April 17-25, 2012, Kabarak University, Kenya
Being Salt and Light: Friends living the Kingdom of God in a broken world
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14.
|Pastor Judith bringing the message|
The FWCC World Conference took place April 17-25, with nearly 850 Friends who gathered from meetings and churches in 51 countries. I did quite a bit of ministry while I was at the World Conference, which fell loosely into three categories: leading the convergent Friends thread group, eldering, and giving messages in meeting for worship.
|Convergent Friends thread group, day 3|
For much of the conference, I felt clear about why I was there and what I was supposed to do. As a result, I felt released from doing anything on the schedule that I did not feel directly led to do. I have a tendency to do too much at this type of gathering, and that feeling of being released served me well and helped me to avoid some of the drama that others encountered at the conference. For example, many of the Young Adult Friends (YAF) felt hurt by the fact that they could not reach unity on an epistle. Although I did not feel led to attend the YAF meetings, I was later able to serve as an elder at a meeting for healing that some of the YAFs organized. Similarly, I did not feel led to go to my home group after the first day, and instead took that time for rest and prayer. Later in the conference, there was some controversy about the epistle by Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns being taken down, but it was primarily addressed in the home groups, so I did not have much to do with that.
Overall, I was surprised by the amount of eldering I did at the conference. I did not go intending to elder, but opportunities arose while I was there, both formally―sitting on the facing bench during the worship organized by the Section of the Americas (English speaking), being invited to hold the meeting of the Section of the Americas in prayer, and in the YAF meeting for healing―and informally, in sitting with Friends in worship and in conversation. As I have said in the past, I feel like I am about 75% minister and 25% elder, and the balance at the conference felt good to me.
I felt led to stand and give messages in meeting for worship several times over the course of the conference. Although this felt easier than it sometimes has in the past, it is still a hard thing for me. Some of the messages felt strong, prophetic, and challenging (for me as much as anyone else!), but I also was blessed with opportunities to give joy-filled messages. I felt on the whole that I was faithful with what I was given, and this is still an area where I am growing.
|Me and Lucy|
Throughout my time in Kenya, I felt like God was teaching me a lesson about support, abundant support. This was grounded in the support I received from f/Friends and family before I left and personified while I was there in Lucy F (North Pacific YM), who served as my elder. Lucy appeared the first night I arrived, before we went on different pre-conference tours, and gave me a much-needed hug after 30 hours of travel. In a conference of 850 people, I found Lucy just about any time I thought of her, which felt like a miracle. Lucy was an ideal elder for me there: after serving on my support committee for two years, she knows how I am when I do ministry, and she could make me laugh.
An experience I had in the dining hall at Kabarak provided a concrete illustration of the kind of spiritual support I received during the conference. It is a pattern of mine that I have a hard time eating and getting enough sleep when I do spiritual work for any extended period of time, and the travel and malaria medication I was taking exacerbated those tendencies. In addition, the dining hall was crowded, noisy, and the tables were in constant rotation, with up to a dozen introductions within a single meal. There was plenty of food, but it was high in starch and meat, which is very different from what I usually eat. The vegetarian options were better, but the line was always long and I felt guilty eating there because I had not registered as a vegetarian. In general, I felt overwhelmed by the dining hall and I dreaded going to meals.
|The dining hall|
|Friends gathered in the auditorium for worship|
· Kristin O-K (North Carolina YM Conservative), Carrie H (Northwest YM), and Joe S (North Pacific YM) for their prayers and help with the thread group
· Emily S (North Carolina YM Conservative) and Charley and Lynn B (Alaska Friends Conference) for providing a hedge of protection around me the morning after my thread group was over
· Colin S (Indiana YM) for lending me his cell phone so I could call my Mom on her birthday
· Aimee M (Northern YM/Northwest YM) for sitting with me two times as I struggled with difficult ministry in meeting for worship and for her pastoral care
· And all the people (some of whose names I don’t even know!) who prayed for me, sat with me, gave me hugs, encouraged me, and fed me
This report feels like a beginning to sharing my experiences at the World Conference. In exchange for covering my conference registration fees, I plan to write two articles for Friends Journal: a shorter piece on my experiences visiting Friends in Nairobi Yearly Meeting and a longer piece on my experience of doing ministry at the World Conference. In addition, I am sure I will have lots of other stories and experiences that arise over the coming days, weeks, and months.
I want to end by expressing my gratitude: to Freedom Friends Church for sending me with love and a traveling minute, to the PYM International Outreach Granting Group for its grant, and to all of my f/Friends and family, near and far, who sent prayers, financial support, and love, and who made this trip possible. Thank you.
May 6, 2012
|A view from my room at Milele Guest House|