Pierre Benignus was a missionary and facilitator of Christian-Muslim relationships in Africa. Born of missionary parents in the French colony of New Caledonia and educated in theology and missiology in his native France, Benignus was ordained into the ministry of the Reformed Church (1937). With his wife, Marianne (Hoepffner), he spent two years prior to the outbreak of World War II as a missionary in New Caledonia. After the war and a brief pastorate in Strasbourg, a second missionary posting took him to Africa, first to Madagascar (1948-1950) and then to Senegal, where he was appointed general secretary of missions of the Protestant churches of West Africa (1951). During the political turmoil of French decolonization, he helped pioneer a new relationship of friendship between Christians and Muslims in the common task of nation building. He was recalled to Paris as secretary for missionary and ecumenical relationships in the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, and his experience in the Christian-Muslim relations inspired the foundation of the Islam in Africa Project (1960), of which he became the first general secretary. He traveled extensively in Africa, consulting with Christian leaders to assist churches in building new relationships with Muslim neighbors based on mutual understanding, trust and social cooperation. As delegate to the 1961 New Delhi general assembly of the World Council of Churches, he contributed to the emergence of interfaith dialogue as an integral part of the mission of the world church. Though he died prematurely in a tragic plane accident in Cameroon, his leadership of the Islam in Africa Project laid the foundations of what continues as the Project for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa.
David A. Kerr
Peter Benignus (1912-1963) (undated pamphlet, c. 1964; preface by Pastor Marc Boegner).
*Note: The AOF was a federation of eight French colonial territories in Africa: Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Burkina Faso, Bénin and Guinea.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.