Take 125 people from seven countries and put them together in Kampala, Uganda, and you’ve got the FWCC Africa Section Triennial, held January 31 to February 4 this year. Held outdoors under a tent at a Catholic conference center, the theme of the gathering was Exodus 19:5, "Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine." This message from God to Moses on Mount Sinai was woven throughout the various talks, preaching, and prayers. And—as is expected in Africa Section—there was a lot of gifted preaching and witnessing.
Bridget Butt of Change Agents for Peace Programme (Norwegian Friends Service Committee) talked about how early Friends kept God’s covenant through their call to peacemaking. Her message of the radical Gospel message, the call to integrity, and the search for authentic expression of Christianity provided a great deal of information about our Quaker heritage.
In addition to several sermons from pastors from Nairobi and Uganda, the local Anglican bishop, David Zach Niringiyi, challenged the gathering with the question, "What’s the difference between a church group and a club?" He examined all sorts of measures and concluded that the answer depends upon the evidence: children of God live in peace and are peacemakers, loving Jesus Christ as Lord. He was worried that peace may have been supplanted by churches that have become tribes united by a paranoia of superiority—a belief that they are better than others—or a fear that they are not. He called upon churches to tackle instances of corruption and greed and to be a reconciled people, to be true to God’s purpose of peacemaking.
All the program time spent in active worship reflected the African way of coming together as Quakers, even to do their business. Singing was an important component throughout.
The program reflected the Quaker demographics of the bulk of Quakers in Africa: the great majority are programmed, evangelical Friends. From their perspective the difference between FUM and EFI Friends hardly exists; they see it as a North American distinction. Nairobi Yearly Meeting has a small unprogrammed meeting at Friends International Centre, but otherwise all the Quakers in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo (over 90 percent of African Quakers) worship in a programmed service with pastors.
How did this come about? In 1902, the first missionaries from Friends Africa Industrial Mission Board arrived in Kenya to stay. They found their way to the highlands of western Kenya to bring the Christian message, to teach reading and writing, and to provide health services. It wasn’t easy, but they were welcomed. As more missionaries arrived, Friends set up churches, schools, and dispensaries in a large area. At that time Kenya and Uganda were not separate states.
Quaker missionaries from the evangelical tradition went to central Africa in the 1930s, about the time East Africa Yearly Meeting was established in Kenya. There remains one mission family today in Kigali, Rwanda, helping that 18-year-old yearly meeting recover from the genocide that occurred and to grow and be of service. Indeed, the service work there is exemplary of Quaker values: bringing former victims and oppressors together for reconciliation, serving widows and orphans with tangible provisions and training, helping people to survive.
Back at the Africa Section Triennial, the Executive Committee set up smaller discussion groups on the subjects of establishing an FWCC Day all around the Section and of concerns about young Friends. Many ideas surfaced in both areas, and representatives were asked to take the discussion back to their yearly meetings. Already in Africa there is the Young Quaker Christian Association that has brought together young Friends from eastern, central, and southern Africa as funds permit. This is a vibrant, lively group that gathers annually.
Perhaps the most pan-Africa movement is the Quaker Peace Network (QPN), which has been meeting and expanding for several years. Greatly assisted by the AFSC presence in the region and by Africa Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI), it brings together Quaker peaceworkers from the entire continent and from FWCC, representatives from the two QUNO offices in Geneva and New York, the Norwegian Service Committee, Right Sharing of World Resources (RSWR), and Britain Yearly Meeting’s Quaker Peace & Social Witness. QPN has established its own sub-regions with their own gatherings. This is a huge step in Friends supporting each other and working together.
One of the great unifying programs that dominates the QPN work is Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), now established with trainers, both Quaker and non-Quaker, all over Africa. It is truly a gift. RSWR is also making itself known in the Quaker parts of Kenya with innovative entrepreneurial programs for widows who are otherwise bereft in their societies, while other programs fund the digging of wells and provide various means for earning income.
RSWR is addressing the results of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Deaths from AIDS have affected every community, even the Quaker ones. Widows lose their homes, families take in their grandchildren or nieces and nephews, Friends are setting up orphanages and feeding programs, and meetings worry about how to care for older people who have lost the younger generation who would normally care for them. AIDS is changing the face of the Friends church in Africa. While it’s not the most popular subject for conversation, the AIDS situation is now being discussed from the pulpit and through education via churches.
At the Section meeting each yearly meeting gave a report, and the vitality within Friends was quite evident. The recent escalation of armed violence and dislocation of families in the Mount Elgon region of Kenya, in an area of three yearly meetings, was identified as an opportunity for Friends to practice peacemaking on several different levels, from humanitarian support of dislocated people to working at the governmental level. This work is new and is assisted by the FUM Africa Ministries Office based in Kisumu.
Distances within the huge continent of Africa are great and transportation by air very expensive. So there was disappointment that the smallest yearly meetings, such as Central and Southern Africa and Tanzania yearly meetings, along with isolated meetings and worship groups from western Africa and western Congo, could not be present. Nonetheless, the leader of the newest Friends church was there from southern Tanzania—he’s a seeker who found the Section on the Internet and has been guided and nurtured by the Section, so now there are three village churches!
The early 20th century was an era of great missionary movement and colonial activity in various parts of Africa. There was once a vibrant Quaker presence on the island of Pemba (Tanzania) and on Madagascar, almost (but not quite) nonexistent now, and in need of more support and nurture. More recently, expatriates have been instrumental in setting up groups under the FWCC International Membership Programme in Brazzaville (Congo), Kinshasa (Congo), Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. A website in French brought together Friends from Geneva, Switzerland, with Congolese seekers in refugee camps in eastern Tanzania. Together they have created a Quaker community that provides entrepreneurial training for some refugees.
FWCC Africa Section has two full-time employees at its office in Friends International Centre in Nairobi, and Moses Musonga serves as its executive secretary. Nearly all its funding comes through the FWCC World Office in London and, unfortunately, that is not enough to provide the means for Moses to travel around the Section to meet all of its needs and demands.