For four days in April, Badru Kateregga asked audiences a question as he toured Uganda with David Shenk: “How many of you can say you have a friendship that has lasted 40 years?”
Kateregga and Shenk can. Their friendship has made an impact on countless people by demonstrating the transformative effects of respectful dialogue between faiths.
For many years, Kateregga and Shenk have lived out the message of the groundbreaking book they co-authored in 1980, A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue.
Kateregga invited Shenk on an April 16-19 peacemaking tour of his home country, celebrating almost 40 years of the book — and an even longer friendship between a black African Sunni Muslim and a white North American Mennonite.
Although it was raining at Kampala University, about 1,000 people, including Muslim and Christian religious leaders, crowded under a large tent to hear Kateregga and Shenk.
This was the first of four days of Christian-Muslim dialogue events that Kateregga had arranged in and near Kampala, the capital city of a country that was about 85 percent Christian and 12 percent Muslim as of 2009, according to the U.S. State Department.
Kateregga, the university’s founder and vice chancellor, took the stage with Shenk to speak about A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue and their friendship.
Stories included that of Indonesian Mennonite leader Paulus Hartono, who has used the book in his peacemaking efforts between Islamic militia and Christians in Indonesia. Another story was the book’s significance in opening dialogue between Kosovan Christian and Muslim leaders in the wake of the 1998-99 war for independence.
On radio and TV
Also traveling with Kateregga and Shenk were Eastern Mennonite Missions worker Peter Sensenig and Shenk’s son Jonathan Shenk, a spiritual director and business owner. Sensenig, a peacebuilding expert, spoke on how receiving immigrants and refugees is a key interfaith issue of modern times. Jonathan Shenk presented five spiritual principles for building a successful business.
The next day, the four men were interviewed on local radio and television programs. At Radio Bilal, Kampala’s major Islamic radio station, Kateregga and Shenk shared about Christian-Muslim dialogue.
Jonathan Shenk, who spent his early years in East Africa, described how those experiences shaped him.
Sensenig encouraged listeners to see themselves as peacemakers.
The group was interviewed by the Kampala Film School to discuss the origins of A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, the challenges of diversity of thought within the Christian faith and what message could be offered to Muslims and Christians who want to make peace.
Throughout the tour, Kateregga and his team found ways to reach out to their Christian guests with gestures of peace.
“Dr. Kateregga and his team went out of their way to find a local Mennonite congregation and a local Presbyterian congregation for us to worship in so that both my dad, a Mennonite, and I, a Presbyterian, could feel at home,” said Jonathan Shenk.
A prominent Muslim
David Shenk felt that what people found most compelling was simply the enduring friendship between two people with such striking differences.
Kateregga is a prominent figure in the Muslim world. Besides founding Kampala University, he founded the East African Universities of Kenya and Rwanda and served as Uganda’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Iraq and Palestine.
Shenk has spent his life working to share a Christian witness. He has served with EMM virtually all his adult life, both as a missionary and on staff. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books.
Both men are dedicated peacemakers. Their belief in the power of dialogue and mutual respect drew them together when they first met in the 1970s as religion professors at Kenyatta University in Nairobi.
Differences on display
Kateregga and Shenk admit their friendship is touched with pain. They still experience division in their most central beliefs, such as the need for a redeemer or the authority of the Quran.
Shenk saw their differences on display during the tour.
“Kateregga was eloquent in professing that tolerance was the essence of civil society,” Shenk said. “If you think that tolerance is the name of the game, this was the place to be.”
But for Shenk, that view leaves out the most important element.
“Yes, I believe we do need to have a pluralist society that respects diversity,” he said. “But that’s not the end of the story.
“These events provided a forum for me to raise questions. Is dialogue really the way for ensuring interfaith peace, or is there this other voice saying ‘Come and follow me’? Is there in the eaves this figure present called Jesus?”
Differences were expressed with love and respect.
“You can be candid when you trust each other,” Shenk said.