On Good Soil and Increasing Yield

He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.
—Mark 4:2-8, NRSV

FWCC is an important field in the Religious Society of Friends, where Friend’s seeds (concerns, leadings) are tested. Recent examples of seeds falling on fertile ground for FWCC are the consultation on Friends Peace Testimony held in 2003, and the Quaker Conference to End Torture in 2006. FWCC was the fertile soil for a limited time for the Africa Great Lakes Initiative. Instances in which FWCC was not only the testing ground, but has become the fertile soil for the leading are Wider Quaker Fellowship and the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. Another excellent example of FWCC temporarily being fertile soil itself is with Right Sharing of World Resources.

In 1967, at the Fourth World Conference of Friends in Greensboro, N.C., three statements were adopted by the conference: "People, Food, and the Sharing of Resources—A Vision for the Future"; "The Vietnam Way"; and "Friends Response to Racial Conflict." It was the first of these adopted statements that brought forth the life and energy that resulted in the Right Sharing of World Resources program.

The report about the right sharing concern asks, "In one of our times of united worship we sang together the hymn ‘Breathe on me, Breath of God.’ Out of the silence which followed came the cry: ‘I am a Negro in a ghetto. I can’t hear you. . . . I am a mother in a South American slum. I can’t hear you. . . . I am an American soldier in Vietnam, under orders to kill. I can’t hear you. . . .’ What is our involvement? What is our response?" Noting that "more than half of humanity is hungry or inadequately nourished in a world rich with natural resources," the report made specific recommendations to Friends:

  • Give a period of development service in another country;
  • Work to eliminate poverty in our own communities;
  • Practice greater simplicity and avoid waste in personal consumption;
  • Give a regular portion of our income towards world development;
  • Participate in self-denial programs, like weekly "war on want" meals;
  • Make friends with and encourage students and trainees from other countries;
  • Practice personal family planning;
  • Undertake our responsibility for political involvement.

Friends immediately began to respond. A year later, London Yearly Meeting approved the establishment of a fund for sharing world resources, called the 1% Fund, and within six months $50,000 had been contributed.

In February 1969 the FWCC American Section Executive Committee approved the formation of the One Per Cent Fund: "We should seek contributions of one percent or more of net incomes, in contributions over and above our accustomed support of Quaker and humanitarian programs." And in June 1970 the One Percent More Fund became a reality as an FWCC American Section project. The first staff person, John Sexton, reported in the summer of 1971 Friends World News that in November 1970 the first funds ($7,000) to be distributed by the One Percent More Fund had been sent to projects in Zambia, Kenya, India, and Guatemala. In May 1971 a second distribution of $8,000 was made.

In November 1973 the FWCC American Section approved the establishment of the Right Sharing of World Resources Committee, overseeing the program of the Section. The committee’s areas of responsibility included two important tasks: first, to stimulate concern, knowledge, and action by Friends in the area of world resources and development, and to undertake to keep Friends informed of international Quaker initiatives in development; and second, to encourage personal involvement, including living out the Friends Testimony for Simplicity, the release of financial resources, the contribution of personal service as the way opens, and efforts to influence public policy in the development field.

The first task had already begun with the making of grants to support world development. For the next 26 years, grants were the primary ministry of RSWR. A total of $1.2 million was disbursed during that time. By 1999 RSWR was disbursing $65,000 per year to approximately 16 grassroots organizations, primarily in south India.

RSWR also addressed the second task, usually called the education component of its ministry. In the 1970s RSWR encouraged Friends to "live simply so that others may simply live," and it encouraged Friends to read and adopt the "Shakertown Pledge" statement of simplicity.

In November 1997 the FWCC Executive Committee completed a strategic plan, resulting in a new mission statement: "In bringing Friends together face-to-face and heart-to-heart across traditions and national borders, FWCC Section of the Americas seeks to promote exchanges that advance spiritual renewal and vitality within the Religious Society of Friends." As the work of RSWR did not bring Friends together for face-to-face encounters, it was clear that the work of Right Sharing was not within the bounds of this new mission statement and program direction. At the same time, it was clear that RSWR had grown sufficiently to be established as an independent Quaker organization.

The 1999 Annual Meeting of FWCC released RSWR as a committee under its care, thanked RSWR for all of its efforts, celebrated its growth and successes, acknowledged "that the transition from a program of the Section to an independent organization has not proceeded smoothly in all respects," and authorized the transfer of assets to the new, independent organization.

While the FWCC soil had been fertile for 29 years, it remained to be seen whether RSWR could find (or create) its own good soil in which it could flourish. Within a year after RSWR’s separation from FWCC it was evident that it had indeed done so. In the year and a half following its separation from FWCC, Right Sharing’s income increased by over 100 percent, assuring its autonomy and stability.

In the eight years since its separation from FWCC, RSWR has made considerable strides as an independent Quaker organization. Annual income has increased by more than 400 percent, and $1.5 million has been disbursed in 329 grants in 11 countries. A funding emphasis with Friends in the developing world has been established; currently, one-third of RSWR’s grants are provided to Friends groups, primarily in Kenya but also in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and the Philippines.

Other accomplishments include the development of a close working relationship with its representatives in south India, Kenya, and Sierra Leone, and an outreach program that uses the workshop "Simplicity as a Spiritual Discipline" in conjunction with specific RSWR resources, including a DVD and PowerPoint, to bring the continuing concern about right sharing to Friends. To be a more central presence among Friends, RSWR has moved its office to Richmond, Indiana, and its Board of Trustees reflects the full spectrum of Friends faith and practice in the United States, and the staff has increased from a part-time general secretary to a full-time one plus a part-time field staff person, a proposals coordinator, and an administrative assistant.

In the end, what began as a natural growth and nurturing relationship between FWCC and RSWR has resulted in two thriving, independent Quaker organizations. While FWCC remains an instrument by which Friends across the wide expanse of Quaker faith and practice worship, pray, speak, listen, teach, challenge, and change one another, RSWR continues to mature and blossom, redressing worldwide wrong, directing resources to those in need, and aspiring towards economic equality for everyone.

Roland Kreager

Roland Kreager, general secretary of Right Sharing of World Resources, is a member of Community Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently attends West Richmond (Ind.) Meeting.