14 July 2005

Friends United Meeting Triennial; news from Rwanda

Des Moines, Iowa, USA: Judy and I have been here since last Sunday, first attending the retreat of Friends United Meeting's international field staff, and, starting yesterday, FUM's Triennial sessions.

A few words about the international field staff (more here and here): What an amazing group we've joined!

We already knew several of them, but this weekend allowed us to meet every one of them all at once. It was an amazing retreat, with many spiritual blessings and practical nuts-and-bolts sessions. Today at the Triennial, all of us were introduced and many of us spoke about our particular concerns and ministries. It was my first chance to say something directly to the larger FUM constituency about my dreams for educational service in Russia.

The Triennial sessions opened yesterday with a session that included Retha McCutchen's keynote address. I know I'm biased, but I thought she gave us a very healthy perspective for keeping the FUM "river" flowing toward renewal and a more global perspective.

My biases continued unabated this morning, as I listened to Cuba Yearly Meeting's clerk, Ramón González Longoria's Bible study, the first Bible study of these sessions. I found Ramón's words deeply convincing: "So, what can we contribute to this world? Bring hope in the middle of crisis, return to the faith of Fox and other early Friends who made of their lives and of their message something unsettling, transforming, flaming with the living, burning light of the Spirit."

During the afternoon, I attended a workshop led by Ben Richmond and Bill Medlin on "The New Testament Church in Time of War." This was a very helpful interactive session; here are just a few gleanings:

  • Quakers are a revival of NT Christianity. The power at work in our evangelism is the same power that was at work in the resurrection of Jesus.
  • A New Testament church is a church with a mission to reach and win the world, leaving nobody behind.
  • To be a martyr people of God was a characteristic of the NT church and is still a characteristic of a faithful church of today. This means we take risks. Our allegiance to Jesus Christ comes before everything else.
  • Struggle at our own Friends church has centered on the question: "Is the peace testimony practical? Does it ensure security?" No, it means taking risks. Some of us will be martyrs in that movement. It bothers me today when we're unwilling to take the risks, for fear that our neighbors might think we have strange ideas, against war, against racism, against slavery. However, I believe a NT Christian today is opposed to all oppression.
  • The question I want to ask today: Are you ready to go back to your meetings and yearly meetings and ask: "If the peace witness is a vital part of what it is to be a Christian and a Friend, do we need to reexamine our lives and take more risks?" Maybe some of us need to visit other meetings and stand up for brothers and sisters who're taking risks for NT Christianity and the peace witness.
What is the context within which we are trying to be the Church? Ben Richmond handed out a world map showing US military troops and bases around the world. After taking into account all countries which presently have bases or troops, and countries where there is an active effort to place US bases or troops, the map showed precious few countries in the world were left.
More gleanings:
  • In Roman times, the cross was an instrument of torture/execution. So, in the midst of the Empire, which in part protected itself by the use of such crosses, Jesus asked his church to take up the cross and follow him.
  • Ben: How does the Bible use the terminology of salvation? In the Old Testament, the language of salvation is used at least two-thirds of the time to refer to God intervening to save people from physical danger and from their enemies. For us, this is a confessional issue: do we acknowledge God's ability to save or do we stand in God's place and try to save ourselves? Not surprisingly, as a country that is the Greatest Empire the world has ever seen, the USA is one of the most fearful cultures that the world knows.

    Something that I discovered about what it meant to the Hebrew people and then to Jesus what it meant to trust God to be saved: In Exodus, God takes the chosen people out of bondage. They are then stuck at the Red Sea or Reed Sea, between the water and the advancing forces of one of the biggest empires of that time. "In great fear, the Israelites cried out to the Lord." NOTE: "Cried out"—crying out to God is a first step. "Moses said to the people, do not be afraid .... See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.... You have only to keep still." (Ex 14)
  • God's instructions:
    • do not fear
    • stand firm (in our humanity, per Walter Wink)
    • see the deliverance
  • If we read our Lord's life in the context of today's situation, it is an invitation to become activist, not necessarily in lobbying, but in the sense of acting out prophetic signs that challenge the ideology of oppression. If God is to be a warrior on our behalf and do the work of salvation, we have to stop trying ourselves, we need to put down our weapons.
  • Three fundamentals:
    • If we're going to be faithful to God, the least we can do is to put down our weapons and stop killing people.
    • There's an absolute connection between the god of war and the god of mammon. The second most numerous category of references in the OT for salvation is saving from financial distress. We must be a living community that cuts ourselves free at least in prophetic signs from the money culture that trashes the environment as well as causing war.
    • Friends Peace Testimony has gone through a variety of dfferent forms over the years. From Lamb's War confrontation to quietism, secular manifestations of international service. Now new era of important experimentation in terms of intervention in conflict situations in terms of nonviolent intervention. Every meeting should be releasing at least one person for participation in something like Christian Peacemaker Teams.
  • There is not a correlation between cultural Islam and suicide bombers. Correlation between Islamic socities that have been under external military occupation and suicide bombers. If this is true, policies of more military intervention are contraindicated.
This evening, Oliver Kisaka of the East African Friends' organization AQUAVIS (African Quaker Vision) and the National Council of Churches of Kenya gave the Triennial Johnson Lecture. If it is made available online, I will put a link here; it was a strong, almost angry, and very worthwhile challenge.

Kigali, Rwanda: We've been hearing for several days that Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna were planning to visit the largest of the Friends churches in Rwanda today. (News story.) Here's part of Debby Thomas's report from earlier today:
    Thank you so much for your prayers. We are very glad to say that the entire event went very well. We are exhausted, and happy.

    The First Lady came with Rick Warren and his wife Kay and also Jenna Bush, their daughter. They were about 20 minutes late, but when she came we were all set and everything flowed perfectly. At the High school the students danced while she talked to some women who are HIV positive who are doing income-generating projects like sewing, growing mushrooms and making baskets. The school kids did a great traditional dance for her, and a skit about AIDS.

    Then she came to the church. Before entering, she greeted Dave and I and the kids. She and her daughter stood with us for a picture. So…expect that you will be seeing that picture before too long. She was warm and caring, and thankful for all the work we had done to make the event possible.

    AP photo via USA TodayIn the church everything went just as planned. Some small children climbed into her lap and onto Jenna's too (that wasn't planned)....

    The younger school children did a dance, which was just great. Afterwards she had her picture taken with the dancers and I was there coaxing them to smile. She walked over to me and thanked me for all the work I put in to make this happen and shook my hand again.

    So, we are pleased that all went well. We pray that the message that goes out to the world will be one of hope and love, and of Jesus. Dave is now trying to find the stories of those children that were sitting on her lap because the press was very interested.

    We made some really good friends with the White House Staff. Some of the advance team and security that we worked with a lot became friends. After the First Lady left, there were lots of hugs and handshakes and goodbyes with the White House advanced team....

    The present that we presented to Mrs. Bush was a carving of Christians reaching out to those with AIDS. It was really beautiful and was a testimony of Christ's love and healing power.

    So once again, your prayers have been answered.

    Many Blessings,

    Debby Thomas


    Anonymous said...

    Thanks, Johan and Judy, for sharing your gleanings from Ben Richmond's workshop and Ramon's bible study!

    Johan Maurer said...

    Thanks, Alan! I will be eager to find out what Oliver Kisaka said at Reedwood on the 10th. His Johnson Lecture was great, a milestone to go alongside Ben Richmond's of three years ago. I have a paper copy that I'll try to remember to bring to Reedwood.