A Discussion with Reverend Adama Faye, Lutheran Church of Senegal
November 19, 2014
Background: Adama Faye is a reverend in the Lutheran Church of Senegal. His work focuses on Muslim-Christian dialogue and he is also involved in working on various development issues through his church. Lauren Herzog and Katherine Zuk of WFDD spoke with Rev. Faye on November 19, 2014 in Rabat to gain better insight into the Christian community in Senegal, which constitutes about 5 percent of the population. Rev. Faye talks about his conversion to Christianity, the Christian community in Senegal, the activities of the Lutheran Church in Senegal, and the importance of Christian-Muslim cooperation. This discussion is part of a series of interviews conducted during a visit to Morocco with Senegalese religious leaders, as well a broader effort to map the roles that religious ideas, institutions, and leaders play in development efforts in Senegal.
Where did you grow up in Senegal?
I grew up in the center-western part of Senegal. More specifically, I grew up in Fatick, where the Lutheran Church is headquartered.
How did you become a Lutheran?
This is a question that I am frequently asked because I grew up in a Muslim family. It is not often that someone born in a Muslim family becomes a pastor. My path to becaming a Christian was a long one. First, I learned Arabic by attending Quranic school. After two years, I began learning the Sereer language through the Finnish missionaries, who were using an evangelical approach. As a result, I came into contact with the Finnish missionaries and I learned about the Christian faith. After studying Sereer, I als o went to a Catholic school, which by the way is seen as a model of academic teaching in Senegal. Gradually, with the Catholic education and the study of Sereer, I began attending church frequently.
Soon after, I became much more interested in the faith when a Finnish Lutheran chorus came to visit us. The youth of the village were very enthusiastic. After the visit, we thought a lot about the chorus, and later on, we were asked to start a small chorus of our own in the village. This chorus was at that time of course supported by the Evangelists and the Catechists. When we started with a small group, our older brothers, who were also monitors, guided us, while remaining in a Muslim family without being disrupted in any way. After my primary studies, I went to secondary school and started to take part in the chorus of the Lutheran Church in Fatick. I took part in the youth camp and in the caravan for the church’s youth. After that, I began to be convinced of the Lutheran Christian tradition.
Are there any members of your family, brothers and sisters, who have also become Lutherans?
Yes, my eldest brother was the first Lutheran of the family, then I followed suit. In fact, all of my brothers and sisters of the same parents have become Lutherans. As I explained before, many young men in the community became Lutherans by following the path I took.
How did your family react to your conversion from Islam to Christianity?
Without any worry or problems. My uncle who lives in the same house even is the imam of the village.
So, everybody was convinced of the Lutheran tradition by the choral group, the caravan, and the other activities?
That is correct. Also, these activities—the chorus, the caravans, and the camps—are still practiced today.
You have told me that you converted to Christianity and that you became Lutheran, but can you tell me how you managed to become a pastor in the Christian faith?
It was after I graduated with my baccalaureate in science (in the S2 series) in 2002 that I really felt the vocation’s calling. Some pastors who I saw as models and inspiration asked me if I wanted to become a pastor. They asked me if I was interested in going through the training. Therefore, after my baccalaureate in 2002, I went to Benin to study theology at the West African Protestant University of Porto-Novo.
Was the theological training that you received specific to Lutheranism, or did you study Lutheran theology outside of university?
I did not specialize in Lutheran theology. In fact, my degree in theology is only in Christianity, and not in one particular dogmatic or confessional theology. It is a general theology degree. After finishing my studies, I came back to Senegal and continued to take sociology lessons at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar. A few years later, since I was interested in the Muslim-Christian dialogue, the Muslim-Christian relations program of Senegal asked me to study Islam. More specifically, I was asked to study the consolidation of peace and peaceful relations among Christians and Muslims in Kenya.
What did you study or what type of training did you receive within the scope of this inter-religious dialogue program?
In Kenya, there were many disciplines. First of all, we did some introductory training in Arabic, an introduction to Islam and the Qur’an, and training on Islam in Africa. Then we took a course that was more focused on the lives and peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Africa generally. However, when I did my research, I focused particularly on the lives and the peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Senegal.
Obviously there is this dialogue and these dynamics between Christians and Muslims in Senegal, but how did the training that you received in Kenya help you, especially for your work in Senegal?
These are the results of my training. It directed me towards some useful contacts and it also allowed me to apply what I learned. Through this network, I got to know Serigne Saliou Mbacke who worked at the World Lutheran Federation (WLF). The WLF is one of our partners because the Lutheran Church in Senegal is a member of this federation. So I had quite a few recommendations from the WLF to Sheikh Saliou Mbacke. But, even after leaving Kenya, my thesis director Mr. Johnson Mbillah, who was based in Kenya and from Ghana, asked me to see Sheikh Mbacke. He wanted my work and the activities of the Lutheran Church of Senegal to integrate the action of Sheikh Saliou Mbacke.
Can you tell us a bit more on the Lutheran Church in Senegal? Because when we speak of Christians in Senegal, we often think more of the Catholic Church. What can you tell us about the Lutheran Church? What activities do you carry out and where can one find communities of Lutheran tradition?
I am very happy to answer this question because what you have just said is exactly how people conceive of Christianity in Senegal. If we talk about Christians, most Muslims and most people only think about the Catholics. This is true because they are the majority. The Lutheran Church comes after the Catholic Church in terms of number of members. The Lutheran Church was established in Senegal around 1974 with the arrival of the first Finnish missionaries. The church was first located in Mbour, then, according to history, the missionaries were not well received and as a result they moved to go towards the Sereer. The Sereer, who are hospitable, treated them well and welcomed the gospel, as you know with the Senegalese teranga [hospitality].
That is why the Lutheran Church in Senegal is very well represented in the Sereer areas, especially around Fatick. There are five parishes alone around Fatick, whereas in other areas we only have one or two. However, we are in about half of the regions of Senegal. We are in Fatick, Thiès, Saint-Loius, Dakar, Louga, Kaolack, and we are also looking to move into the south. Today, we have approximately 6,000 to 7,000 followers in Senegal.
What are the activities of the Lutheran Church in Senegal? What are, for example, the social development issues that you are concerned with?
The Lutheran Church in Senegal is organized in three departments. The Department of Education and Theology is in charge of the spiritual life, and also of both academic and professional development. This department is supported by our partners such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the World Lutheran Foundation, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. There are also quite a lot of other partners who support us in our different activities, such as SVEA, BEFAB, and ACT Alliance. We also have the Department of Social Action Development of which I am the director. In this department, we have the parish wing, the sponsorship wing, and the family wing. The parish wing is in charge of urgent matters where we support the under-privileged and those in need by giving them assistance.
When you mention urgent matters, are you referring to the unforeseen events that affect people?
Yes, exactly. Whatever the unforeseen event, people can request our help or just come to us. To meet their needs, we draw from our emergency account. We also take part in the construction of rooms by offering free bags of cement. We distribute, in particular, provisions such as rice and cooking oil. We also take care of prescriptions for the sick and injured. We offer to pay small sums to students who need to pay their school fees or to top up their fees. As for the sponsorship wing, today we have 283 students sponsored by us throughout Senegal and Gambia. Most of these students are in college, since we support them from the beginning through four years after high school. And all these are supported and financed by our Finnish partners.
After this we have three residence halls. We have one house for boys with 16 students in Saint-Louis. We also have a residential hall for each gender in Fatick, each with 20 students. Therefore in all, we have 56 students whom we receive; we provide food, and offer them an ideal environment for studying. Actually last night, we received good news that a partner will help us build two apartment buildings for students in Dakar, one for girls and one for boys. So this is what we do in the Department of Social Action.
The third department is the Department for Community Development. This is where we really focus on community development. This department has four sectors within it: the health sector, water sector, agricultural sector, and the sector for micro-credit or micro-projects. In the water sector, we support the village people so that they can have access to clean and potable water. You must be aware that here in Senegal, not everyone has access to water, so not everyone has tap water or potable water. Sometimes we purify it so that we can bring water from afar for a village. If it is possible to dig a well for a village, we will do it.
The other sector is the agricultural sector. We show the village people and farmers techniques to diversify or obtain better yields with land development. Then, for the micro-credit sector, we receive funds from Finland that we distribute free of interest to the village people, and especially to groups of women and young people. Currently, we distribute approximately 23 million FCFA each year. The final sector is health. In this sector, we have a very dynamic team with a driver, I would even say that we have two teams. One team in the north, more precisely in Ndioum, which takes care of the Pulaar and the other team in the center, that is in Fatick. Their main activity is women’s awareness because this is the most vulnerable group. They are subject to early pregnancy risks and also to maternal and infant mortality, if and only if certain precautions are not taken. That is where we find ourselves in this project.
Can you tell us more about the role of the partners of Lutheran Church in its activities?
The Lutheran Church of Senegal has partners who, conscious of these issues, propose solutions for the Senegalese. We then study these solutions to see how we must act. So, they accompany us in this way by supporting us, especially financially, but also with teaching techniques. We host events with doctors that we invite to come with us to the field. This year, we will be working in the Foundiougne area, where we have a program for family life and diversified food. We focused especially on the question of maternal and infant mortality in Foundiougne, but also on the need to bring sufficient and healthy food to the population of Foundiougne. This program will start in 2015 and will last for five years. At the end of the program, we will examine the results and decide whether we should extend it to another area or maintain it in Foundiougne, in order to consolidate the project and get proper results.
Given that the Lutheran Church has so many activities, which activities are you most involved in?
I am the director of the Department of Social Action. Therefore I coordinate the sponsorship activities, the parish’s activities, and the boarding house activities. Outside of this, I am also a pastor and the vice-president of the Lutheran Church of Senegal. I am a pastor in Dakar where I celebrate mass and I also carry out visits. But I have a pastor-in-training by my side who helps me with everything when I am away. At the same time, I am very involved in the Lutheran Church because I am the vice-president of this church. So I take part in administration, in forming major policies, and decision-making. I also take part in representing the church to the public.
How did you become a member of this working group [on family planning]?
When it came to finding religious leaders to participate in the working group, I liked the fact that it wasn’t just about Muslims. Sheikh Saliou Mbacke understood well that it was not just a question of Muslim leaders, and since I was in the best position from the Lutheran Church, he made me a part of the working group. At the beginning when he spoke to me, we did not understand what was at stake because we thought it was meant to be a dialogue. Therefore they thought it was a federation of Christian and Muslim leaders, and that it was a matter of the lives and peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. The other aspect is that I was the second highest person at the Lutheran Church, which ensured that Saliou Mbacke did not make a mistake when he asked me to take part in this forum.
Is the working group moving ahead? What are your impressions concerning this dialogue effort?
When we first started this working group, I saw the activity primarily as a question of Muslim-Christian dialogue. This was what it appeared to be at first. The Muslim and Christian religious leaders must first of all feel the spirit of inter-religious dialogue. If there is no such understanding, if there is no coexistence, this thing cannot go any further. Therefore, this relationship is already a part of our lives in Senegal. I understood this after a few visits [to other religious families] that I did with them. I did not take part in all the visits because I was often busy, either doing church or other work. I was in Ethiopia, in a colloquium called All African Theological Training by Extension when they did the first two activities.
Secondly, concerning the issue of infant mortality, the message of the Christian or Muslim leader is now well conceived and well respected by the population. Politics today has a rhetoric which can change today or tomorrow, whereas our rhetoric does not change. It follows a spiritual aspect and a divine logic. It is often said that, and this is true, the word of the pastor, the abbot, and the imam, is always seen as God’s word, which is much more accepted and respected. I believe the steps taken up to now to be very logical and fundamental.
Since joining the working group, has your attitude or your knowledge on family planning or maternal mortality changed? Has your participation in the group changed your attitude?
No, not at all. If anything, it has reinforced my previous beliefs on the issues.
In your opinion, what are the benefits that you see for your community if the efforts of the working group progresses?
There will be the reduction of maternal and infant mortality rates, and also a stable and fully healthy life for the mother and the child. The other benefit is that if this is well managed, then we will have a consolidation of spiritual life in Senegal. The dialogue is not only speaking about the Bible or the Qur’an, but it also aims for us to join together against the challenges that plague Senegal. Therefore we live the dialogue by communicating with each other and by speaking together of this question of family planning. Because we are all working together, we direct our efforts to tackle this challenge.
Obviously there is more available information on the Muslim community in Senegal than the Christian community. Can you tell us a bit about how the Christian communities work together in Senegal? Does the Lutheran Church work closely with other denominations within Christianity?
From December 1-4, 2014, all the Christian communities in Senegal, especially the leaders and pastors, are going to meet. This Senegalese spiritual gathering is supported by World Vision. It will be in Mbour, in Saly, and pastors and leaders of Christian organizations are going to dialogue, analyze society’s issues, and see what position the Church would like to take. Each church or denomination has its own programs. In July, August, and September, there was even a civic forum focusing on Christian leaders.
I was the coordinator for workshops on a plan against corruption. We have been working on anti-corruption with a group of all Christian leaders for a long time. Others worked on the statute and regulations, but we worked on the action plan. These two things show that Christians, Catholics, Presbyterians, and Lutherans have things to do together. In the same way, we gather every year around the question of unity. During Unity Week, we live and take communion together. Other denominations also gather in fraternities, while others gather in relationships. There are quite a few groups that know each other according to their mission and their identification.
You mentioned that there were, for example, the Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian communities here. Are there any other denominations present in Senegal?
Yes, even many. I cannot name them all because I do not want to get them wrong.
But are these four denominations the largest communities in Senegal?
Yes, first there are the Catholics, then the Lutherans, then the Methodists, and the Presbyterians and the Protestants, because there is a Protestant Church in Senegal.
In the United States, you have the Lutherans and the Methodists grouped together within the Protestant Church and they are considered protestants. How or why do you differentiate the Protestants from the Lutherans in Senegal?
Yes, it is the same here in Senegal. One does not distinguish between denominations. We speak of Christians and Protestants. People call all Christians “Catholics,” and they call those who do not identify themselves as Catholics “Protestants.” But within these Protestants—that include Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Assemblies of God—Senegalese do not tell the difference. They simply call them “Protestants,” whereas in fact there is a great difference between the Protestant denominations.
Actually, I know a Senegalese woman who is Catholic, but she did not know that there was a difference between Catholics and other Christians. Is that common?
Yes, that happens because, while the clergy understands all of this from their theological studies, the simple Christian follower is not interested in this question. They only learn about the faith, Jesus Christ, and the catechism in church.
Is there anything that you would like to add or share? Do you have any other interesting information on the Church?
I would like to say that we expect a lot from this program [the visit to Morocco]. I know very well that we are only in the early phases focusing on data collection. I hope that we will have a lot to do with you, and especially with the working group. Very often, problems arise when reaching the implementation phase of a program. We tend to monopolize or forget what was said. But, the representatives of denominations and the senior leaders, as well as the project managers, must also follow this implementation. I am very happy to be here [in Morocco] because, in Senegal, the questions and debates around Muslim-Christian dialogue or matters of religious leaders are often only centered on Islam and the Muslim population. I understand this because they are the majority of the population after all. But this work can be a positive point if the Christians also participate actively, even though our community is only 2 percent of the population.