Archive for April, 2009

Central & Southern Africa Yearly Meeting 2009

2009/04/26

CENTRAL & SOUTHERN AFRICA YEARLY MEETING 2009

EPISTLE
To Friends everywhere:
Yearly Meeting was held this year at Kadesh Barnea near Johannesburg from 8th to 14th April. Our theme was Living Quaker Concerns in Africa.

We were blessed by having Rex and Catherine Ambler to lead us in seven sessions spaced over the time of our meeting. We were taken through an ‘experiment with light’. This was a guided meditation directed at revealing the light within and what it shows us. It related to the individual, the world and the meeting. Courage is needed to find and accept the truth one knows about personally from experience. Books and CDs were available, as were the Amblers themselves, for help and advice.

In line with our theme, the Richard Gush lecture by Dudizile Mtshazo was not only inspirational but also prophetic. She outlined the pain she had experienced in growing up in apartheid South Africa and how that had affected her life and family. We were told lies about each other and ourselves, and she had discovered with great pain how she had been complicit in propping up an evil system by conforming and complying. However, the challenges she faced in her journey through those dark days paint the picture of a courageous and determined woman who, through her resilience, managed to improve her condition and that of others. She owes her spiritual growth to many southern African friends and has in turn nurtured many more through her prayer and insightful ministry. As Quakers today, in a world of violence and injustice, our task remains the same as it was for early Quakers: to be so moved by the light within us as “to let our lives speak” in the cause of peace. We can all look for and find reconciliation by being truthful and mindful of the light. Do what God does, and what God instructs us to do: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Zimbabwe continues to be a major concern for C&SAYM. The inclusive government may have brought with it new players, but friends’ humanitarian concerns persist. Land grabs continue, as well as abductions, imprisonment and intimidation by law-enforcement agencies. The economic meltdown has caused untold suffering to the ordinary citizen, crippling service delivery and threatening the lives of millions. Hlekweni has not been spared these hardships, but continues to operate under the innovative leadership of its coordinator David Jobson. Currency changes have negatively affected training programmes, putting training fees out of reach for many. Rampant theft has left Hlekweni with power shortages following the invasion of its farm, and power poles have been lost to woodcutters. Adequate supplies are critical for the centre and an appeal is made for financial resources to meet the costs.

24 participants, largely young friends, went through the Alternatives to Violence Programme under the guidance of three facilitators, Marie Odendaal, Nokuthula Mbethe and Kumbirai Muzangi. A well chosen mix of brainstorming, listening, role-playing and reflection was used to raise awareness on the importance of effective communication and cooperation as vital for community building, when done with trust and respect for oneself and others—an approach that affirms oneself while promoting nonviolence.

We have been reminded during C&SAYM that there are differing views on the subject of same-sex relationships. Friends at C&SAYM understand the difficulties that some African friends may have with such relationships. We affirm those friends’ desire to live by values that reflect the truth. Antagonism to same-sex relationships may derive from the prejudices of those who colonised and evangelised us. It may also derive from our own cultures. It may be fostered by a reading of scripture that appears to confirm this antagonism. In the past, friends have condoned slavery and colonialism, but in the spirit of love and truth we have overcome these errors. So now we seek, in the same spirit, to affirm and respect each other’s sexual orientation.

Margaret Roper presented the first edition of African Quaker Faith & Practice. This will be an immensely valuable resource to our friends and meetings. Appreciation was expressed to Margaret and Justine White for their dedicated work on this project and for the inclusive process they followed.

We are grateful to Betsy Coville who rose to the challenge of overseeing the children’s programme at short notice. There were eight young young friends, ranging in age from 3 to 12. Betsy not only mentored them as they learned through play, but actually provided all the materials used, thus creating a very stimulating environment for the children. The crowning moment was the meeting for worship with a special concern for children and to welcome newly arrived babies in Yearly Meeting. Alex Kuhn and Edwin Ritchken brought their newborn twins Lila and Gabriel, and Justine and Daniel Limpitlaw brought their newborn baby Kate. In both cases, our friends’ pregnancies had been difficult and we rejoiced at this happy outcome.

In reports from our meetings we have again been struck by the remarkable range of social witness in which friends are engaged throughout our region. The seven-minute talks gave an opportunity for friends to share some of these, viz.:

David Andriamparison on Madagascar;
Sipho Nsimbi on the Matabeleland Widows’ Community Initiative;
Bridget Nomonde Scoble on the Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Initiative;
Gustave Wembo on an HIV/AIDS game;
Jeremy Routledge on the transforming power of reconciliation between women and men;
Polaki Polaki on sustained symbiosis;
Pauline Mitchell on working with the blind;
Nicholas Goodale on a 1652 country pilgrimage; and
Marie Odendaal on politics and Quakers.
– Les Mitchell on discourses on the abuse on non-human animals

An evening of Taizé worship was led by Winty Thomson with candles, chants, Bible readings, prayer and periods of silence.

In a special interest group, Dereje Woldorfa, Simon Fisher and Hollyn Green explained the curtailment of the work of the American Friends Service Committee to Zimbabwe, Somalia, DR Comgo and Burundi, and the removal of their office to Nairobi. This was due to financial constraints and a review of their priorities. We shall miss their presence in Pretoria, but we are pleased that their work in Zimbabwe will continue.

Another special interest group helped us to sharpen our understanding of the issues surrounding the production and use of energy in South Africa.

Journalling and visual chronicles was led by Betsy Coville. She showed us how we can enhance our journalling by sketches, paintings and collages. Visual material can be prepared in advance. We all wrote for ten minutes on what we do, what we love and what our hopes are. Journalling has been a traditional form of reflection for Quakers through the years.

Julie Povall led us through a presentation on different aspects of loss, from babyhood to old age. We agreed that this is a hugely important area, which we as Quakers need to consider in depth; for example, the questions of living wills, funerals and grief work. We shared our experiences of these themes and came to understand that loss involves a wide range of life experiences, and can even have positive aspects. We held a second session, where we each individually drew our lifelines with ups and downs, and shared them. This was a fascinating and moving experience.

Richard Aitken gave us an overview of Phoenix Zululand, working in the ten prisons of Zululand.

A video was shown tracing Barack Obama’s origins and his campaign leading to the White House.

An award-winning documentary entitled Taking Root, featuring the work of Kenya’s Nobel prizewinner, Wangari Maathai, who has been repeatedly arrested and detained. By 2007 the Green Belt Movement, which she started, was 30 years old and was credited with planting 35 million trees in Kenya.

Another documentary shown and discussed was Inside Out, which was filmed at Pitseng in Lesotho and focuses on Phelisamong (“living together and helping each other live”), a centre for people with multiple disabilities in which Caroline Mohapi is involved.

As usual, worship sharing was a highlight for many, and this practice continues to grace our yearly meetings with surprises from the spirit among us. Singing also continues to inspire our gatherings, and our celebration was occasion for ministry in music, drama and humour, particularly from young friends, young young friends and grandmothers, who entered into the spirit of that event with great verve.

We are grateful that Geoff Harris, who was taken ill during yearly meeting, is on the road to recovery.

Early morning exercise activities were in the form of Yoga with Rory Short and walks with Neil Brathwaite.

Trees were planted to compensate for carbon emission caused by travelling to the meeting.

We ask Friends around the world to continue praying for Southern Africa at 9pm.

Epistle writers: Lucille Kent, Sipho Nsimbi, Neil Brathwaite and Rob Thomson

EMEYF Spring Gathering 2009

2009/04/23

17 April 2009, Syria

To All Friends Everywhere,

Twenty-eight Quakers and friends of Friends met for the Europe and Middle East Young Friends (EMEYF) Spring Gathering 2009 in Syria from April 10 to April 17. We travelled from nine European and three Middle Eastern countries, coming together to consider and reflect on the theme “Faith, the Divine, and the Other” through small group discussions, Meetings for Worship, walks, and exploration of other religions. The group grew closer through these spiritual activities and communal living, music, dyeing Easter eggs, bonding in the hammams (baths), and watching a sunset over Damascus.

Our time in Syria was marked by moving between stillness and busyness, between quiet and activity. Our accommodation near rural Sednayah allowed us the opportunity to appreciate the open space and tranquility, contrasting with the old city of Damascus with its bustling ancient market full of colourful cloths, spices, soap, and sweets. In the historic Umayyad and Sayyida Zeinab Mosques we encountered prayer interspersed with lively family activity, an insight for those of us who worship in the tradition of a silent meeting and an opening to discourse on how our faiths interrelate. Many of us were deeply moved by the tenderness and unreserved emotion in prayer as well as the overwhelming warmth and love offered to us by individuals.

We were fortunate enough to learn from Sunni and Shi’ite Imams and in turn share our faith with them. These meetings allowed us to explore some common stereotypes of Islam. Many of us still struggle with concepts of gender roles in Islamic societies. In response to our lingering questions, we arranged to speak with a female women’s rights advocate. Her experiences as a teacher, lawyer and mother challenged our earlier conceptions and presented some of the complexities of male and female roles.

We also had the opportunity to share in our differing experiences of faith with figures in the Byzantine Catholic and Maronite Catholic traditions. We attended Easter Mass at Mar Sarkis, a 4th century Byzantine church in a village whose residents speak modern Aramaic, a language which has its roots in the Aramaic spoken by Jesus. During the service we were particularly moved by the haunting beauty of a lone female singer echoing throughout the stone sanctuary. Following Mass, we were welcomed at the monastery of Deir Mar Musa, where we were humbled by both the spirit of hospitality and the power of the mountainous landscape. Their friendliness and openness was characteristic of the hospitality and generosity of our Middle Eastern hosts throughout the week.

Through several group discussions, we have gained a better understanding of the reasons behind some of the violent conflicts in this region whilst maintaining our faith in the common humanity of all. A representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) highlighted the desperate situation of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees currently living in Syria. Two Friends with experience in the Middle East shared their witness of Quaker work in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. These seminars on Quaker history in the Middle East and the Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) in Amman, Jordan opened discussion about nonviolence, definitions of peace, and how conflict with ‘the other’ can be better addressed.

Throughout this Gathering we have felt the erosion of the boundaries between ourselves and “the other”. With this in mind, we would like to close with a Surra from the Holy Qur’an (24:35):

Surra-Holy-Qu'ran-24:35

Surra-Holy-Qu'ran-24:35

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is a niche and within a lamp: the lamp is in a glass: the glass as it were a shining star kindled from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor west, whose oil is nigh luminous though fire scarce touched it. Light upon light! Allah does guide whom He will to His light: Allah sets forth parables for men: and knows all things.”

In Friendship,

EMEYF Spring Gathering, 2009

EMES 2009 annual meeting

2009/04/13

FWCC-EMES Annual Meeting 2009, Moyallon Centre, County Armagh, Northern Ireland

To Friends everywhere,
We have a vision of a flourishing garden and we are called to realise that vision and sustain it.

Our gardens are our Meetings and our concerns. We have been busy planting seeds, patiently waiting and tenderly caring, nurturing what we already have, harvesting our fruits and making plans for the future, mindful of right ordering and good governance. Friends in the European and Middle East Section of Friends World Committee for Consultation are using online communication to deepen Quaker experience and to share it with others in an increasing number of languages.

We have a flourishing Visiting Friends programme, which began with one Friend, then it was expanded to six. Now a pool of Friends is being equipped to travel within and beyond geographical, cultural and language areas, making connections and giving support. We are grateful for funding to develop the scheme.

We have reaffirmed our commitment to the Amari Play Centre near Ramallah. Friends have long had a concern to witness in the Middle East. The scheme continues to this day thanks to the dedicated staff on site, Friends in Ramallah and loyal donors from the Middle East, the US and Europe. Please join us in holding Swedish Friends in the Light as they develop meaningful proposals to strengthen the governance of the programme. The consolidation of this project in Amari is particularly important in view of the continuing violence in the area.

We have shared with each other about the actions and responses of our Meetings to environmental challenges and have learned about global energy security and peace issues that are being addressed by the Quaker Council for European Affairs. The need for a new international accord has caused us to examine how we can unite in a corporate concern to act together on the issue.

Forty-five of us travelled from seventeen countries to be at our annual meeting, at the Moyallon Centre, in the heart of Ireland Yearly Meeting. The 2006 opening of the Centre alongside the eighteenth century Meeting House was the fulfillment of a longstanding vision to encourage young people to walk closely with God.

The theme for our annual meeting was ‘Movements of the Spirit: reflections on Martha and Mary’. Like Martha and Mary when they opened their home to Jesus, we have been reminded, with movements of the spirit, to shed the cumber and distractions from our lives: to take inspiration from what we hold dear, the riches of our faith.

We missed our dear Friends from the Middle East and elsewhere who were unable to join us and hope that we will all be able to meet next year at Bonn-Venusberg in Germany.

12 April 2009