What Kind of Times Are These?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . ." So begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, set in the era of the French Revolution. As a historian, I warm to these words, and I habitually view skeptically any claims that one epoch is better or worse than another. Crises come and go, and—I marvel—the more severe the circumstances, the more amazing the human response to overcome them.

Our world at the beginning of 2009 is rife with political shifting and economic turmoil, and it presents the eternal standoff between hope and apprehension. Our collective human endeavor could yet again drift toward chaos—or struggle toward redemption. Now, as always, we are called to be attentive to our basic values. Hope is a powerful tool; may it abide with us.

Our offerings in Friends Journal this month are of small facets of this complex world and its interactions. Three of the four lead articles are by Westerners experiencing Africa. David Morse, in "Nairobi: Impressions of a Newcomer" (p. 6), views the impact of sharp contrasts in wealth. Rosemary Coffey, in "The Friendly FolkDancers Tour Rwanda: Land of a Thousand Hills" (p. 10), senses mutual cultural appreciation. And Laura Shipler Chico, in "Rwanda: Escaping the Victim-Abuser-Rescuer Triangle" (p. 15), notices the mindsets humans can fall into about themselves and each other after the trauma of genocide. Several sidebars enhance the message of these last two articles.

Next, John Shuford, in "AVP—An Instrument of Peace" (p. 20), writes about the Alternative to Violence Project that is well known for its work with prisoners. He examines on several levels what happens when "transforming power" manifests itself.

And there are this issue’s departments, with their usual rich offerings. As for the Forum, we encourage you not to stop until you have read it in its entirety; there are several long, powerful letters, right up to the end.

We hope this issue brings you encouragement. And with it, we send you our best wishes for the New Year.