Creating Contemporary Wells in a City Hosting Refugees: A Case Study

illustration of birds

Recent conversations about Christian-Muslim relations among Protestants in Nairobi, Kenya, have been pushing for lasting interfaith engagement to provide a robust witness of Christ amongst Somali migrants. After pursuing interfaith dialogue for many decades, the church and academy have started to explore alternative approaches that share the love of Christ in ways that are wholesome and that cause less agitation against the Muslim faithful in the region. In other words, there is a need to supplement interfaith dialogue with engagement. For interfaith engagement to enrich Christian witness amongst Somali Muslim refugees, there must be spaces where people meet to share common needs. These common spaces where people share needs are what I call “contemporary wells,” patterned after John’s account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7–45). At the well, everyone in the community goes to fetch water and quench their thirst. The need for water creates a place where people from various ethnic, social, economic, and religious backgrounds meet because they are thirsty.

My research led me to the Center for Christian Muslim Relations in Eastleigh (CCMRE), one of the contemporary wells in Kenya. There I interviewed the program coordinator, Venenerable Scholar Wayua, who explained the role of CCMRE in enabling Christians and Muslims to coexist peacefully. Located in Eastleigh, Nairobi, the CCMRE was established as an interfaith initiative by the faculty of St. Paul’s University, Kenya. This is a safe space for students, academics, and practitioners in the field of interfaith relations to come and learn together about the kingdom of God. CCMRE facilitates platforms for academic and community engagements on societal issues.

Without a bias toward any faith tradition, the center engages Christians and Muslims alike on the nature of the kingdom of God. Theological conversations idealize the nature of God’s kingdom and the things that it envisages for all the nations. CCMRE leads in the engagement of theory (dialogue of ideas) and practices to tackle common societal problems facing the Eastleigh community and to think together about solutions. Eastleigh has been known for decades as the host city for Somali Muslim migrants. Being a cosmopolitan urban/suburban area, Somali refugees feel most at home where they can move in and find fellow Somali relatives who have moved earlier and already established families and businesses. Like most places in Kenya, the Eastleigh community has challenges including lack of clean water, sanitation, food and nutrition, access to education for the refugee children, lack of security, and inaccessible healthcare.

In rethinking Christian-Muslim relations to foster interfaith engagement at CCMRE, a number of approaches are employed. The following are some activities in which CCMRE is involved in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi.

Networking

At CCMRE, there is a network of Muslim groups and individuals from other faiths, such as Christians, which aids newly arrived immigrants. While the immigrants are trying to settle, there is a feeling of statelessness. It is a priority for the center to connect new immigrants with the Somali embassy in Nairobi. Additionally, the center links immigrants with government institutions, such as immigration offices, for help with refugee documentation processes.

Joint Activities

At CCMRE, there is an opportunity for joint theological reflection on the social and economic challenges that Eastleigh residents face together. After raising these challenges, Christians and Muslims pray together over the issues, hence participating in common spiritual practices. As the icing on the cake, they eat together. For purposes of impacting the participants, the interfaith engagement initiative carries out the mapping of projects that can solve community problems. Through joint activities, the center has also launched what they call the “Faith in the Media” workshop, where religious issues are objectively covered to promote positive interfaith relations.

Providing Learning Space

To ease the tension between Christians and Muslim migrants, CCMRE has seen the need for interfaith education. Both Muslims and Christians are largely ignorant about each other’s faiths. Learning about each other’s faith has helped open up both groups to each other’s religious spaces and experiences. CCMRE hosts numerous local and international scholars to discuss some of the best interfaith practices.   

Sharing in Common Spirituality

At CCMRE, events and programs start and end with prayers from both faith traditions. One of the most memorable moments was when the center hosted both faiths during post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, when Eastleigh estate was one of the most affected places due to the population’s cosmopolitan composition. Both Christians and Muslims reflected on the post-election conflict and thought through peacebuilding strategies to ease violence in Eastleigh. Affirming that the spirit of God works beyond the confines of Christian-Muslim religions, CCMRE oversaw peacebuilding initiatives in the community.

Hospitality

Both Christianity and Islam have special days that are considered public holidays in Kenya. During these religious celebrations, CCMRE provides an opportunity for both religions to eat together. Food has a way of breaking barriers, both seen and unseen. Eating together also helps establish and cement long-term relationships.

Finding God at the Well

In conclusion, at the well, all humanity and human needs are affirmed and leveled. Solution seeking is consolidated across the religious divide. Also, at the well, people’s thirst for the “unknown” is met by God’s divine presence and power. In the process, God dignifies all with eternal honor (salvation) from above as they hear the Word of God taught, and see the Spirit of God at work in all the activities.

Martin

Martin Munyao is lecturer of theology, missions, and African Christianity at Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya. He’s also a former Global Research Institute (GRI) scholar at Fuller’s Center for Missiological Research, where his research focused on the intersection of Migration, Interfaith Engagement and Missions, which is the title of the book he is currently working on.

Recent conversations about Christian-Muslim relations among Protestants in Nairobi, Kenya, have been pushing for lasting interfaith engagement to provide a robust witness of Christ amongst Somali migrants. After pursuing interfaith dialogue for many decades, the church and academy have started to explore alternative approaches that share the love of Christ in ways that are wholesome and that cause less agitation against the Muslim faithful in the region. In other words, there is a need to supplement interfaith dialogue with engagement. For interfaith engagement to enrich Christian witness amongst Somali Muslim refugees, there must be spaces where people meet to share common needs. These common spaces where people share needs are what I call “contemporary wells,” patterned after John’s account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7–45). At the well, everyone in the community goes to fetch water and quench their thirst. The need for water creates a place where people from various ethnic, social, economic, and religious backgrounds meet because they are thirsty.

My research led me to the Center for Christian Muslim Relations in Eastleigh (CCMRE), one of the contemporary wells in Kenya. There I interviewed the program coordinator, Venenerable Scholar Wayua, who explained the role of CCMRE in enabling Christians and Muslims to coexist peacefully. Located in Eastleigh, Nairobi, the CCMRE was established as an interfaith initiative by the faculty of St. Paul’s University, Kenya. This is a safe space for students, academics, and practitioners in the field of interfaith relations to come and learn together about the kingdom of God. CCMRE facilitates platforms for academic and community engagements on societal issues.

Without a bias toward any faith tradition, the center engages Christians and Muslims alike on the nature of the kingdom of God. Theological conversations idealize the nature of God’s kingdom and the things that it envisages for all the nations. CCMRE leads in the engagement of theory (dialogue of ideas) and practices to tackle common societal problems facing the Eastleigh community and to think together about solutions. Eastleigh has been known for decades as the host city for Somali Muslim migrants. Being a cosmopolitan urban/suburban area, Somali refugees feel most at home where they can move in and find fellow Somali relatives who have moved earlier and already established families and businesses. Like most places in Kenya, the Eastleigh community has challenges including lack of clean water, sanitation, food and nutrition, access to education for the refugee children, lack of security, and inaccessible healthcare.

In rethinking Christian-Muslim relations to foster interfaith engagement at CCMRE, a number of approaches are employed. The following are some activities in which CCMRE is involved in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi.

Networking

At CCMRE, there is a network of Muslim groups and individuals from other faiths, such as Christians, which aids newly arrived immigrants. While the immigrants are trying to settle, there is a feeling of statelessness. It is a priority for the center to connect new immigrants with the Somali embassy in Nairobi. Additionally, the center links immigrants with government institutions, such as immigration offices, for help with refugee documentation processes.

Joint Activities

At CCMRE, there is an opportunity for joint theological reflection on the social and economic challenges that Eastleigh residents face together. After raising these challenges, Christians and Muslims pray together over the issues, hence participating in common spiritual practices. As the icing on the cake, they eat together. For purposes of impacting the participants, the interfaith engagement initiative carries out the mapping of projects that can solve community problems. Through joint activities, the center has also launched what they call the “Faith in the Media” workshop, where religious issues are objectively covered to promote positive interfaith relations.

Providing Learning Space

To ease the tension between Christians and Muslim migrants, CCMRE has seen the need for interfaith education. Both Muslims and Christians are largely ignorant about each other’s faiths. Learning about each other’s faith has helped open up both groups to each other’s religious spaces and experiences. CCMRE hosts numerous local and international scholars to discuss some of the best interfaith practices.   

Sharing in Common Spirituality

At CCMRE, events and programs start and end with prayers from both faith traditions. One of the most memorable moments was when the center hosted both faiths during post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, when Eastleigh estate was one of the most affected places due to the population’s cosmopolitan composition. Both Christians and Muslims reflected on the post-election conflict and thought through peacebuilding strategies to ease violence in Eastleigh. Affirming that the spirit of God works beyond the confines of Christian-Muslim religions, CCMRE oversaw peacebuilding initiatives in the community.

Hospitality

Both Christianity and Islam have special days that are considered public holidays in Kenya. During these religious celebrations, CCMRE provides an opportunity for both religions to eat together. Food has a way of breaking barriers, both seen and unseen. Eating together also helps establish and cement long-term relationships.

Finding God at the Well

In conclusion, at the well, all humanity and human needs are affirmed and leveled. Solution seeking is consolidated across the religious divide. Also, at the well, people’s thirst for the “unknown” is met by God’s divine presence and power. In the process, God dignifies all with eternal honor (salvation) from above as they hear the Word of God taught, and see the Spirit of God at work in all the activities.

Written By

Martin Munyao is lecturer of theology, missions, and African Christianity at Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya. He’s also a former Global Research Institute (GRI) scholar at Fuller’s Center for Missiological Research, where his research focused on the intersection of Migration, Interfaith Engagement and Missions, which is the title of the book he is currently working on.

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