Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reflections on Cross-Cultural Understanding and Partnership

By Valerie Hurwitz

Last Tuesday at Common Meal, Stephanie Crumley-Effinger spoke about her sabbatical this fall semester. Among many other projects, Stephanie traveled to Kenya for three weeks and focused her common meal presentation on this. Stephanie started her trip in Nairobi and Kijabe. She visited with Aziz, the man from Southern Sudan whom we met at St. Paul’s University this past June. Stephanie brought him a number of bibles, bought with money raised from ESR, for churches in Southern Sudan. The continuing famine and violence in Somalia and central Sudan is a growing issue in Kenya and one we should keep in our thoughts and prayers. FTC students are doing ministry at Kakuma Refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, and there are many other ways that Kenyan Friends can have a direct impact.

The bulk of Stephanie’s time was spent at Friends Theological College. Having been there this summer, it was interesting to hear about the workings of FTC and how it is trying to increase its financial resources/independence. FTC recently received official accreditation (having previously had accreditation through St. Paul’s University) and is now subject to a rule that 50% of their income must come from within Kenya. FTC is traditionally supported heavily by FUM and Friends in the US, so this is a switch. They have, wisely, focused on investing donated funds into money-making projects. FTC has a canteen, a dairy, a bakery, gardens, a tailoring shop, and makes bio-sand water filters and fuel briquettes. Students work 7 hours a week in these projects to earn money to pay their school fees, and 5 hours a week on chores around the campus. (I found this difficult to imagine doing at ESR, but then I realized that our Cooper Scholars do 4 hours a week a volunteering, and many residential students work part-time. Maybe ESR should open up a coffee shop to employ students. Or a farm. Jay, any thoughts?)

FTC has certificate programs (2 years of study), diploma programs (3 years) and a Bachelor’s degree. Stephanie worked with the Year 3 Diploma students on the Incident-Reflection model she uses in Supervised Ministry at ESR. Diploma students do ministry at sites around the region, but do little critical reflection on what they’ve experienced. Ann Riggs, the principal of FTC, hopes to have more theological reflection incorporated into the ministry internships. Stephanie also mentioned that each class has a “class representative” who gathers papers for the class, turns them in, and reminds those who have not yet turned in an assignment. Stephanie seemed very pleased with the idea and joked that each class at ESR should have a representative.

A few other comical notes: Stephanie brought an ipad to FTC, which Friends there found fascinating. Stephanie told us proudly, “I finally did something that horrified my children” by riding on the back of a piki-piki (motorbike). This “mzungu on a piki-piki” apparently provided a great deal of entertainment for the Kenyans who saw her on the road. She also preached at two meetings. At one, Kivagali, FTC professor
Josephat Muchele translated her sermon into Swahili. Stephanie commented jokingly that sometimes Josephat seemed to speak much longer than she did, and the meeting laughed at certain points she hadn’t thought were funny in English. Having met Josephat, I am sure he was translating faithfully, but perhaps adding commentary, explaining things so they were clearer to a Kenyan audience, or adding jokes!

Stephanie hopes that connections between ESR and FTC can be strengthened and that more ESR students and alumni can spend time at FTC. As I mentioned when I wrote this summer, Friends at FTC are eager for visitors and hopeful for connections with the wider Quaker world. Stephanie identified many problems that Kenyan Quakerism and FTC are facing, including low pastor pay, (non-Quaker) TV preachers and the gospel of prosperity, corruption in the government, FTC’s physical plant, and rising food prices. American Friends don’t have all the answers, but I firmly believe that American Friends and African Friends need each other and can contribute a great deal to each other’s development.

Some questions for consideration:

• What are the best ways for American Friends to assist Kenyan Friends?
Books Stephanie brought for the FTC library
• What can Kenyan Friends teach Friends in the US?
• Kenya does not offer federal loans for education, as the US does. What would the US look like without these federal loan programs?

 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.

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