Pastor Madou Traoré was in a tight spot. Instead of teaching the big group of new believers in the Nanerigé village of Zanfara, he was refereeing a heated argument. On one side was a visiting pastor from a different cultural group that Madou had invited along in an effort to build unity among the wider group of local churches. On the other side was a heavyweight contingent of local Muslim leaders, Koran in hand, coming unannounced in the middle of the meeting. Apparently, they had decided that it was time to “do business.”
Each side was now hurling their favorite well-rehearsed truth bombs and insults at each other. “Pork eaters!” “Woman haters!” “Blasphemers!” “Hypocrites!” It wasn’t pretty. Unfortunately, the new believers were caught in the crossfire. Madou, however, sat between the factions, composed. Something interesting was going on. The two sides were no longer talking directly to each other, but were turning to Madou as they spoke. Whether the visiting pastor knew it or not, Madou had seized a role that both he and the Muslim leaders understood because of their common Senufo culture. Madou had switched from pastor to pardon-helper.
According to tradition, as pardon-helper, he wasn’t focused on making his own points, but on encouraging both sides to acknowledge the points that the other side was making. You see, in order for pardon to eventually be given and received after so much offense, people were going to need to slow down and stop merely pointing out what they thought was wrong, but deliberately forget any errors, and then make a common plan of action for the future.
In Senufo society, peace is understood as teamwork in the business of living together. Healthy teamwork is never forced, but is built around goals to be reached through communal effort. Communities are unified, and re-unified in this process of discernment.
Finally, the visiting pastor dropped his last truth bomb, and abruptly left without saying goodbye!
As the Muslim delegation also began to leave, Madou, still seated, applied the brakes by saying, “This is not the Senufo way. We Senufo people ask for permission before leaving a meeting. We say goodbye to each one who took the trouble to come, and we share blessings before we part. Let’s remember who we are.”
The Muslims looked stunned. Then, one by one, agreeing with Madou, they sat back down.
Madou seized the teaching moment. “What you just saw here today wasn’t a picture of Christianity,” he explained. “It was the result of our visitor’s culture.” He encouraged patience, not only for then, but in preparation for future meetings with this man. In this way, Madou was showing loyalty to a fellow Christian with whom he too obviously disagreed. Nonetheless, Madou was committed to remaining in community, both with the visiting pastor and with the Muslim leaders whom he respected, believing that they too were sincere in seeking to please God, and follow God’s advice.
Madou affirmed the common ground that existed between those who still remained in the meeting, and then, and only then, was it time for him to “wield the sword” of the Scripture. Madou opened the Bible and read several important texts that addressed some of the most divisive issues—always coming back to the humble question, “If the Word says this, what am I to do?” He suggested that peace would be found through the application of a mature understanding of the Word and not through the uncivilized practice of lobbing theological summaries at people like hand grenades. Madou’s calm confidence was the result of knowing from experience that God not only calls his people to unity and love, but through Christ he also empowers them. Madou had driven demons out of people in the area in Jesus’ name, which was one of the reasons that the Muslim leaders were taking note of the movement. But instead of appealing to such signs of God’s approval, Madou, using Scripture, shared the promises of God, given to all. He also reminded a people who were ordinarily quite good at keeping the peace, to remember what they already knew. He shared the Gospel, Senufo-style, providing himself as an example of where faith in Christ can take them—together. He let this be the focus of any judgments being made.
The day ended with the Muslim leaders themselves, in their big robes, pushing Madou’s motorcycle through the village and out to the first fork in the trail—an extreme display of respect for an honored guest in the Nanerigé culture. A judgment had been made.
Today the Church has come to Zanfara, in part because some are remembering who they really are in Christ, transformed by the Spirit, able, at last, to live up to their ideals. Where this happens, there are always reasons for hope and grounds for celebration.