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Senegalese minister helps local residents see beyond chapel walls

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002

Adama Diouf gave up nearly all of his family and friend's emotional, physical and financial support to convert from Islam to Christianity at the age of 19.

Now, eight years after his ordination as a minister, he said he has many friends and a good family in the church. He's found part of that family in the Juneau community, as was demonstrated last weekend during church services at the Chapel by the Lake.

Diouf spoke to members of Chapel by the Lake at services Oct. 19 and 20 as part of a three-week tour of the western United States that included this three-day trip to Juneau, his first time in Alaska.

He told the Presbyterian congregation of his work as director of World Vision Senegal's Christian Witness program. World Vision is an international Christian humanitarian organization that serves needy children and families, regardless of religion, in 100 countries around the world.

Members of Chapel by the Lake have helped fund water projects for four villages in Senegal through World Vision, said David Eley, administrator of the church.

Eley hopes Chapel by the Lake will partner with other churches in the United States to improve health care and schools in the villages. Eventually World Vision, with the help of Diouf and the financial support of churches in the United States, will establish training programs in the villages for women to start small crafts businesses.

"Jesus said go from Jerusalem, which is our Juneau, and then Samaria, which would be closer, like Southeast Alaska, Judea, which would be like the U.S., and then to the ends of the Earth," said Steve Olmstead, pastor of the church. "We want to have missions right here in Southeast and then also look beyond."

Olmstead and Eley traveled to Senegal with a representative of World Vision earlier this year.

Having members of supporting churches visit villages they help is an important part of World Vision's mission, said Charles Keith, executive director of World Vision.

"You learn and grow in bigger ways than you'll ever be able to give," he said. "People are completely transformed by these trips. We hope to take a few (church members) and magnify their experience in the U.S."

Olmstead said his life was definitely affected by his trip to Senegal, but it was too easy for him to get back into his comfortable routine.

"That's why I hope we do have a focus on the Third World community," Olmstead said. "There's a need here before us, and we need to keep that focus, but we don't want to forget other people in the world."

In a question-and-answer session after Saturday evening's service, Diouf answered inquiries about Christian life in Senegal, a primarily Muslim nation.

"In 1983, when I decided to become a Christian, there were very few churches," Diouf said. "And there were even fewer Muslims who had become Christians. Most of the Christians were foreigners who came into the country."

Converting to Christianity cost Diouf two to three years with his family, he said.

"It was very, very bad," he said. "Even my mother, who loved me a lot ... I couldn't see my mother for many years."

The sacrifice was necessary, though, Diouf said.

"In Islam we never know after death where we are going," Diouf said in an interview. "... The old man who was teaching me the Koran, he was a very good man, but he was always saying the only thing I can do is pray, that I will never know what will happen in the hereafter. I was not happy with the situation, and I realized that my heart was empty."

Diouf said he was able to fill his heart with the Bible and the word of Jesus Christ.

"Finally I discovered that Jesus was really the prophet I needed," he said. "Jesus was the perfection of peace."

Peace was the primary subject of discussion Saturday evening. Many attendees questioned Diouf on the beliefs of the Nation of Islam, and asked why certain Muslims seem to resent America. Diouf also was questioned on whether he feels this resentment in Senegal, which, according to the CIA World Factbook, is 94 percent Muslim.

"Senegal is a very peaceful country," Diouf said. "The Senegalese people, especially the Wolof (the country's largest ethnic group), love peace. We can not understand how you can use the name of God to bring difficulties in the lives of others.

"In Senegal, after the Sept. 11 attacks, our president immediately went on TV to express his sorrow," Diouf said.

Diouf believes the Senegalese welcome the projects of World Vision.

"People in Senegal trust the values of Christians," he said. "In our country the word is only one way to communicate. Action is also a communication. World Vision focuses on showing the love of Jesus to the community through actions or deeds."

This is the key to World Vision's success, and it is one of the reasons why Diouf has regained the love and respect of his family.

"When religions say 'we love you' but they take everything, and Christianity comes in and helps us, the people start to ask themselves, 'where is God here?' " Diouf said.

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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