They agreed to sit together under a tree every morning so Mavis could teach them English and they could teach her French-and the women are still three of her closest friends." There was the same sharing in the case of her husband, Al, who learned to speak Wolof from the young men who built the machinery for the fitness center as they learned English from him.
The missionaries also celebrate the Islamic holy days with the people of the community and invite them in to share Easter, Christmas and other Christian holy days.
The church now is operating a pastoral training program as an initial step in discerning which should continue on to seminary. For all the success of The United Methodist Church in such a short period of time, Tilghman said challenges remain. "As we move the men along, we also have to be sure that we provide opportunities for the women," such as the literacy training and the "very successful" micro-lending and business program funded by Women's Division.
The next goal, Tilghman said, is to "build a church in Dakar-not a big cathedral, but a church like we have in some of the rural, with a flame and a cross."
The Advance number for donations to the church's ministry in Senegal is "O12594-2RA, Senegal Initiative-Dakar." "
Date posted: Mar 25, 2002