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Light through a Prism: Messages offered during the 6th World Conference of Friends
compiled by Lucy Duncan
Note: Below are excerpts from the addresses during daily worship and plenary sessions at the 6th World Conference of Friends in Nakuru, Kenya. My sense of the spirit at the conference was that unity was stronger than division, that love flowed easily among the participants, that we felt together that we were among F/riends, that we were home. The messages offered during worship operated as a prism, offering many views of the rainbow light which shone through the participants at the conference. Not every address has been posted on the FWCC World Gathering website, but these are excerpts from most of the addresses.
There was a strong call for faithfulness, and a yearning for a way to come together with a common project or commitment, there was such a sense that we are more together than apart. There was also a sense that being together, so many, so different, we glimpsed a bit of the Kingdom of God, even as the Kingdom of God is not yet and needs our disciplined and loving cooperation in order to manifest. I reprint these excerpts with permission of FWCC in the order in which they were offered at the conference. I include the links to each full talk, which I commend to you. If you want a taste of the conference, these excerpts, the epistle and the complete talks will give you a sense of the spirit that moved among us. - Lucy
Here are some other links that may be helpful.
Esther Mombo, Kenya:
Sometimes Christians think that the way to go is to keep away from getting involved with society and popular culture (because they do not wish to contaminate themselves: they are so busy with going to heaven that they are earthly useless).
The truth is that by shying away from the realities of our society and our world we might indeed be hiding our lamp under the bushel basket. To make a difference we must get up and get involved.
The theme for this conference taken from the Gospel is challenging. Our contexts are also frightening if we analyse them critically
There is so much darkness and bitterness in the world today indicating the failure of us as Christians as indicated by the words of Mahatma Gandhi (“The World would be a more Christian place were it not for the Christians.”)
Unlike the early Christians or early Quakers, we have failed in our job to be salt and light in the world.
This conference is a clarion call for us to decide to make a difference. We can decide to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Even the smallest candle helps in a world of darkness.
Karen Patricia Gregorio Henriquez de Calderon, Guatemala:
Today's world in which we live now, is a world of brokenness. And it may be that you have lived with much of it. But God is showing us here that he won't leave us alone. He is taking care to protect us, to rescue us from the situation we may be in.
Noah Baker Merrill, United States:
I’ll go home to the northeastern United States, to the forested mountains and valleys that surround my monthly meeting, where the rivers flow fast and free. Last year, a great storm caused flooding worse than we’ve seen in a hundred years. Now the rivers have changed. The riverbeds are different - the heavy stones have been rolled away, the sand and soil reshaped. What lies beneath the surface has been transformed. And so the surface - the part that everyone sees - has changed as well. Like the rivers of my home, if we are inwardly changed in our time together, the nature of our witness, the testimony of our outward lives, will be different, and all we meet will know it, too. If we are to serve the world’s need, the channels we are must be clear. If we are to carry living water, the channels we are must be clean. There are many heavy stones in us still to be rolled aside, much debris to be washed away, and many paths in us to be made straight. May we surrender to the Flood.
Like Ann, Samuel, and Margaret, like Elijah, sent home to the work God has for them, may we bring our transformed and transforming hearts home to our monthly meetings and churches. They live close to the ground, where new Life begins. While I know God has called many of us here to vital ministry in the wider world, it is at home – the place where our roots run deepest and we are most deeply known – where the witness of our changed and changing lives is most clearly felt. Whatever happens this week, whatever we say or do together here, it will be the living water we bring home that makes a difference. When we water the roots, we nourish the whole tree.
If ever the world needed the authentic, life-giving challenge that animated our spiritual ancestors, it needs it now. If ever people needed prophets to call us home to the humble, world-transforming power of the Love Who casts out Fear, and to this Love's availability and liberating grace in every heart, we need it today.
But this Love can't just be told about in stories. This Love needs to be lived in lives. There is no other Religious Society of Friends, no other Friends Church in which we can live the message for which this prophetic People is still being gathered. The work is for each of us, for all of us, together. And we have no time but this present time in which to be faithful.
Pradip Kumar Lamichhane, Nepal
Let me tell you an Indian story about the Mughal Emperor Akbar and his witty minister, Birbal. One day, for some reason, Akbar became very angry with Birbal, and ordered that he be beheaded. Birbal pleaded for his life, but to no avail. Then Birbal hit upon an idea. He promised Akbar, that if he was spared for a year, he would make Akbar's favorite horse fly. Akbar relented, and let Birbal live. When a friend asked Birbal how he planned to make the horse fly, Birbal replied, "Anything can happen in a year; Akbar can die; the horse can die; and who knows, maybe the horse will fly." In a slightly different context, what this means is that, first and foremost, human beings need to achieve a certain minimum level of Spirit-filled life. And once this is achieved, who knows what wonders can happen. In this broken world, if the billions of impoverished people in the world can get widespread access to education, health care, and job opportunities, who knows what the unleashing of their talent and energy can achieve. Having met their basic needs, maybe they will start thinking about the environment, peace, justice and God Kingdom. Maybe new hope will burst forth. Maybe horses will fly.
Let’s try to do something together, my dear friends. If we don’t do, who will do it? Somebody said to me, don’t worry, God will do. “Hakuna Matata” means no worries. What a wonderful phrase, Friends.
But I will do whatever I can till the end of my life to bring peace and joy to impoverished faces.
This has been a tough job and made my head heavy. I don’t understand very well at all about theology, but this my small mind understands: that God loves everybody and he wants us to give saltiness and shine to the world.
Carmela Lao, Philippines:
And here is where our values come along. If we have Jesus working in our lives, we would be able to live out the inner kingdom in us. What we believe as true, what we strongly believe in our hearts as real, we reflect it outside. And as we believe in the absolute power of the Lord over us, inside us, we will be able to reflect these values that are good and true, which is the manifestation of living out the kingdom within us.
As we live out the inner kingdom, then we will be able to glow out the inner light in us for others to see our good values and concern for others. And not only will they be able to see what we could give, but they will also be able to see where we get all of these! Just like a light illuminating a dark room, we will not just be able to see the light, but we will see its source as well, which is the bulb.
which to be faithful.
CHANGE STARTS IN OURSELVES. If not, then how do we expect change, when we ourselves don't work to make it happen? How could we influence others to take an action, if we ourselves don't practice what we preach? If we really want better changes, well, we must be the change ourselves!
It is the same with "The Kingdom Mechanism." The relationship of the two aspects begins and will always have to begin with the Spiritual Aspect or the Kingdom WITHIN. It always has to start in YOU, in US.
Friends, to live the Kingdom of God in this broken world, we must live it in our lives first. As we welcome God’s love in our very hearts, the Kingdom of God will automatically manifest in us! The love and care that we show for others - we don't do these things on purpose. These things aren't scripted. It automatically happens because of what we have here, inside of us. Like a water, overflowing from a pot as it boils, as we get filled with so much of God's love, our hearts would be warmed up, that genuine love and concern for others will just overflow from us.
And this is what it takes for transformation to take place in our broken community. This transformation is the manifestation of the Physical Aspect of the Kingdom of God. It shows that with the help of the Spiritual Aspect, we could possibly change our communities into the likeness of the Kingdom that is yet to come - a place for peace, understanding and unity.
Thomas Owen, New Zealand:
If one believes in that of God in each other, then to disrespect each other is to disrespect God. To exclude each other is to exclude God. To kill each other is to kill that of God in each other – not only in the present, but also in any future movement of the Spirit within. This radical belief in each other’s precious Divinity is the seed that guides our actions. This is why we uphold the rights of Māori and other minorities, why we advocate the rights of prisoners, and why we condemn all wars and the taking of lives. This is also why we affirm the rights of same sex relationships.
I wasn’t born into the Quaker family. I’ve chosen to be a Quaker because I believe that of all human‐made systems for honouring the Spirit that I have found, Quakerism provides me the best framework to nurture a personal connection with the Holy Spirit, and a compassionate connection with my community. But as much as I love Quakerism, I know it is just a system made by people to reach God. And like all systems made by people, it is flawed, partial, and incomplete.
I don’t believe that God invented religion to reach humankind. I believe that humankind invented religion to reach God. Indeed, it truly is our greatest invention – and we have done it in so many beautiful different ways. But while religion is intended to glorify the majesty of the Holy Universal Spirit, too often, it seems, it is used instead to glorify people. Too often the frameworks we have developed to go beyond our own egos only pull us deeper into them, and we mistake our own systems for worshipping the Divine for the Divine itself. I can think of no greater insult to God’s glory.
As a member of the Religious Society of Friends, I find George Fox’s message a stark warning against the trappings of religion. I don’t know if we will ever be able to complete this invention and fully articulate the majesty of God’s glory. We can feel God’s love. We can feel it so deeply our eyes water and our bodies quake. We can even hear and heed God’s call. But we cannot construct an absolute narrative that fully explains God’s role in our lives and the mystery of life all around us. I don’t think this is anything to be lamented or ashamed of. Not knowing everything is an important part of being human – for it inspires us to have true faith in that which is beyond us.
But this also means that we create different ways to understand the world, and that our different ‐ and differently flawed ‐ concepts will often come into conflict with each other. And this presents us with a great choice.
We could choose to focus on the broken‐ness between us, to glorify the “us” and exclude and condemn the “them”, to zealously patrol the borders between the two sides, and buy‐in to the battle lines of our divisions. We could choose to see the separations between us as more important than the solutions to unite us.
We could choose to ignore our broken relations – to sweep them under the carpet and deny they exist. Though I fear they would only return to haunt us in unpredictable ways. Or we could confront the broken‐ness and address our differences, to compassionately listen to our “others” and to seek that of God even in those with whom we disagree and don’t understand. We could acknowledge that broken‐ness is in the eye of the beholder, and to see through this scratched lens to the purity of the Universal Spirit beyond.
If we can do this, then we can transcend the trappings of our human made systems and truly live the Kingdom of God. For the Kingdom of God knows no exclusions. The Kingdom of Men does – the Kingdom of broken relations – of “us” and “them”. In the Kingdom of God there is only one – there is only“we”.
How can we reach this?
I think the answer is the same as it’s always been. Only love will get us through: our love for God; our love for that of God in each other; our love for the faith that none of us may be right, but all of us may be righteous. While human relations may be broken, the human spirit is truly transcendental. It is not bound by the colour of one’s skin; or the amount of money in one’s pocket; nor by the name above one’s church door; or the names of one’s ancestors. God’s Light shines in all of us. No one is forgotten.
We are all brothers and sisters of the faith community that stands shaking in the wind of Spirit. We are all Te Haahi Tuuhauwiri.
Jocelyn Burnell, United Kingdom:
We live on a broken planet; in our communities there are broken people.
We want to heal brokenness, where ever we see it. It is uncomfortable for us, as well as being uncomfortable for the person or thing that hurts. If somebody is grieving, for example, we ask kindly how they are, hoping that they will say they are fine, so we can go our way unperturbed.
We encourage people to get over their problem and get back to normal.
We are bad at sitting with pain.
Are we too keen to mend things, to have it all smooth again?
But the repair of brokenness does not come quickly – for some it comes never. For instance, when my marriage broke up it took me several years to recover. Why God – why so long? What were your plans for me in those years of brokenness?
Are we rushing so much to repair things, are we so focussed on making the future better, that we miss some opportunities in the present?
I believe that those of us who are wounded have a special ministry, because we are wounded, because we are hurt. I cannot tell you what your ministry is, only you can find that, but I am sure that there are amongst us people who can speak to needs in this world because they know about hurt. Your ministry might be to help people who have been hurt like you have, but who are behind you on the road.
The US author, Thornton Wilder said – In love ’ s service only the wounded can serve.
So do not rush to healing too fast; remember there may be a ministry for you in your woundedness. That I am sure about. Your wounds may heal some day and that piece of your ministry will be over for you and will be taken up by others.
But now I cannot see beyond my own questions so leave you with some thoughts to ponder.
Just as there is a ministry for the wounded in our communities, is there a role for a wounded community? Is the Religious Society of Friends a broken community?
Are we a broken community, a broken people, a broken society? Do we, through our brokenness have a role in God’s plan?
Nancy Irving, FWCC General Secretary, United States:
I will share with you my dream – one that I have carried for several years now. I am not sure its time has come – perhaps its time will never come. It must come from you if it is to come into being.
So can we as a family of Friends identify some areas of work that we can work on at the local level, the national level and the international level? Since our first days, Friends have been involved with prison work. We all have prisons where we live, near our churches and meetings. Most of them are horrible places that only make worse the problems in our societies. What can we do together?
In our Global Change Consultation process, we learned that all of us are impacted by the effects of our changing climate, our abuse of natural resources, the greedy values of our financial system. We care deeply about our planet. What can we do together? What can we do in our homes, in our worshipping communities, in our countries, and even internationally?
Sizeli Marcelin, Rwanda:
Most of you probably know about what is happening in Congo and Burundi, and that in Rwanda, where I am from, we experienced genocide in 1994
I, the one standing here in front of you, am one of four survivors in my family. Of my extended family members, 92 died in the genocide, leaving only myself and three of my children (one is here with us, Silvie Umutoniwase). I survived, but I didn’t know for two months that my children had survived. During that whole time I thought I was the only one. My heart that was completely broken, full of sadness and pain, full of hatred, desire for revenge and other feelings a person who lost 92 family members would feel.
When I fully realized that I had survived, I experienced the Light shining in all these places in my heart. This power I experienced was not human power but power from God
Fifteen days after the genocide began, in a place where we fled for refuge, I met others who had even worse wounds than my own; some had lost every single family member. I comforted them and encouraged them to persevere. After a while, I returned to where I had lived: the houses had been destroyed and there was no food or clothing, but the hardest thing was hearing that those who had killed your relatives were now searching to kill you.
In partnership with the Evangelical Friends Church we continued the work of reconciling Rwandans to each other. It was very difficult. Some people did not understand but we continued to comfort, teach and challenge them until they understood.