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Muslim tribe celebrates publication of Bible portions


April 19, 2004
-by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen


(Left to Right) Ali Traore, Fabe Traore, and Donna Entz share remarks at a community celebration of a biblical translation project.

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Saraba, Burkina Faso – Last month, seeds planted over three decades blossomed and bore sweet fruit when people from various parts of the West African country of Burkina Faso gathered to dedicate two books of portions of the Bible in the Samogho language.

The event celebrated God’s written word and the Samogho culture in Saraba, a remote village where only a handful of people read and write. Representatives from the national Mennonite Church, Eglise Evangélique Mennonite du Burkina Faso, and governmental authorities attended the festivities.

Burkina Faso has been home for the Donna and Loren Entz family since the 1970s, where they minister with the support of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission and Mennonite Church Canada Witness.

The three Entz children learned to work alongside Burkinabé friends in fields and mud-walled courtyards, while their parents learned the Samogho language and gained the confidence of the village elders.

“Before our arrival in Burkina Faso, we were told that we might be obliged to do some sort of development work in order to earn a hearing for the gospel message [among a Muslim people],” Donna Entz said. “What we experienced was that people loved to talk about their religious beliefs, and we could be very open in talking about our relationship with God. Had we gone with the idea that it was wrong to share our faith with these brothers and sisters, we would almost certainly have been cut off from any deep relationship.

Entz said there is a connection between the Qur’an and the biblical material. “The Qur’an refers to Christians and Jews as ‘the people of the book,’ and says that their holy books are good counsel. Many proper names of people and places are also common to the Qur’an and the Bible. Building on these connections helped us to be sensitive in our proclamation.”

The Entz family often gained insights into biblical material from their Muslim neighbors whose culture was, in many ways, more similar to Hebrew culture than the North American world in which they grew up.

From the beginning of their ministry in Burkina Faso, the Entzes were opposed to mass evangelistic campaigns because they felt the here-today-gone-tomorrow approach inoculated people against radical discipleship. They chose instead an incarnational strategy emphasizing deeply rooted relationships and the powerful impact of God’s word shared in a people’s native tongue.

Working as a team with educated Muslim translators, Donna and Loren Entz began to translate Bible stories. During the translation process, the translators decided to become followers of Jesus and founded the first Samogho church.

Over the years, the biblical story of salvation has been shared around evening fires – the Samogho schoolroom – where traditional stories pass on values to subsequent generations. To further extend the impact of the story of Jesus, solar-powered cassette players have been given to village elders in neighboring villages.

“[The cassettes] tell the story of how God worked with his people,” Entz explained. “We envisioned people learning to know God in a natural way with the cassettes, like a friendship enfolding.”

The 22 one-hour cassettes feature 80 Old Testament narratives, the gospel of Luke and the story of the early church found in the first chapters of Acts.

Last month’s gala celebrated the publishing of these Bible portions in two books. “[Samogho Christians] felt these should not be sold without a dedication service,” Entz said.

The service included traditional music from each Samogho village; newly composed music by Samogho Christians; speeches given by visiting government officials, national Mennonite church leaders and the Samogho translators, a traditional fable followed by a biblical parable and a prayer for the upcoming rainy season. Certain speakers lauded the event for its role in strengthening Samogho culture. Others told how God had given peace and new understanding through the translated word.

“The most exciting [part of the celebration] was the non-preachy attitude of the Christians, who got up to dance while traditional songs were sung. Not only did they talk of their appreciation for the richness of the Samogho culture, they also showed it by their actions. We were deeply touched,” Entz said.

Several influential Samogho people living in Ouagadougou, the capital city, told the Entzes they had been quietly supporting their work but now wanted to become public advocates. A village neighbor said, “[Christians] are the only ones who can do what all of us try to do: live lives that honour God and keep from doing evil.”

After the festivities ended, the head of the Muslim community came to visit. The Entzes apologized for the celebration running overtime into Friday prayers. The imam responded that it was not at all serious because the community had been worshipping God.

“It sounds like we finally, after all these years, took part in an evangelism campaign that we are very comfortable with, because we were both respectful and yet very open about our relationship with God,” Entz said.

“We pray that God would allow us to remain among these people that we love. But, we sense that the Samogho church people have understood that they are called to live exemplary lives in faithfulness to God. They also see the importance of living lives intertwined with the rest of their people, as trailblazers to the many who are searching for meaning, all during these times of very rapid cultural and social change. We are not as crucially needed as we once were.”

Zion Mennonite Church in Elbing, Kan. is Loren Entz’s home congregation and Donna Entz is a member of Fiske (Saskatchewan) Mennonite Church. Mennointe Church Canada Witness is a partner with Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA in supporting the Entz’s ministry. The two oldest Entz children, Zachary and Mariam, attend Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Aisha attends high school in Ouagadougou.