As we walked up the path to Nairobi West Friends Church, Pastor Judith came out to greet us, smiling. “We were worried about you,” she said. “Welcome!”
I had been in Nairobi for four days, on a tour of Nairobi Yearly Meeting with a group of about 17 Friends from meetings and churches around the world. Kenyan Friends had organized these tours for Friends coming from other countries, so we could visit different parts of Kenya before the FWCC World Conference of Friends. On the Nairobi tour, we visited the Nairobi Yearly Meeting Friends Center and several churches, as well as cultural centers, museums, and Nairobi National Park.
On Sunday morning, we could choose which meeting for worship we wanted to attend: a large programmed meeting at the Friends International Center, a small unprogrammed meeting, or programmed worship at Nairobi West Friends Church. I had met Pastor Judith when we visited another Friends church a few days before. As two young women in ministry, we bonded, and I was excited to see her church and hear her preach.
Judith led us to the church, a one-room building with a tin roof and walls and a concrete floor. On the way, she pointed out two other buildings on the lot, one of which was her home. Colorful laundry was hanging from lines and there were chickens running around the property. Judith brought us into the church, a room with rows of about 40 plastic chairs. In the front, there were two young men with microphones leading music, and another man accompanied them on an electric keyboard.
We were some of the first to arrive, so we settled into a row near the front and joined in the singing. Friends gave us small paperback hymnals to share―one in English and another in Swahili. Some of the songs were familiar and the others were easy to pick up after hearing the chorus a few times.
I laughed thinking about Quakers’ reputation for being quiet—these Friends were loud! Even though the room was not very big, the men singing were well amplified, to the point that the Friend from Britain Yearly Meeting sitting next to me covered her ears a couple times. In between songs, the music leaders would pray in a style that reminded me of the evangelical church of my childhood: they would both speak at the same time, repeating things like “Jesus Christ, be with us, come be here with us today.”
Friends joined us and the church began to fill up. The leaders took a break from singing to welcome us and asked us visitors to come to the front to introduce ourselves. Six people from my tour chose to visit Nairobi West Friends Church that morning: two from Britain Yearly Meeting, two from South Africa, one from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and me.
When I introduced myself, I started out by saying, “God is good!” Friends responded, “All the time!” I said that it had taken me 30 hours to travel from my home in Oregon to Kenya, and I was very happy to be able to worship with them. Each of us shared something about ourselves and when one Friend shared a song, the keyboard player picked up the tune and accompanied her.
After the introductions, we began singing again, but halfway through a song, the power went out. Friends kept on singing, and when Judith went to the front to pray, she said that she did not think it was an accident that the power went out, “Sometimes, God just wants to hear our voices!” A Friend read the Bible passage for the day from Mark 16: the story of the women going to Jesus’s tomb, asking each other who would roll away the stone. Judith’s message based on that passage spoke about different kinds of negative thoughts that could keep us from accomplishing our goals. After the message, there was prayer, an offering, and announcements from the clerk, the treasurer, and a young Friends leader.
After the rise of meeting, Friends greeted us. I was amazed by their hospitality. The clerk of the meeting signed my traveling minute, saying that they were blessed to have us as visitors. She wrote, “Welcome again anytime any of your members are visiting Kenya. God bless you.” Everyone was so welcoming that we stayed to talk for a while and took several pictures with members of the church.
I did not know what to expect when I went to worship with Kenyan Friends for the first time, but throughout my time with them, the Friends there welcomed me as an honored guest. I hope to have the opportunity to worship with Friends in Kenya again someday, and I hope that if they come to worship with Friends in the United States, Kenyan Friends will receive a similarly warm welcome.