Being Salt and Light in Kenya
By Diane Randall on 04/24/2012 @ 01:49 PM
April 24, 2012
In meeting Quakers from around the world, I see that FCNL is unique as an organization among Friends in our lobbying government for policies that rise from our Quaker spiritual grounding. I have had conversations here at the World Gathering with Friends from several countries who are intrigued with the idea of "a Quaker lobby in the public interest." A few organizations, like Britain Yearly Meeting's Quaker Peace and Social Witness, devote attention to their country's policies that affect peacemaking in places where Quakers have long done service work. And other Friends are engaged with the Quaker United Nations Offices in New York or Geneva. Still, the on-the-ground conflict mitigation and resolution that is being led by Quakers in areas of central Africa that have experienced deadly conflict are still rising to the attention of elected officials in their respective countries. And many Kenyans are interested in how they can better influence public policy.
The work happening here in Kenya following the presidential elections in 2007 and in Burundi and Rwanda following the 1994 genocide in those countries that is devoted to healing, reconciliation and alternatives to violence has had a profound impact on the individuals who have participated in the workshops and trainings. Today, in the plenary led by Central and Southern Africans, we heard from Rwandans who had family members killed in the genocide and who are now working to keep peace and provide services to others who have been traumatized--by conflict or by HIV-AIDS. David Niyonzime, a pastor from Burundi, talked about the many forms of service being carried out by Friends, arising from their knowing that God's work of being salt and light doesn't mean simply participating in Sunday church. These services include alternatives to violence programs, trauma healing and reconciliation, and directed outreach to women.
As we lobby for the world we seek, it is enlightening to see how change is happening far from Washington to create peace in communities that have experienced violence. The violence communities in central Africa have experienced and the underlying cause of violence experienced by communities in the United States may share some similar causes and solutions even thought the context and scope may differ. Implementing remedies for the people directly affected and solutions that can be systemically applied based on better policymaking is a challenge for all Friends and others who care about peace.
April 22, 2012
The Amazing Diversity of Quaker Worship
Worship is central to all Quaker gatherings. But those of us who have grown up in only one tradition of Quaker practice might be amazed to see how Friends from other countries worship. At this World Gathering, the Friends World Committee on Consultation (FWCC), has organized worship sessions along the FWCC Sections that are regions of the globe.
All speakers are reflecting on the theme “salt and light” of brokenness and healing, using the verses from Matthew 5:13-15 “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? . . . You are the light of the world. . . “
Today’s worship, led by the Latin Americans included Quakers from Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Cuba, Guatemala, and Honduras. The worship included plenty of singing, Bible reading, prayer, a sermon and a brief time of silence, before which we were admonished not to sleep! Conducted fully in Spanish, with translation into English, the reverse has been true for the other plenary sessions and times of worship. They have all been in English with two teams of translators providing simultaneous translations to Spanish and Kiswahili. (In fact, most Kenyans are fluent in both Kiswahili and English, although as one who hasn’t been around the lilting inflections of Kenyan speakers, I find I have to listen closely to the speakers.) Documents are also being translated to French and Spanish which seems to accommodate most participants.
The worship led by the Africans is full of loud, joyful singing and dancing and always includes plenty of Bible reading, prayers and sermons.
Being Salt and Light—Living our Faith Into Action
Every speaker has called us to recognize that we can be “salt” and “light” in a broken world, that we are called on to carry the practice of our faith outside our meetings and churches, that we are called to be a prophetic people, to radical love.
Esther Mambo of St Paul’s University in Nairobi told us that being salt and light requires us to be citizens of the world, to be involved, not sitting on the fence. Her words spoke to our work at FCNL when she said “the challenge is to have influence in our own countries,” and challenged the Kenyans to use their influence in their own country. And true to how we work at FCNL—by lobbying that doesn’t usually make the headlines—Esther Mambo said that the influence of salt isn’t always seen but it is tasted.
Friends here have described how they live out their call to be salt and light in the world from the alternatives to violence programs and healing and reconciliation in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi to the alternatives to violence programs in prisons in the USA and England to the support local meetings provide for those in distress. It has been a joy for me to share the FCNL story of how our faithfulness to God’s call to mend a broken world is carried out in our lobbying work and in our connection to Friends’ meetings and churches throughout the USA.
April 20, 2012
A Week with 1,000 Quakers
The Kenyans, who are hosting this Sixth World Gathering of Friends, are marvelous hosts. Set at Kubark University on a sprawling campus with plenty of green lawns, we are enjoying an ideal climate and gracious hospitality. In the air is the smell of wood burning from the fires that fuel the large pots used for cooking ugali, rice, beans, lentils, millet porridge and hard-boiled eggs. The vast dining room which accommodates the 1,000 Quakers here usually requires waiting in line for up to 15 minutes, but everyone seems quite cheerful about it as it presents an opportunity to meet someone new and learn the stories of people gathered.
Most of us participating are staying in dorms—four to a room in my case—two of us from the USA and two from Kenya—yet another opportunity to share our lives with one another. The showers are cold water, save in the early morning hours where two faucets provide warm water, and we each have a plastic bucket to use for washing up. Those cold showers, the vast dining room and the feeling of community-in-formation that I’m experiencing remind me of my childhood church camp days.
We enjoy the twice daily tea times where the dining room staff haul massive urns and cups to the lawns for tea or milk/water which is mixed with cocoa or tea. Sometimes there is coffee, weak by US standards. The tea times present wonderful opportunities for conversations with new Friends. Today I was in a conversation with men from three countries: Myanmar, the Phillipines and Kenya. Everywhere I go—the library, walking about campus, the plenary sessions—I see people who are happily making new friendships.
With 42 languages spoken, the feeling is a bit like a United Nations village, without the formality of diplomacy or the feeling of power politics we experience in Washington. In fact, many of these Friends have experienced great hardship, and in the case of our Friends from Central Africa, they have been traumatized by violence they have witnessed or experienced. This violence has been countered by reconciliation and peacemaking programs that bring out a spirit of love and hope despite the pain people have endured. It is this spirit of love and a desire to span our differences of language, culture and theology to see what we can do to heal a broken world that is at the center of this gathering.