Friday, July 29, 2011

Indiana Yearly Meeting, July 21-24, 2011

This past weekend, I had the joy of attending Indiana Yearly Meeting at Quaker Haven Camp near Syracuse, IN. Indiana Yearly Meeting consists of pastoral meetings in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Indiana and Western yearly meetings share Quaker Haven, the lovely 160-acre camp and retreat center on a lake, and summer sessions include campers from both yearly meetings.

Worship was spirited and Jan Crouch, from Bear Creek Meeting, provided music at the piano. Jan Wood, Director of Good News Associates, spoke about reconciliation among Friends with differing theologies. The attendees met in small groups to discuss the theme, “God has a dream”, in reference to the book God Has a Dream: a Vision for Our Time by Desmond Tutu. We discussed our dreams and God’s dreams for ourselves, our meetings, and the yearly meeting. Threading these discussions was the theme of discerning between our own impulses and God’s will.

The yearly meeting heard reports on new ministry among Hispanics in Indianapolis and two monthly meetings that joined Indiana Yearly Meeting. Visitors from several organizations came to speak, including Friends Fellowship in Richmond and Friends United Meeting. FUM brought several Kenyan Friends as visitors and there time in a separate session to ask them questions and hear about the work FUM is doing in Kenya. There was a particular awareness of the famine in Somalia, as there are now many refuges in northern Kenya. Kenyan Friends see the refugee camps as an opportunity for humanitarian work.

A major business item at the yearly meeting was related to conflict over West Richmond Friends's welcoming and affirming minute. IYM has a 1982 minute condemning homosexuality as a sin. A later 1994 minute acknowledges a broad spectrum of opinion among Friends on this issue, but affirms the 1982 minute. A few years ago, after a long process of study and discernment, West Richmond Friends approved a welcoming and affirming minute. Some other monthly meetings and individuals fear that WRF’s minute will be seen as speaking for all Quakers or for all of IYM. These members see IYM as having authority over monthly meetings to create unity on certain issues. Alternately, others claim that monthly meetings may have a “prophetic witness” to the yearly meeting (a term drawn from Faith and Practice), and have a policy in contrast with IYM.

This has, you might imagine, led to continued tension in the Yearly Meeting and this spring a task force began exploring options to move forward. IYM and the task force acknowledged that things cannot continue as they are. Last weekend the task force presented their report and laid out four models for the future of IYM. They were honest in saying that each has advantages and dis-advantages. The first is to move to a more Congregationalist structure, where the yearly meeting speaks to, but not for, individual meetings. The second is to apply Faith and Practice consistently on this issue and others. The third is disciplinary action against West Richmond, although not necessarily requiring the meeting to withdraw its minute. Finally, the task force recommended splitting the yearly meeting intentionally, giving meetings the opportunity to choose between different ecclesiastic or theological options. The task force recommended model 4. Individuals of the task force agreed that this was the only viable way forward that they see, but seem to disagree about whether this is the best option. To quote a task force member, “We brought [the recommendation] to the yearly meeting trusting that wisdom would prevail.”

The discussions sidetracked into scriptural debates, and the clerk wisely re-focused the meeting on the central issue: We know that we have differences in theology and scriptural interpretation.What do we think about the options the task force has laid out for us? I scribbled down some quotes as people spoke passionately on the issue. Several people expressed a desire to remain in fellowship with WRF (“As a family, divorce is the last resort”, “If we split, how are we going to minister to those we think are in need?”, “I feel as though we’re deciding whether to cut off our left foot, or our right foot.”) They acknowledged that their own meetings had diverse opinions on this issue, or explained that they felt the yearly meeting benefited from diversity. Others insisted that West Richmond is going a different way than their meetings and that they wished to part (and remain) F/friends (“sometimes in love, you need to draw lines”, “you’re going in another direction, and I can’t go with you”). One begged WRF to withdraw the minute in hopes that this would quiet tensions. The monthly meetings will be discussing this in the next few months and there will be a fall meeting to make a decision about the way forward.

Skirting along the edge of the scriptural issues here (and I recognize that these are not in the least bit small, but are simply not resolvable in a blog format, or in fact possibly at all), what are your thoughts about the possible ways forward? Do you see any other creative options? What is a good balance of diversity and commonality in a yearly meeting? What is the purpose of a yearly meeting? What, if anything, does this say about the larger project of forming connections across branches of Friends? Is splitting a way to remain F/friends and possibly even strengthen connections? If a split occurs, what will happen to meetings within IYM where there is a diversity of opinions about homosexuality?

Please take a moment and pray for Indiana Yearly Meeting, that they may be able to corporately discern the best way forward for them. 

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Report from United Church of Christ US General Synod

By Adam Webber

I recently spent five days in Tampa, staffing the exhibit for Earlham School of Religion at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ.  The UCC's Synod is held once every two years, in different locations around the country, for learning, for business, and for worship.  There were three thousand people in attendance.  My little booth was one of nearly a hundred in the exhibit hall, including sixteen other educational institutions. 

Many Conversations

Few of the people who stopped to talk with me knew anything about ESR.  A quick sampling of my interactions:

  • A woman researching M.Div. programs for her husband.  Her: "I can't picture my husband moving us to Indiana."  Me: "It's not as bad as it sounds."
  • "Can I have a pen?  I have a friend who's a graduate."
  • "Is that Quaker?"
  • A long talk with a young man who seemed interested and took all the flyers.
  • Several people asking about occasional courses -- not seeking another degree, but seeking interesting classes for continuing education.
  • A long talk with a 60-something African-American guy, who told me about an enslaved ancestor who was taught to read by Quakers.  I described modern Quaker diversity, and he had many questions.
  • Several people looking for D.Min programs -- sorry.
  • An Earlham College graduate, touching base.
  • "Is that like Amish?"
  • A UCC pastor who wondered if there were hard feelings at ESR against the UCC on account our faith ancestors' persecutions of Quakers.  (He mentioned Mary Dyer specifically.)
  • A guy who said he was too old for seminary -- I tried to convince him he wasn't.
  • Good questions from a guy who's unsure of his calling.  He wanted to take a few classes -- wanted Greek and Hebrew -- was intrigued about the Access program.
  • "I'm a Quaker, and I've been planning on taking some online courses."
  • A navy chaplain, with whom I had an interesting conversation about the peace witness and military chaplaincy.
  • A Quaker who is a licensed minister in the UCC.
  • A Hungarian leader from the Calvin Synod.  I think they'd like to start their own seminary, and they're looking for ideas.
  • A woman from Maine, who wanted to know more about the arts and music in ministry at ESR.

I'm not sure how many new students I attracted, but I am sure that I gave my little spiel about ESR at least a hundred times.  Marie Eastman, a current ESR student, was there as a Synod volunteer, and I also found several indirect ESR connections.  I spoke to people who knew several of our UCC-ordained recent graduates, including Hunter Thompson and Tyler Conoley.

Synod Business

I took a few breaks from manning the display to sit in on some of the business sessions.  High parliamentary procedure is the process there, with voting by a thousand delegates apportioned democratically.  It's quite a spectacle, like a political convention, except that the process pauses frequently for prayer.  The UCC's polity is very congregational, so the resolutions of Synod are not binding on local congregations or on individual members.  Synod speaks "to, not for" the congregations; congregations consider themselves bound in covenant to prayerfully consider the resolutions of the Synod, but not necessarily to agree with them or to obey them. 

The Synod ratified a "Mutual Recognition of Baptism", an ecumenical agreement previously worked out between the Roman Catholic Church and the four major parts of the Reformed tradition in the United States (United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Reformed Church of America, and the Christian Reformed Church).  In other business, the Synod tabled a resolution relating to the Palestinian situation -- a resolution that would have called for actions including divestments and boycotts.  It adopted a resolution calling for advocacy on behalf of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and another resolution supporting the right of LGBT people to adopt and raise children.  It approved a resolution in support of "mindful and faithful eating", a resolution calling for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners, and a strong resolution "To Counter Actions of Hostility Against Islam and the Muslim Community".

After some tense debate, the Synod also approved revisions to the UCC's constitution and bylaws.  These revisions streamlined the governing boards of the denomination, establishing a "unified governance".  (The prior mess of overlapping governing boards was an artifact of the UCC's history as a child of the mergers of a number of earlier denominations.)  Incidentally, these revisions also removed some gendered language from the denomination's 1957 constitution: "believing in God as Father" is now "believing in the triune God", for example.  Conservative religious news services pounced on this change, and Christian News Wire reported it under the headline, "United Church of Christ Set to Reject God the Father"!

Common Ground

The polity at Synod was rowdy and parliamentary, and the worship noisy and theatrical.  It made quite a contrast with the Quaker ways I loved at ESR.  Yet, as I told people over and over, I think ESR is a great place for UCC folks to study.

For one thing, the UCC slogan these days is "God is Still Speaking," including that trailing comma to indicate open-ended, continuing revelation.  (That sounds familiar -- isn't that just the sort of idea that got people thrown into prison in George Fox's time?)  UCC folks at ESR get a chance to learn from a tradition that not only expects continuing revelation, but also has a strong shared practice of listening for it.

Another point of contact is in our diversity.  With the flexibility of its highly congregational polity, the UCC holds together a lot of diversity.  (Even while the Synod was voting for a progressive set of resolutions, its "Biblical Witness" subgroup was in the exhibit hall asserting their dissenting opinions that A) God is the Father, and B) He isn't happy about homosexual behaviors.)  Most of the people I spoke with were unaware that modern Quakerism encompasses a similar degree of diversity.

A third connection is our shared stance of respect for science -- a special area of interest for me because of my former career as a professor of computer science.  At Synod I attended the dinner of the UCC's "Science and Technology" working group.  There I heard a very interesting presentation on evolutionary psychology, bringing it into conversation with Christian ethics.  It was a solid talk -- respectful, intelligent, humorous, and challenging -- a pleasant surprise these days, when so many discussions involving faith and science seem to degenerate into knee-jerk reenactments of the Scopes trial.  I found myself wishing I could bring the speaker to a colloquium on faith and science at ESR.  There are too few places these days where such conversations are welcome.

For these and many other reasons, I'm glad that ESR had a representative at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, and I'm grateful that I got to be it.  I'm an introvert, as some of you know well, and it should have been highly effortful for me to spend five days striking up conversations with strangers.  As it turned out, I really enjoyed it.  I'm sure I have some brothers and sisters in the UCC who would benefit from finding ESR, and it was fun to try my hand at helping them make that connection.


Adam Webber

Adam WebberAdam Webber graduated with an MDiv from the ESR Access program in 2011.  He is a founding member of the Open Prairie United Church of Christ in Princeton, Illinois, where he has served as organist, composer, preacher, teacher, retreat leader, and chocolatier.  He blogs at .

Friday, July 22, 2011

Photographs from Africa

Our faculty returned from their trip to Africa with many stunning, inspirational, and thought-provoking photographs. We wanted to share a few of them with you today.

If you would like to see more, you can visit our Flickr photo page by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reflections on North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

by Micah Bales

This past week, I traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina as Friends gathered there for the sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). It was a blessing to be with these Friends during their Fellowship at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)annual gathering. I would like briefly to give a sketch of what I observed while with them.

There are two North Carolina Yearly Meetings - one which is a part of Friends United Meeting and another which a part of the small Conservative branch of North American Quakerism. Each of these Yearly Meetings is the result of the division in 1902 of a previously unified North Carolina Yearly Meeting. Today, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) is a generally pastoral body - that is, most of their local congregations employ pastoral ministers and have adopted pre-planned sermons, vocal prayer and congregational singing as part of their worship services.

North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) is "conservative" in the sense that it conserves the Friends tradition of extended waiting worship and has not adopted the practice of financially releasing pastors. Neither have Friends in this body adopted the pre-planned elements - congregational singing, sermons and set prayers - that are now common in the other North Carolina Yearly Meeting. If you were to attend any of their local congregations, you Lloyd Lee Wilson leading Intergenerational Bible Study at NCYMcwould encounter a worship service that consists of roughly an hour of silent waiting, occasionally punctuated by spontaneous sharing in words or in song.

While Friends here have much in common with the Liberal-unprogrammed tradition represented by Friends General Conference and Britain Yearly Meeting, they see themselves as forming part of a distinct branch of Quakerism. Together with Friends in Iowa and Ohio, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) seeks a middle path between the innovations of the pastoral/Evangelical and Liberal-unprogrammed branches.

Friends in NCYMc place their emphasis on waiting upon the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Informed by their wrestling with Scripture, North Carolina Conservative Quakers seek to submit their lives to the Conversations after business at NCYMcpersonal, living guidance of the God of Abraham and Jesus. While there are clearly a wide variety of theological understandings within NCYMc as a whole, it seems fair to describe the Yearly Meeting as being fiercely God-centered and intent upon leading lives that are submitted to God's Holy Spirit as it is experienced in each individual's heart, as well as in their midst as a worshipping community.

I was blessed to be with Friends in North Carolina this past week. As a member of Ohio Yearly Meeting, I see these Friends as my spiritual kinfolk. We share a rich historical tradition, and I pray that we might grow closer together as we wrestle with our shared history and tradition as Conservative Friends.


For further reflections on my trip, check out these posts on my blog, The Lamb's War:

Called to be God's Temple - Visiting North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

Being the Body in the Age of Facebook


Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friends and is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Greetings from SAYMA by Sandy Tracy

Friends from across the Southeast held their 40th yearly meeting in the shadows of the Smoky Mountains where Warren Wilson College nestles into the hill just outside of Asheville, North Carolina at SAYMA.  This beautiful liberal arts college, along the banks of the Swannanoa River, is known for its programs in environmental sciences and sustainable agriculture as well as its celebrated MFA program.  

Weather relief: Although storms raged across the US and tornados and floods in the southeast this year, Friends enjoyed cool, beautiful weather during the SAYMA weekend. SAYMA’s daily activities included Meeting for Worship, Worship Sharing with specific Queries, choices of workshops ranging from Interplay (dance) to piano playing. Attendees also enjoyed plenary sessions on FWCC and Quaker Quest, a Talent Show and a Folk Dance. SAYMA Business Meetings were also held daily as well as excellent children’s programs.  

ESR, Earlham and SAYMA: I met two or three folks who had graduated from Earlham and ESR and many were quite interested in hearing about the Access Program. Most Quakers are involved in social justice programs now, but a growing number of Quakers are interested in taking social justice into the workplace.

Blessings and Light,   
Sandy Tracy

Sandy Tracy is in the ESR Access M.Div. program with focuses on pastoral care and spirituality and prayer. She is currently working with women and the homeless during her Supervised Ministry year. Sandy is sexton of the Burial Committee and member of the Religious Education Committee at West Knoxville Friends Meeting, and member of the Outreach Committee for SAYMA. She works full-time in Home Care.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Visiting Kenyan and Rwandan Friends, part 2

Dear F/friends,

I left off the story of our trip on Tuesday in western Kenya.  Monday the 27th we fly back to Nairobi and then took a flight to Kigali, Rwanda.  After lunch, we went to the Genocide Memorial Centre.  It’s difficult to describe the Center (and heartbreaking to walk through it), so I’ll simply say that it was thoughtful and well put-together.  For those who don’t have a firm grasp on the events of the genocide, it’s well worth studying and the Center’s website has a good summary.  Built in 1999, only 5 years after the genocide, the Center represents a strong effort on the part of Rwanda to uncover the truth of what happened, punish those that need to be punished, and move on. 

As we drove to a restaurant for dinner, I found myself looking at people on street and wondering what exactly there were doing for those 100 days in 1994.  Were they Tutsi?  Hutu?  Did they participate?  Hide in their homes?  Who had lost family members?  I could imagine this kind of thought process driving me crazy.  Kigali is beautiful, clean, and the buildings spill out over several hills into a valley.  There is quite a bit of new development (modern-looking buildings) and it’s hard to imagine what it looked like in 1994.

At dinner we met with several leaders from Rwanda Yearly Meeting.  One of the pastors explained that there needed to be justice and acknowledgement of wrongdoing, but after that the country could not move forward without reconciliation and forgiveness.  (To paraphrase her, “There are women whose husbands died in the genocide and they are widows and there are women whose husbands are in prison for being perpetrators and they are both hurting and unable to support themselves.  We need to move on and work together.”)  Friends here are doing deeply meaningful work through HROC workshops organized by the African Great Lakes Initiative and AVP.

Tuesday the 28th and the 29th we spent near Volcano National Park.  This park is the home to family groups of mountain gorillas and we had permits to “track” them.  Groups of 8 go with each guide (and a few porters, if tourists want them) and hike into the park.  Getting to the area of the park where the gorillas is can take half an hour . . . or 3 and a half hours (as it did for my group)!  The money from the tracking permits goes to support the park, pay the guides, and invest in infrastructure and services for the local area so that poaching becomes less attractive.  I was impressed that Rwanda had such a sustainable model for conserving the park and caring for the animals.  The mountain gorillas have 97% the same DNA as humans and can catch our colds and illnesses.  I had heard that looking into a gorilla’s eyes is uncannily like looking into a human’s.  It’s true, and I now understand why my guidebook referred to the 2007 killing of several gorillas in the DRC by poachers as “murders.”

Our lunch in the villlage
On the 30th and July 1st (Thursday and Friday) we were Gisenyi, which is on Lake Kivu and near the DRC border.  Etienne, one of ESR’s alumni, is a pastor in the area and we were able to sit down and talk with local religious leaders.  (We also got to play with the children of meeting members, who were hanging out in the yard of the meetinghouse!)  On July 1st we drove out to a small village where we had lunch with widows and families.  Several groups sang for us, and we sang two songs for them as well.  We also got to meet some sheep and goats that had been bought with money some of us donated.

On Saturday morning we left and 42 hours later we were home!  The trip back was long, but we’re all in generally good condition and more or less adjusted to the Eastern Time Zone.  This summary has felt a little jumbled, partly because I’m still processing what I learned and saw.  I do have a few general thoughts:

1.                  I really wish we could sing and dance like the Kenyans and Rwandans we saw!  It was truly a gift to see how they worshipped.
2.                  Traveling to this part of the world is a reminder of how much we think we need in the US but don’t.  People do quite fine and are happy with much smaller houses, simpler food, and less stuff.
3.                  Aid can do good, and it can do harm, and sometimes it does very little.  When we give aid (corporately or governmentally) we should discern the needs and gifts to be given with the input of those from the country we wish to aid, as they have the best understanding of logistical and contextual issues.  There are many wonderful organizations and projects out there (as I mentioned, we heard first-hand about the world done by AGLI and FUM ministries) and they are worth our support.
4.                  Friends in both countries were excited to know that American Friends are thinking of them.  When we introduced ourselves at the Peace rally and in the village, the Quakers in the group added “I bring greetings from my home meeting of . . .” and this was always met with excitement.  I am sure this is not limited to Friends in Africa, but more generally demonstrates the value of intervisitation.

I’ll leave it at that before this gets any longer~

In Peace,
Valerie Hurwitz
Director of Recruitment and Admissions
Earlham School of Religion

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Visiting Kenyan and Rwandan Friends

Dear F/friends,

All of the travelers from ESR have returned safely home, without any major travel delays or mishaps!  Many people have been praying for us and it is truly a blessing that we were able to go and return home.  There is a good deal of processing to do and hopefully myself or others will be able to share further thoughts on this blog in the future.  Micah Bales has already written a really thoughtful and heartfelt post about the trip from his perspective that I encourage you to read.  For now, let me tell you a bit about what we did:

The majority of the group left on June 16th and flew to Kenya to go on a safari before the main part of our trip.  I did not attend, but met them at the Mennonite Guesthouse on the 20th.  One of the first things I noticed was the flowers, bright-colored and spilling out over everything.  The guesthouse had a labyrinth with morning glories vining up in the middle.  The beautiful flowers and other plants spilling over everything became a theme of our travels.

On June 21st, we went to St. Paul's University in Limuru, where Esther Mombo (a previous Willson Lecturer here at ESR) teaches.  There is a Christian-Muslim Relations master's degree program there, and we meet with three professors in this field and some of the students as well.  One student was from central Sudan.  As we walked, he held up his cell phone: one of his nephews had been killed in the continuing violence there.  "Tell people it's still going on", he said, "that many people are still dying there."

The reality of Nairobi hit me as we drove out of the city through a slum.  I had read about the slums, the gangs, and the poverty, but seeing them there, with house made out of scraps of everything and anything, is much different.  People had told me that you've never really seen material poverty until you've been to sub-Saharan Africa, and soon I knew what they meant in a very gut-wrenching way.

Wednesday the 22nd we flew to Kisumu and were met at the airport by Eden Grace, who works with FUM ministries.  We drove up to Kaimosi Friends Hospital.  It was fascinating to hear about how a rural Kenyan hospital works:
  • The hospital became run-down in the 90s, but improvements are being made and the number of patients using the hospital is rising.  The HIV care center in particular sees a huge number of people in a given week.
  • The nearest hospital is at least a half-hour drive away, and most of the people in the area don't have cars.  This area also has a particularly high infant-mortality rate, making the hospital uniquely suited to improve the health of people in the area.  They have extensive immunization services.
  • We spoke to the chaplain and some of the volunteers at the Comprehensive Care Center who work with HIV positive people.  They do HIV testing, education, support groups, antiretroviral therapy, and testing for complicating illnesses (i.e. typhoid, malaria, or other illnesses that HIV positive people are more prone to get).
  • We saw baby quilts and clothing, donated by American Friends, being sorted to give to new mothers!
  • Just as we arrived, there was a baby born premature by c-section (due to maternal health complications).  The electricity was out in the region, so the operating room lights had to be run by generator.  The incubator, however, drew too much from the generator and the baby was taken to a larger hospital using the land rover donated to the hospital by FUM.
The items donated through FUM really made a difference in the health and lives of those who use the hospital.  The generator, the baby clothes, the incubator, and the land rover are extraordinarily and practically useful donations that are well-used.  

Lonnie Valentine, speaking about Peace
On the 23rd some of us met Getry Agiza, project coordinator for the Friends Church Peace Teams, at a Peace Rally in the Turbo region, about an hour and a half from Kaimosi.  After the 2007-2008 elections, FCPT was formed to facilitate reconciliation between different tribes.  For those who are not familiar with the context, after the 2007 elections, some people (splitting along certain tribal lines) were not pleased with the results and even accused officials of altering results.  In the insuing violence, buildings were burned, people were driven out of their communities into IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, and some were even murdered.  FCPT formed and began, among other activities, to train people to do the Alternatives to Violence workshop in their communities. 

Me, drinking fermented milk
The Peace Rally included singing and dancing, people speaking about the value of the AVP workshops and how it had changed their lives, and a firm commitment to peace during the 2012 elections.  It was a deeply spiritual experience for me to be there and see how much work on reconciliation had been done since 2007 and how strongly these people had committed their lives to peace.  Lonnie Valentine, who is ESR's Peace and Justice Studies professor and an unprogrammed Friend, demonstrated an ability (surprising to many of us), to deliver a passionate sermon on peace in the world.  He spoke directly to the heart of the meeting and received many "amens" from the Kenyans there for his words.  A Kenyan Nandi (one of the local tribes) brought fermented milk, streaked with ash, to share with everyone.  This is considered an honor, so we partook, although somewhat tentatively as this was an odd taste for us.

(Don Spencer, plus children)
Friday the 24th a group of us hoped to visit some of the local Right Sharing of World Resources projects, but at the last minute our trip was canceled.  Instead, we traveled into Kisumu to see the city, its museum, and the market.  On the way back we stopped at the Equator, where some children walked by and wanted to be included in the picture of Don Spencer, husband of ESR's Christian Spirituality professor.

On Saturday June 25th we all went to Friends Theological College, where we were greeted by women singing in the chapel as we arrived.  We met with the faculty and some of the students for singing and worship, as well as heard from one of the faculty about the Friends testimonies in an African context.  Kenya has, as mentioned above, recently had difficulty with tribal violence.  It also has a long post-colonial history of corruption.  Churches still struggle with the idea of women in leadership.  Thus, the Quaker testimonies of Peace, Integrity, and Equality could speak a great deal to their lives in western Kenya both in spiritual and in positive, concrete ways.  The use of AVP by FCPT after the 2007 elections is a strong example of this. 

After eating lunch with our hosts, I went on a tour of the campus with an FTC student.  He showed us the FTC farm, which provides both money and income for the institution.  They have a greenhouse, a chicken coop, and have a nursery of plants they are raising to sell.  As a higher education administrator in the US, I was struck by how different a mentality this is; in Kenya colleges must diversify, coming up with other revenue streams aside from tuition.  It was explained to me that this is little different from the life of a pastor: work is part-time and pastor must develop "tent-making" skills that allow them to support themselves materially while allowing them to continue in their ministries.

Some happened at FTC that sticks in my mind clearly.  During a break, a few of us walked up to FTC's bookstore to see what they had.  There was a stack of baskets on one of the shelves, ranging from larger to tiny.  I bought one and when I left the bookstore, one of the FTC faculty said to me, "Oh, I'm so glad you bought a basket!"  "Oh?" I asked, thinking that this person's response was a little too enthusiastic for one little basket.  "Yes!  The widow who makes these brought some yesterday because she heard we were having visitors.  Her cupboard is empty and she has no money to buy food."

Yikes.  It was difficult to resist the urge to walk back into the bookstore and buy every single basket sitting there.  Our tour guide told us that the price of cornmeal, a staple for Kenyans, has quadrupled in the last few years, stressing the food budget of many families.  The Kenyans we met were so spiritually and communally rich.  The material poverty there makes it tempting to scramble for what you can personally do to "fix" it.  I had moments in Africa where I simply wanted to give away all my money, but ultimately I can't know best where money should go or how it should be used.  There are also deep structural issues and impediments to development in many countries, issues which we should be asking ourselves deep spiritual questions about.    (I think, however, that ESR folks bought most of the baskets, so our widow will have food for the foreseeable future!)

Sunday, June 26 I was not feeling well and unfortunately missed the morning sessions and part of the afternoon.  Various ESR and FTC professors presented on Women in Ministry, Being a Mission-Sending Church, and Interfaith Dialog.

Well, I've written a lot and haven't even gotten to Rwanda!  I'll finish this on Friday.

With Love,

Valerie Hurwitz, Director of Recruitment and Admissions

Stoney, a local ginger ale which was a particular favorite of some in our group!