Shared moments as two worlds meet in Chad
18 August 2013

A refugee from Sudan's Darfur region in the Goz Beida camp waves a friendly greeting to a visitor. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Goz Beida, Chad) August 18, 2013 — In September 2011, I arrived in Goz Beida, in eastern Chad, to coordinate a Jesuit Refugee Service project supporting primary schools for displaced children. That I was in a Muslim country soon became amply clear. Here, women are veiled; greetings and conversations are peppered with Alhumdulilah! (thanks be to God), Allebakhit! (God bless you), and Inshallah! (God willing).

Prayer is seen, heard, impossible to ignore. People prostrate themselves in public places. The solid public address system of a nearby mosque transmits calls to prayer at all times. In the evening, at around 6:45pm, I pray the psalms with another volunteer, Sr Sabine, against the background of the intonation of the Muezzin, "Allah Akhbar." The invocation of these two voices, an involuntary and beautiful polyphony, must merge somewhere between earth and heaven, I tell myself, to be thus received by Him for whom it is intended.

Prayer is part of the world of work too. I discovered this in one of our first team meetings when, in the early afternoon, this and that colleague wordlessly left the room for about 20 minutes. Initially I was taken aback to learn they were going to pray; I felt it was unprofessional. When asked to explain, my colleagues helped me understand that although Chad is a secular state, prayer is totally integrated in daily life. While Islam is omnipresent, Christian tradition is also a reality, owing to the presence of several relief agencies and Chadians from other regions. I see a mutual respect between one and all, accompanied by a considerable effort to overcome any possible divisions.

As a team, we've taken to starting the day with a short prayer, animated by each one in turn. Christians make theirs the verses of the Koran, while Muslims end the prayer "through Jesus Christ our Lord" with a shared "amen." We rely on each other, placing in God's hands the common activity awaiting us.

In the evening, I sometimes visit my neighbor Madame Marioma. A pious and educated woman, she tells me the story of Abraham, Jesus and Mary, a more spectacular version than what I learned in the Bible. I realize how Islam has rewritten some biblical texts in a more detailed way… then I can see, more subtly, that a more dramatic way of narrating divine revelation is an essential difference between Islam and Judeo-Christianity. Nevertheless I am happy with the search for communion that is being built between Marioma and me, through this diversity of narratives.

These shared moments, coupled with daily personal prayer without which my life and involvement with JRS would be meaningless, have made an amazing fusion of my time here. Even if I don't pray according to the communal norms of Goz Beida, my Christian faith is wholly supported by their visibility. It is like a reminder and an invitation to cede to the "Creator of all things" His rightful place.

by Sr Marie Hélène Dupré la Tour
Jesuit Refugee Service Chad

Related story: Providing education to refugees from Darfur
Related videoStudent refugees from Darfur attending a JRS school talk about their hopes for the future

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