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Celebration of traditional arts communicates good news of Jesus


Donna Kampen Entz has dedicated most of her adult life to living out the good news of Jesus in the context of rural Burkina Faso with her family.

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Mennonite Church Canada/Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission/Mennonite Mission Network
May 17, 2005
-by Donna Kampen Entz with Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

Saraba, Burkina Faso — When my husband, Loren, and I moved to the village of Saraba twenty years ago, we knew that telling the story of Jesus as good news to the mostly Muslim population would take a lifetime.

Since our arrival in Burkina Faso in 1978, we have struggled with traditional evangelism campaigns. We feel that among these Muslim people they would not be wise because asking for a religious change would create resistance.

Yet, the evangelical community in this country really puts a lot of emphasis on doing these campaigns. It almost seems that in their eyes one is not calling people to a faith commitment if one is not doing campaigns.

Before encountering our family, the Samogho people who live in Saraba had no contact with evangelical witness. Over the years, Loren and I have found a way to call people into a relationship with Jesus that seems to be comfortable to us, to our Muslim neighbors and to the evangelical community. It has taken many meetings and, sometimes, forceful words to work out this culturally sensitive approach that respects local communication patterns.

A group of believers has not yet emerged in Saraba, but the message is being communicated in powerful and life-transforming ways through celebrating the Samogho language and arts.

Two years ago while we were in North America, Samogho Christians from a neighboring village, Samoghohiri, visited Saraba to play, sing and explain the meaning of Christian songs in the language that these two villages share. Before they left, the Christians prayed for the people of Saraba.

The people of Saraba invited the Christians back for a Christmas event that never saw the light of day. In February, I worked with a group of Saraba youth to prepare a drama of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Issac for Tabaski, a Muslim holiday celebrating this story that is shared by Muslims and Christians. The drama never took place either.

Finally, the people of Saraba invited the Samoghohiri Christians to attend the Tabaski drama after Easter. Loren and I had to be gone for several days before the event. We arrived in Saraba at the same time as the Samoghohiri Christians. We found everything impeccably organized.

The drama team had mobilized the whole village. The food was already cooked when we arrived at dark, and everyone was sitting ready to listen.

That night, biblical drama premiered in Saraba. The young actors playing the parts of Abraham and Sarah were great old people, even to their palsied hands shaking as they hobbled with canes. They totally enthralled their audience, who laughed with gusto. With pride in their voices, the actors announced their names and the person they represented in the drama when it was over.

Following the drama, the Samoghohiri church people sang, danced, gave a summary of the Bible story that had been acted out and prayed blessings on the Saraba people. For nearly three hours, people listened with rapt attention, instantly silencing any child who dared to make a sound. Most of Saraba attended the event.

Fabe Traore, who is leading the Wycliffe team in translating the Bible into the Samogho language, concluded the evening by weaving together key Old Testament narratives and the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Traore explained the drama by comparing the ram that Abraham saw as he prepared to plunge the knife into his son, Isaac, to Jesus who died in the place of our evil. Traore’s talk was powerful and tied together the stories many villagers have heard on cassette tapes over the years.

Family ties connect the villagers of Saraba and Samoghohiri so there was visiting after a shared meal, and many thanks all around. The fact that the two villages mutually participated in planning the event made it so pleasant. The Samoghohiri church paid for the truck to bring its members to Saraba. The family of one of Saraba’s elders put out the money for rice and sauce. Loren and I paid for the meat and the two liters of gas for the generator that provided power for the light and the sound system.

In the days following the drama, some villagers said the event showed that our religions are all the same. Others realized the complexity of their situation, being so utterly captivated by the music and clear message in their own language, yet having been born into Islam and knowing nothing but Islam, until the arrival of these missionaries in their village.

A long-time friend, Muso Kura, said, “This is the most important event that you have helped to prepare since you moved here. God will continue to work with all of these people as we continue to pray.”

Loren and I have lots of reflections as well. We wonder what has been done in Saraba that made people take this event so seriously.

  • Was it because it started with their own children doing the drama?
  • Was it because it was mostly done in the Samogho language?
  • Was it because people have been listening to cassettes here?
  • Was it because we knew personally everyone who attended?

It would be helpful to have answers to these questions because answers could inform the way we work in other places.

Donna Kampen Entz, along with her husband, Loren, began ministry in Burkina Faso in 1978. After nearly a decade of working to help organize the emerging Mennonite church there, the Entzes and their three children moved to the village of Saraba to build relationships with the mostly Muslim Samagho people. They facilitate Bible translation and the preparation of cassette tapes of the translated Bible stories that are shared via solar-powered tape players. Certain cassettes include stories and the Psalms set to traditional music.

Donna Entz is a member of Fiske (Saskatchewan) Mennonite Church and Loren Entz is a member of Zion Mennonite Church in Elbing, Kan.

Since 2002, Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network have been sponsoring agencies of the Entzes’ ministry through Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.

More of the Entz family story is told in "From Kansas to Kenedougou ... And back again," a issue available for download at Donna Entz also contributed to Anabaptists Meeting Muslims, a new book on interfaith dialogue. Call Herald Press toll-free: 1-800-245-7894. $31.29 Canada, $24.99 US.