Building bridges in Burkina Faso

Building bridges in Burkina Faso

A Menno Minute

A Menno Minute

by Donna Entz

God brought Siaka Traore of Burkina Faso into our lives in 1979.  In spite of opposition from every direction possible, he has always been consistent in responding as Jesus would.  As a young man, he joyfully embraced Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Instead of demonizing the Islamic faith that nurtured his incredible spiritual development and character traits, he used it as a springboard for relationships in the Muslim community. He inspired us to pursue a similar track in our life. Tany Warkentin and family of Pincher Creek were also honoured to work with him.  Below are stories from a recent inter-faith Zoom call.

Pastor Siaka Traore, the founder and leader the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso. Violence in country has been given religious overtones. Tensions are high and are profoundly felt by all religious communities. Pastor Siaka carries within his own life these tensions. He was born and raised in a faithful Muslim family and within which his outstanding personality traits were shaped.

In addition to being a pastor, Siaka is also a mediator, evangelist, administrator, counsellor, and Bible teacher.  He has been on staff locally with both MCC and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.  A successful businessman, known for the integrity of his dealings, he owns bookstores and hardware stores that have been a positive presence of Christ among those unfamiliar with Jesus.  He has planted three churches in his city. 

On March 15, 2020, Pastor Siaka had a couple of speaking engagements in Edmonton. After Covid-19 sent him home early, a Zoom call was organized in its place. On the call, he told us of his meeting the day before with the Imam who lives close to the building project.  The exchange was positive and ended on the potential gatherings of the Muslim community in that church building once it is finished.

That same day someone mentioned that the Mennonite delegation that came in February was the highlight of their year.  As chair of the Deacon Commission in Mennonite World Conference (MWC), Pastor Siaka plans delegations to visit countries in turmoil. In this case, he invited a delegation with French participants because of France’s colonial role in Burkina Faso. The delegation not only visited Mennonite members but all sectors of Burkina society: Christian, Traditional and Muslim religious leaders, army and government leaders. The French Mennonites asked forgiveness for French failures. From the local Catholic leadership, came a call to speak out about Western nations selling arms to West Africa, which produces no arms itself.  Some days after the delegation was gone, the head of the army called the church leadership together and pleaded with them to pray.  He said, “This conflict is killing our sons: either those who join the extremists or those who serve in the army.  Everyone is losing and we need God’s help.”

One Muslim zoom attendee* called him “a gift to humanity” in his selfless service to the many young people he has raised as his own. He commented on Siaka’s restraint in criticizing Islam, and clarified that the tension and loss of life created in the Christian community is committed by groups who have abused their power and hijacked the religion (Islam) for their personal gain.  Islam and Christianity believe in the sanctity of Life.  This man was touched by Siaka’s bridge-building work with the Muslim leadership, reciprocated because all are committed within their respective communities to refrain from demonizing the religious “other”. 

Siaka’s relational impact in his society challenges one of the greatest weaknesses of the church.  He is calling the church to be Jesus’ peaceful presence, going beyond seeking its own well-being.  These are consistent with the images of being “salt and light”, the promise to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”, and the words to Jeremiah in 29:7.  “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”.

*The Muslim zoom attendee, who lives in Edmonton, chose to contribute anonymously

Submitted by Donna Entz, Mennonite worker in Burkina Faso, 1978-2008