Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stewards of Christ

“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves”(James 1:22)

I am attending Baltimore Yearly Meeting and once more I am reminded of the message I received throughout the young adult Friends conference in Richmond IN. There has been such an emphasis in these yearly meeting sessions on work taking place over seas, including long discussions in business meeting and interest groups. I had several long discussions with Friends regarding African Friends, and have thought more and more about the nature of the mission work carried out by FUM and Evangelical Friends. Yet the more I think and talk about this work the more a message comes to me. The same message that came to me in Richmond IN. The work we need to do is here. Right now, right here in our monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting.

I remember from the Richmond conference one young adult Friend recounted her struggle to acknowledge that her calling was still real and Spirit led even though it would entail work here in America instead of traveling to work abroad as all her other Quaker friends where doing. As much as I think the work we do aboard is wonderful, needful, and truly Spirit led, I wonder how much work within our own American communities both Quaker and otherwise goes undone. I feel we spend so much time concentrating our attention and energy else where that it does not leave us much of either to tackle problems closer to home. I am not advocating us ending our services all over the globe. I just feel a mounting unease. All I ever here of is work friends are doing else where when I personally witness the suffering and need here in America everyday.

In a list of services Friends where engaged in one Friend mentioned services in America then hastily explained that he was speaking of prison ministry. We are all truly blessed by every Friend who feels and heeds the call to prison ministries, but I wonder about our lack of commitment to other areas of suffering in America. I think it is some times easier for us to pretend, subconsciously, that the only poverty, hunger, death, homelessness, discrimination, and inhuman violence is taking place in other countries not our own. However as we all intellectually know this is not the truth. Yet as we struggle to build the kingdom of God we must reach out to all people at home and abroad. Nor do I think one group more needful then the other.

There is also the issue of the state of the Religious Society of Friends. I find it uncomfortable to watch Friends spending so much time worrying and discussing Friends in African or South America when we have our own troubles and needs here in America. I think dialog between us and Africans Friends is both needful and a blessing but I worry when a whole discussion on FUM only ever focuses the African Friends when there are plenty of FUM Friends here in America. I also feel uncomfortable when Friends spend all there time discussing work abroad and money to be sent abroad while real problems and needs exist within their own Yearly Meeting I feel for the sake of all Friends, the spiritual health of the Religious Society of Friends should be addressed first. I feel it is hard for us to aid others when we are in desperate need of spiritual aid ourselves.

When I was in Richmond IN I received a simple message over and over again. The message was that the real work of the Religious Society of Friends needed to happen at the month, quarterly and yearly meeting levels. That the spiritual well being of the society as a whole could only be preserved by working from these levels, by healing and renewing on a more intimate community level. I also received the very strong message that Friends needed to spend more time working in their own communities at large. We as Friends I believe tend to struggle with the ideals of radical Christian hospitality, and I would like to see more of an emphasis paid to that within our meeting bodies. We acts with such loving, nurturing kindness, and grace towards those in need throughout the world. I would dearly love, and truly wish to see the same grace offered other Friends here in our home meetings and the communities these meeting are located in. May the Spirit of Christ guide us abroad, at home and within our hearts.

9 comments:

Micah Bales said...

Thanks for this post. You speak my mind.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hi, Anna!

I found this a very interesting post! I quite agree with you that it is a mistake for Friends in North America to neglect working on their own spiritual condition, and on the condition of their own monthly and yearly meetings, due to a focus on "mission work" in Africa and Latin America. Frankly, the African and Latin American Friends ought to be sending missions to us, rather than the other way around; overall, they have far more spiritual vitality than we do.

At the same time, I am very glad of North American Friends' interest in what is going on in Africa. When Nancy Irving, General Secretary of Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC), visited our yearly meeting last week, she made an off-hand comment that Friends in Africa may actually be three times as numerous as the official numbers show. If that is true, then there are now about 650,000 Friends in the world, and 450,000 of them live in Africa. But even if it is not true, the most numerous kind of Friend today is still the African kind. They, not we, are the "typical" Friends. Were there any truth in advertising, it would be an African pictured on the Quaker Oats box. And being the most numerous type of Friend, it is to be expected that the largest number of exciting developments in Quakerism in the next half-century will likely come out of their communities, not ours.

I had a concrete experience of what this means just the night before last, when I waited on a young black woman at the department store where I work here in Omaha, Nebraska. It quickly became clear that she was a Kenyan, though she has lived many years in Europe and the U.S. and has acquired a classy international accent. I mentioned that my own co-religionists had been doing relief work in Kenya, feeding the displaced and helping them return home, and she immediately deduced I was a Friend. And her whole face lit up, because she had such a good impression of the Friends involved. I have never seen any North American or Britisher deduce that I was a Friend on so little evidence; and I have never seen that kind of instant gladness on the face of any person from the U.S. or Canada or England, on learning I was a Friend. Kenyan Friends are bearing true and powerful witness. I can only wish that U.S. Friends were doing the same.

All the best,
Marshall

Elizabeth K. Gordon said...

"The work we need to do is here." Yes, first, and then to radicate out from the new center, as led. But some, many, the critical mass, will need to stay at the center like the nucleus of a son.

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