United Society of Friends Women International

In the fall of 2007 Pam was appointed to the USFWI board as secretary for Peace and Christian Social Concerns.  Part of this responsibility is to write articles for the bi-monthly magazine: The Advocate.  Below is a collection of the articles written for this publication.  Copies of the Advocate are available in the parlor at the church.  Please check out the USFWI website.

 

ADVOCATE ARTICLE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2009

Bad Times, Good Life

....I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.  (Philippians 4:12,13) 

   In light of the current global financial crisis, the Missions & Social Concerns Committee of my meeting spend the first half of 2009 considering the economic values of the Kingdom of God, values that make it possible for Jesus' followers to live joyfully and well, no matter what is going on in the world around them.  Through writing, book recommendations, discussion groups and workshops, and provision of other educational resources and service opportunities, the committee offered Friends at Winchester helpful tools for personally weathering the current economic storm and for helping others around them to learn to do the same.  In deciding how to work on this issue, the Committee identified these general topics to focus on: 

   Simplicity - Kingdom citizens learn to allow the Spirit of Christ to help them truthfully differentiate between needs and wants, and to identify in their lives things which early Friends called "cumber" (things that were acquired to ease life, but end up occupying so much time and energy that they ultimately become a cumbersome distraction from what really matters).

    Wise Investing and Borrowing - Kingdom citizens invest money, time, and energy to increase resources for lives of service to God, not for pride, status, or unnecessary ease.  They thoughtfully invest in products and services that serve humanity, not in those that cause harm.  Kingdom citizens use credit prudently, not artificially to avoid living within their means. 

   Generosity - By their example of contentment and their tangible care for people in need, Kingdom citizens' lives become good news to people who despair, continuing Jesus' stated purpose for His earthly life and ministry (Luke 4:18,19).

   Community - Kingdom citizens live in vital, transparent relationships with others, especially others in the family of faith, that allow needs to be known discreetly and responded to compassionately (Galatians 6:10).

    Advocacy - Private charity is nowhere near large enough to address the current crisis.  Kingdom citizens let God lead them in "speaking Truth to power," accessing the opportunities and privileges of citizenship to call upon governments to follow just policies and to use public funds in ways that alleviate the suffering of the least advantaged.

    As you read this issue of the ADVOCATE, the USFWI board will be putting the final touches on another year’s budget, a budget that will help others spread the Good News and will encourage ministry to many around the world during these difficult days.  If your USFW group is like the two at Winchester Friends, there are times when we wonder how our meager resources will actually make a difference in our own community and around the world when the needs are so great.  Giving during difficult times for those who suffer in our community and around the world is a priority for USFW groups. If the focus is on what one person, one group, or even one meeting alone is able to do, much will seem undone.  However, combined efforts of all across the USFWI community will make a visible difference in our world.  I am thankful for such faithfulness, generosity and community. 

     Generous giving is only a part of the solution.  As you read this issue of the ADVOCATE, I will be preparing to represent USFWI at the Annual Meeting of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington DC.  The leaders of our nation will continue to debate and deal with the economic crisis in our world for some time to come.  Decisions and discussions on health care, international aid, and military spending may be contentious and divisive.  Issues before our legislators will affect our daily lives, the lives of those in our faith communities and the millions of unemployed and underemployed people who see little hope of relief in the near future.  Knowing I am a part of a group that will do everything in its power to be an advocate on Capital Hill for Quaker principles of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality gives me hope at a time when things look bleak for our world and our communities. 

      Generous giving and advocacy are necessary in our world and in our nation in these days, but still only a part of the solution.  The greatest testimony to our world will be lives lived in contentment because of a relationship with Christ: a relationship that gives power and strength to do everything possible to make a difference in our world. 

Check out FCNL’s website and mission statement at www.fcnl.org

 

ADVOCATE Article Sept/Oct 2009

 OUR WORLD IS CHANGING

 

Website.  Facebook.  Blogs. Twitter. Links.  Search Engine. Email. Google. Text message.  Post.  Chat.  Wall Photo.  Network.  

The other day in the grocery store a woman beside me answered her cell phone.  I could tell the person on the other end greeted her with the question, “Where are you?”  A telephone conversation never used to start with such a greeting. Times are changing.

It used to be that most of the information you got about a missionary or a mission field came from the ADVOCATE.  Now many of you have access at the click of a mouse to more timely information than the ADVOCATE could give you.  You can have a missionary’s newsletter or blog post delivered in a second to your email inbox.  You can communicate directly, quickly and cheaply via email with most of the Friends United Meeting missionaries and staff.    

The other day on the Facebook page of Barclay Press the editor wrote:  “I was just looking at a statistic I like. Facebook fan pages allow the administrator to see the percentage of fans in each of six age categories. The breakdown is 13-17, 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, and 55+. The largest group of Barclay Press fans is in the 25-34 years old category (27%). Connecting with a younger generation is important at Barclay Press and that is one of the reasons we are on Facebook.”

In May the publisher of The Navigators Discipleship Journal announced that “the current publishing climate combined with the economic downturn simply made it financially impossible to continue” publishing the 28 year old journal.  It seems like everyday we hear of another big city newspaper calling it quits or having to file for bankruptcy.  The age old tradition of drinking your morning cup of coffee as you sit reading the newspaper may one day be a thing of the past.  Our local community newspaper has changed greatly: fewer pages, less editing, no more color photos, and more local news that requires no publishing fee.

The good news is that I’m not announcing any changes to the ADVOCATE.  The ADVOCATE is not in trouble financially, although printing and mailing does take a large part of the USFWI Board budget.  Every six months the board looks carefully at the ADVOCATE budget and we constantly are aware of the need to be careful stewards in order to keep this publication from meeting the same fate as Discipleship Journal.  I’ve been greatly blessed at our board meetings over discussions concerning the ADVOCATE, Blueprints, and the annual reading lists.  We weigh carefully our concern for being attractive and inviting to a new generation and to meet the needs of those who choose to not to be connected to the internet.  Our mission is not easy because the needs of each group are unique and different.

In the last few months my life has changed.  It was a big day when I took the plunge to the internet 10 years ago, and for 10 years dial up internet worked fine.  Finally things worked out for me to enter the world of high speed internet and my mind has not stopped spinning since (nor has the computer!)  A whole new world opened up and I am in the process of seeing just how connected (and how addicted) our world has become to instant communication, online social networks, and immediate access to information and news.  I’ve been thinking about this world in trying to edit the USFWI’s website.  The purpose of the website is not to be a flashy, entertainment based place, but it does need to be a welcome place for a new generation who uses a computer more than the post office.

As I work on the site, I’ve thought about the purpose and the mission for a USFWI site.  It was created for the 2007 triennials as a place to put information, registration forms, and news. As we approach another triennial, I plan for the site to continue to be a place for people to find triennial information, news about the trip, tips on travel to Kenya, and any late breaking information.  But the website should be much more than just triennial news.

With the change in my life to high speed internet, I’ve been thinking about what motivates people to join online social networks and what it is they will be interested in checking out again, and again and again.

One of the greatest draws to online social networks is the ability to connect and to find out what is happening in other people’s lives.  For me personally, I am curious about what other people are thinking and doing, I am interested in connecting with people I don’t normally see on a regular basis or haven’t had contact with for years.  The words “online communities” are used to describe these social networks.  One of the purposes of the ADVOCATE is to keep the USFWI network informed of activities and work.  It makes sense the website continues that tradition and finds new ways to connect Friends women with each other.

A place to start is newsletters.  It is such a privilege to be able to see what is happening across the USFWI world through newsletters I receive as a part of the USFWI Board. I’ve been wondering if the website could be a place to gather and access these newsletters, with other news about other USFW activities, inspirational and challenging articles from Yearly Meetings and local USFW groups. I am fortunate to be a part of two very active, involved USFW groups from our local meeting.  I realize that is not the case for many.  There are women who do not have a USFW meeting to belong to, and the number of monthly meetings across the Yearly Meeting spectrum who do not have USFW groups seems to be growing.  Finding new ways to build community, to offer support and encouragement, and to find out what other Friends women are doing and thinking might be a good thing.

In a world that is changing, I am thinking about ways to build community among a diverse and resourceful group of Friends women spread around the globe. I am in the process of contacting editors of each Yearly Meeting USFW newsletter with a request to place their newsletter on the website as a place to start the sharing of information.  I look forward to hearing your ideas of how to build community among Friends women.  Contact me via the website:  usfwi.org 

 Advocate Article July/August 2009

BEING PEACE 

The Winchester ministerial association each year hosts a Good Friday service for the community.  About 4 years ago, it was Ron’s turn to speak at the noon service.  He told the group gathered that day about a Good Friday we experienced in Sudan when we heard a land mine exploded about mile from our home, killing 16 people.  That started a very difficult and violent Easter weekend.   In those very dark and violent hours, we experienced God’s presence and God’s work.  Many people risked their lives to save others, and in Ron’s direct encounter with a drunken policeman with a gun, God spared Ron’s life and the life of the young man Ron was protecting.  That experience taught us more about peace, hope, and new life in the midst of darkness and evil than anything we’d encountered up until then. It was a great Good Friday lesson.  

After the service, Ron and I ate lunch with some good friends at the local Chinese Restaurant a block from our meeting house.  Our monthly meeting only issues a call for us to be pastors on a yearly basis, so we have a yearly evaluation as pastors and the meeting has a yearly evaluation of the ministries and missions of the meeting.  That Good Friday found us in the middle of discerning whether the meeting should continue releasing us for ministry in Winchester for another year.  As we ate lunch with our friends, we talked about our passion for peace in light of the story Ron had just told and we talked about our yearly decision to stay in Winchester when there are times we long to once again work overseas.  One of the many questions our friends asked us that day was what is it that we do to work for peace in Winchester, Indiana?  I gave some pretty vague answers then, but I find that I am often haunted by that question.   

We came to Winchester 10 years ago after working for nine years in Africa directly on peace and reconciliation issues.  Peace and shalom are foundational to who I am as a Christian and as a Quaker. It defines my relationship with Christ, my relationship with the earth, and my passion for life.  Ron and I found it incredibly easy to work for peace in the middle of war zones for nine years.  In the middle of Winchester, Indiana, it isn’t so clear and there are times when I wonder if I am being true to my passion.  And then I realized my life here is full of opportunities to be peace just as it was in Africa. But it looks a bit different.   

Being peace in Winchester is about Shalom: living a life and ministry in wholeness and well being.  For me personally it means caring for the earth and feeding people through the compassion garden and the community garden project.  Being peace in Winchester means spending time in worship every week in the local jail to talk about the true peace offered by Christ with men and women who struggle with addictions, selfishness and destructive behavior.  Being peace in Winchester means teaching sex education and creating positive and appropriate relationships to 6th graders throughout our county.  Being peace in Winchester means living in a healthy, vital, and loving relationship with my husband in a world where there are too many destructive and failed marriages.  Being peace in Winchester means opening our home as a place for food and fellowship in a world where too many people are alone and isolated.  Being peace in Winchester means finding ways to use as little of the world’s resources as possible so there is enough for my friends in Africa.  Being peace in Winchester calls me to build community, to encourage others to work for peace and justice in our world, and to do it together as a faith community.   

I was given a gift with my return to America to discover working for peace and shalom isn’t only for war zones.  I am thankful for the opportunity I have to participate with the United Society of Friends Women International to focus on peace and Christian social concerns. And how is it that each USFW works for peace?  The money raised by you for the work at Friends Theological College in Kenya could make a difference by laying a foundation to prevent violence in the future.  The money raised by you for a group of Kenyan Quakers in Nairobi could make a difference in the lives of those already affected by violence and poverty.  The money raised by you could provide snacks to supplement students’ diets in Belize, giving them the best opportunity to learn and study to gain access to further education. Each USFW has an opportunity to encourage and be peace in our world.  Thank you for your faithfulness in supporting these projects.  And thank you for being peace in our world……. 

ADVOCATE ARTICLE MAY/JUNE 2009

 WHO ELSE WILL GO? 

As I write this article I am in the middle of making a large pot of black beans and brown rice. I’ve struggled for days on how to write what is on my heart.  In the middle of the rice and beans, I had an epiphany.  Meatless Mondays and eating less meat during Lent is a part of my commitment this Lenten season to work a bit harder on living a sustainable life in the midst of a world facing difficult times.  I am too aware that I have the luxury of choosing to eat more simply.  Many in our world don’t even have the choice to eat.  The Missions and Social Concerns committee of our meeting is focusing this first half of 2009 on the economic values of the Kingdom of God, values that make it possible for Jesus’ followers to live joyfully and well even during a global financial crisis.  The committee hopes to offer Friends in our meeting helpful tools for personally weathering the current economic storm and for helping others around us learn to do the same.  

These are indeed difficult times.  I am close to many people who’ve lost jobs and others who are struggling with the reality of financial crises.  I’ve noticed an increase in concern with a lack of contributions to nonprofit organizations, religious institutions and churches.  Almost everyone is touched in some way by what is happening in our world.  This is not new to any of us, but I’ve been thinking about this current situation in light of the ministry of the United Society of Friends Women International and a growing concern I have for Ben and Jody Richmond and the Barber family.   

I am thankful for Ben and Jody Richmond and their willingness to take a “time out” from their families and friends and go to Kenya and work at the Friends Theological College for Friends United Meeting.  Their presence there during these past two years has been a gift to Friends United Meeting.  While their main responsibilities center around the college, their work at building relationships with other Monthly Meetings and Yearly Meetings across Kenya is priceless, as is their work for peace, reconciliation, and trauma healing in the aftermath of the violence a year ago.  I am blessed by Ben and Jody’s obedience to God’s call upon their lives and I am blessed by their willingness to stay another year as FUM searches for a replacement.   

My thankfulness also includes the Barber family as they prepare to move to Belize to assume responsibilities for the work of Friends United Meeting there.  In both cases, being called to leave family and friends, jobs and careers, and life in America is not a simple thing.  I know many United Society of Friends Women groups are helping both the Richmond’s and the Barbers’ financially and participating fully in their calling and their mission.  

Making a decision to move overseas is complicated.  I remember the process of saying goodbye to my family and feeling I was tearing out my mother’s heart by moving to Africa.  For me personally, I found it easy to sell everything and prepare to move to the middle of Africa.  The freedom of such an act is exciting and challenging.  Why wouldn’t God expect that type of joyful obedience from every follower? It was made even easier for us because we did not have to raise support for our presence or our work in Sudan and Uganda.  As volunteers for the Mennonite Central Committee we did not make any money, but neither did it cost us financially to be there to work.   Although life in Africa was at times difficult, dangerous and fearful, we seldom questioned our call to be there or the need to work for peace and reconciliation.  Nor did we have to worry about meeting financial obligations during our years there.   

The reality is that few people leave their homes and family and move overseas.  I am sad about that fact in light of the need for replacements for Ben and Jody.  It is an incredible joy to work overseas building relationships and be involved in life changing work.  I carry a burden for the financial and emotional cost the Richmond’s’ and Barber’s pay as they work to raise support in these difficult economic circumstances. 

The United Society of Friends Women International will weather this economic storm.  Many of our financial commitments are small pieces of larger programs and budgets and we pass on only what you send for those specific projects.  I believe in the faithfulness of so many women who work tirelessly in rummage sales, apple butter or apple dumpling projects, and chicken noodle dinners to make sure money flows to USFWI projects.  But that is only part of the picture.  Building relationships and working for peace often takes hands and feet on the ground in places like Kenya, Belize, Cuba, Jamaica, and Ramallah. Who else will go?   

My epiphany this morning took me beyond this Lenten season.  Symbolic temporary changes and habits of consumption will not put the world, the country, or my individual life on a sustainable path.  Wise stewardship and disciplined appetites are essential all year long.  Living well in all circumstances requires allowing the Spirit of Christ to help me truthfully distinguish between needs and wants, and to eliminate from my life things that were acquired to ease life, but end up occupying so much time and energy that they become a cumbersome distraction from what really matters.  And what really matters:  living simply so others can live; hearing the call to do what Barber’s and Richmond’s are doing; and listening for the voice of God that urges us to support the work of peace and relationship building among Friends throughout the world.  Maybe then it will be easier for someone else to go.

 

ADVOCATE ARTICLE MARCH/APRIL 2009

 Grow an Extra Row

 I think about food too much.  I think about cooking and shopping and growing food.  I think about putting together meals each week for our prayer-soup supper or for Sunday lunch or Sunday potluck meals.  I would like to think my obsession with food is the result of living 9 years in Africa.  I witnessed too many emaciated children days away from starvation and hungry adults standing in lines waiting on small daily rations of cornmeal and beans in refugee camps.  I value the life giving qualities of food.  Some of my fixation results from the contrast of my Africa experience with the reality of America. In spite of the abundance of food day and night here, our nation may be in danger of nutritional starvation.  Whatever the reason for my obsession with food, the fact is: I love to eat and I love to cook and I love being connected to our earth through the growing of food.

The county where I live is experiencing record unemployment these days.  In addition, there is an increase in the number of people participating in subsidy programs.  Our local food pantry is struggling to keep up with the daily demands for food.  In an effort to address the reality facing our county, our faith community is also thinking more about food these days.  Winchester Quarterly Meeting (a gathering of 16 monthly meetings) has chosen a project to designate one Sunday per month in each meeting as “Food Pantry Sunday”.  This funnels a steady and regular supply of food into local pantries and addresses this growing need in our county.  It is wonderful to see the amount of food being given to the food pantry, but I am more excited about the opportunity we have as a Quarterly Meeting to work together to address a very real and urgent need in our community.

 But giving to the food pantry is just a small seed in the garden of need.  Another obsession I have is improving the health and nutrition of the food available through our local food pantries.  Poor nutrition leads to unhealthy communities that battle obesity and illness.  And that contributes to the health care crisis confronting our nation.  These concerns were the seeds that inspired our meeting’s Compassion Garden (a small urban garden between two parking lots that grows tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers that raises money for a Compassion child oversea).  The Compassion Garden in turn planted seeds that inspired a group from our community to begin the formation of a community garden.  The local YMCA offered 5 acres of their undeveloped land to be used for community garden plots.  We are in the formation stage of this project, but everything points to opening up this land this spring for garden plots.

 I do not pretend a community garden will solve the problem of food insecurity or poor nutrition facing our county.  I doubt many needing the services of the food pantry will go to the work to sign up and plant a garden plot.  But a community garden will plant some seeds that I think may change our county.  A community garden will encourage social interaction within our community; it will improve the quality of life for people in our community through physical work and improved nutrition.  A community garden will provide productive green space and will reduce the food budget of families that participate.  A community garden could create income opportunities and economic development for those who choose to participate.  

 I hope by encouraging tithing of produce from the community garden into the food pantry system that fresh, healthy food will be available to improve the nutrition of our county. I hope the example of gardening will inspire many to reconnect with the earth and to think more about food and more about producing what we eat.  Growing food in a garden or in a community garden lessens dependence on processed food and fast food. And in a world where many hunger, I pray a community garden will help make sure some in our world will have enough.  And that “enough” contributes to peace and to health.    

 As many people in our world face unstable economic times ahead, I want my obsession with food to plant seeds for good in the world.  I recently heard about a community in Michigan encouraging people to “grow and extra row” in their local gardens for food pantries.  What a difference that will make for food pantries struggling to meet added demands placed on them by our recession.  Growing an extra row could plant seeds of peace and shalom (wholeness and well being) in our world. I pray the seeds I plant in a community garden this year makes a difference in someone’s life.   What is your USFW group or your faith community doing to plant seeds of peace and shalom in our world today? 

 Check out the application form and by-laws for the Best Community Garden.......

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 ADVOCATE

             As you read this edition of the Advocate, our nation is days away from a new President being placed in office. As I write this, it is just hours after the long, hard, and bitter campaign for President.  I am still reflecting on the late night speeches Senator McCain and Senator Obama gave on election night.  Speeches filled with words of reconciliation, recognition of differences of opinions, yet optimism for finding a middle ground in the work that lies ahead of our nation and a new President.  Hours ago I heard speeches filled with dignity for opponents, and great hope that we as a nation will seek to do what is right for each citizen of our nation and our world.  I pray the weeks between this moment and the time you read this bring out the very best in our nation.  And that we as citizens of the United States of America are an example of true democracy.  A democracy of people who chose to lay aside differences to work together to make life better in our nation and our world.

            It is with that hope and longing in my heart that I look through the list of Peace and Christian Social Concerns Projects for 2009.  These projects give us an opportunity to make a difference in our world through prayer and financial support.  This year the USFWI choose three projects to focus on for Peace and Christian Social Concerns: the Belize Friends Boys School Feeding program, support for Ben and Jody Richmond at Friends Theological College in Kiamosi, Kenya, and a feeding program in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya.  

             It was just a year ago that a hopeful Kenya nation held an election and experienced months of violence over the results of that election.  Events such as those have long lasting consequences and take years of work to rebuild, years of education and spiritual renewal to reconcile and heal.  The results of those events in Kenya created a desire for the USFWI to find ways to help Kenyan Quakers make a difference in the lives of those affected by violence and poverty.   A group of Quakers and other Christian Pastors came together shortly after the violence last year in Kenya to form the Kibera Faith Based Initiative with a goal to feed and educate orphans and children in the slums of Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya.  The project hopes to focus on education, health and nutrition through a feeding program, and water, sanitation and health care.  The $1,000 the USFWI has agreed to raise for the project is really a drop in the bucket of what these Christians need as they work together to meet these great needs within their community.  Our hope is this support will call attention to their need and their work and that we as a faith community will be challenged to pray and find ways to support those enduring the ongoing results of violence in Kenya and throughout our world.

             Another small part of the solution to the situation facing Kenya is our help supporting Ben and Jody Richmond and their work at Friends Theological College in Kiamosi, Kenya.  In speaking with Jody this past summer before their return to Kenya, I was reminded of God’s great plan in putting them there this past year to be present with the Kenyans through a very difficult time.  But also for their presence there to be a reminder of the many people across Friends United Meeting who pray for our Kenya brothers and sisters.  Ben and Jody’s work to teach non-violence and to help with the ongoing trauma healing needs that arose out of the post-election violence has been timely.  My prayer is that our $3,000 in support of the Richmond’s will continue to lay a foundation for the prevention violence in future years. 

             The third project chosen for Peace and Christian Social Concerns funds is the feeding program for boys at the Belize Friends Boys School.  This school has encouraged and helped educate over 400 students pursue further education in high school.  Our support of $2,000 from this portion of the budget helps provide simple snacks to supplement 20 students’ diets during the year and give them the best opportunity to learn and study to gain access to further education. 

             Each of these projects reminds us of words from Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Encouragement to meet these budgets for Peace and Christian Social Concerns is a call to make Christ’s presence visible in our world.  This year USFWI women across the world will be asking the question from our blueprints: What is that in your hand?  I am praying now that the money raised by your hands for these ministries will be touched by God’s grace to bless and to change our world.  

REMINDER

Have you checked out our USFWI website recently?  The address is: www.usfwi.org. The site is expanding and adding new information monthly.  Please check it out.  If you have suggestions for information or additions to the site, please email Pam Ferguson at pam-ron@juno.com

 

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2008 ADVOCATE

             The 2008 Presidential election is days away from being over. In 1992 I was living in Uganda during the US Presidential election. Now that I think about it, being in the middle of Africa without a television was a great way to spend an election year! Anyway, the US Embassy in Uganda invited all US citizens to the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Kampala for an election watch on the night of the election.  It was an interesting experience.  This was the only time in our 9 years in Africa that we were ever with a group of 200 Americans all at the same time.  When the official count came through and Bill Clinton announced as the new elected President, the US Ambassador quieted the room and gave a memorable speech to the gathered Americans.

            The Ambassador, Johnny Carson, was a Republican African American.  He congratulated the new Democrat President elect and went on to explain that he did not vote for Mr. Clinton.  But he knew he would serve the new President with respect and that this change in government would bring no riots in the streets of American nor would the military intervene in the change of power from one party to another. In the experience of elections in Africa, Mr. Carson’s words were important.  Change in leadership brings an unknown quality to our lives and our government and is at times difficult.  Elections the past year in Africa highlight the complexity of democracy.

            In a few weeks I will be headed to Washington DC to gather with 300 other Friends to represent USFWI at the annual board meeting for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)*.  I also represent Indiana Yearly Meeting at this conference.  Sometimes people question involvement and support of this organization.  My life in Africa motivates my passion and involvement for FCNL. I know first hand how influential or destructive American government policies can be on my friends in Africa.  I know first hand how difficult it is to feel powerless in a world where things are not going right or where the rule of law is at best ignored.  That can be applied to many nations around the world, and yes, sometimes it can even apply to our own country.  It is important for the USFWI to have a voice at FCNL.  A voice to raise concerns and to witness for peace in our world; a voice to speak for just treatment for our friends in Ramallah, Africa, Jamaica, Belize; a voice to work for fair legislation for Native Americans; and a voice to express concern for our environment. 

            It is a privilege to have people representing Quakers and Friends in Washington DC who engage our legislative government by building relationships and bringing spiritual values to bear on public policy decisions.  We as a community of faith ask much of this group in Washington DC.  They cannot represent every point of view across the Quaker spectrum, but they seek to be faithful as a community to follow the leadings of the Spirit.  Where there is disunity or division among Friends, they will not take a stand on one side or another. They work hard to be neither Democrat nor Republican and to build relationships on both sides of the aisle of congress and on both sides of the Quaker spectrum.

            This fact makes election years more difficult.  Every 2 years the staff must work hard to meet and build relationships with newly elected officials.  At times they build a close relationship with one Senator or Congressman and their staff only to discover they were not returned to Washington DC or the majority party changes and leadership positions in congress change. In the midst of this work of building relationships with our elected leaders, FCNL needs to be open to discernment from a faith community that more often than not finds it difficult to agree on many matters of faith and practice.  Sounds like an impossible job, doesn’t it? 

            This is why I travel to Washington DC each year.  As I represent USFWI and Indiana Yearly Meeting to the staff of FCNL, I have an opportunity to build relationships with them and other Quakers and Friends across the United States.  These opportunities to gather as a faith community are opportunities to understand priorities, perspectives, and the convictions of those in our faith community.  But more importantly, the staff at FCNL has an opportunity to build deeper relationships with their constituency and to know who it is they represent in Washington DC.  The real work for me as a representative is to find ways to support and educate my yearly meeting and USFWI about the work and mission of FCNL. 

            Every year after annual meeting, my husband develops a bulletin insert about the FCNL meeting that outlines their work for the coming year. This insert is sent to every meeting in Indiana Yearly Meeting to inform them of what FCNL plans to do in the coming year to represent Friends in Washington DC. Sharing this insert with you would be a privilege.  Please email or write to me if you are interested in FCNL material and this insert and I will make sure you have a copy to share with those in your faith gathering or USFW group. 

*The Friends Committee on National Legislation is composed of members of the Religious Society of Friends who bring spiritual values to bear on public policy decisions.  Their legislative policy grows out of a basic belief that there is that of God in every human being and that God’s love endows all creation with worth and dignity.  Through individual and corporate worship they try to be open to the will of God and to express the spirit of Christ in all relationships and levels of interaction, whether personal, communal, national, or global.  An FCNL statement:

We seek a world free of war and the threat of war.

We seek a society with equity and justice for all.

We seek a community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled.

We seek an earth restored.

                   

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008 ADVOCATE

 ‘Tis the season of the Compassion Garden!  I am up to my elbows in tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers and I am happy.  Taking time out to think about this article for the Advocate is hard.  My days are full with making fresh salsa, dill pickles and bread and butter pickles.  My time is stretched to allow for watering, weeding, and harvesting pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, squash and cucumbers for the Farmer’s Market.  My mind is challenged to learn how to save the seeds from my beautiful heirloom tomatoes for another year.  Time to sit at a computer ends up being late at night when my brain and body are exhausted.  It makes sense that as I sit here to write for the Advocate, I write about the garden.

 This has been a difficult year for many people in our nation.  The high cost of gasoline impacts life for everyone.  Floods on top of the high gas prices throughout the mid-west damaged the heart and soul of food production for our nation.  The salmonella outbreak destroyed consumer confidence in our food delivery system and bankrupted innocent tomato farmers.  And then there is the discouraging trip to the grocery store every week.  Prices for daily bread seem to rise on a weekly basis. 

 In the light of this reality, I’ve worked harder on the Compassion Garden this year and what it produces.  Food grown on this patch of previously unused dirt uses very little fossil fuel to produce vegetables and get them into the hands of people who will eat them.  Donations from the produce support a Compassion Child in Uganda, broadening the impact of this small piece of earth across from our meetinghouse.  The garden doesn’t entirely negate the effects of the above calamities, but it provides way to make a dent in the reality of our world at this moment of time.

 Tomatoes from the garden have been a treat this year.  With the salmonella outbreak, tomato harvest was greatly anticipated.  One of the new things I tried this year were heirloom varieties of tomato plants.  I’m always in search of items that will be an attraction to our local farmer’s market, and great tasting tomatoes were at the top of the list this year.  But my main reason for growing heirlooms was to try my hand at saving seeds to replant year after year.  In my growing concern for our planet and the mindless consumption of fossil fuels, providing a way to start my own seedlings seemed a prudent thing to learn.

 For June through December of this year, our meeting’s focus is on Friends United Meeting’s ministry in Cuba.  As I thought about my work to save seeds, I was reminded of the story I recently heard about the beginning of Friends work in Cuba.  While returning to the US aboard a Boston Fruit Company ship after an 1897 visit to Friends mission work in Jamaica, Iowa Yearly Meeting general superintendent Zenas Martin was challenged by the ship’s captain Lorenzo Baker to start similar evangelistic, education and development work among the laborers and families on new fruit plantations his company was opening in eastern Cuba.  It is a great story told in the book - Friends in Cuba by Hiram H. Hilty.

 What struck me about this story was the connection between Jamaica and Cuba.  A seed planted by Friends in Jamaica in 1881 produced a mission in Cuba.  For years these missions and the others planted by Friends United Meeting have produced the fruit of changed lives that changes communities and countries, and yes……our world.  The missions USFWI support are heirloom seeds that are worth nurturing and saving.  

 As many of you remember, the Peace and Social Concerns projects for this year are scholarships for Jamaica and Ramallah.  Your support for these scholarships allows students access to good education, exposure to Christianity, and training concerning Friends testimonies.  In light of the current situation in our world: financial difficulties, violence and the lack of peace and security, saving and nurturing these seeds seem a prudent thing to do. 

JULY/AUGUST 2008 ADVOCATE

……..and Christian Social Concerns

            Being on the USFWI board gives me the privilege of receiving various Yearly Meeting USFW Newsletters.  It blesses me to read about how other Friends are calling attention to peace issues in our world.  It also blesses me to realize that we as a faith community find the call to peace an essential part of how we express our faith in Christ.  Once in awhile I run across someone who chafes at the constant call for peace or the constant focus on peace. We live in a day and age where some within our meetings and many within our nation think any call to peace is a call against the military, against those who served or are currently serving in the military.  A call to peace is sometimes seen as being against protecting our nation or is perceived as being unpatriotic. 

            It grieves me deeply to see peace as a source of division, a source of criticism, or a source of contention.  We Friends are a people who strive to find charity and grace for differences of opinions, to find tolerance for different expressions of our witness and testimony.  On a personal level, I sometimes fail to speak truth because I fear alienation or an argument.  I fail to be clear about God’s call on my life and how I live this life today….here in our violence prone world.  I am embarrassed by my own failures and shortcomings to speak truth, to live sacrificially, or to be peace in places where a visible and articulate expression of peace is desperately needed.   

            I think that is why so many Yearly Meetings have a Peace and Christian Social Concerns Committee.  We don’t want to call too much attention to the “peace” issue because it causes some to close their ears to what we are saying.  It causes many to ignore what this committee does or what it hopes to accomplish. 

            I’ve got good news.  I wish I could say that I’ve decided to speak out, to be more aggressive in speaking truth, living sacrificially, and promoting peace overtly to a world that often doesn’t want to deal with the peace message.  I’m one of those “need to please” people and I’ve got much to learn in confronting the powers that be in my world.  I’m a coward and I need more courage.  But the good news is I’ve discovered the power of   “……and Christian Social Concerns”.

            And what are Christian social concerns?  Christian social concerns are about feeding the hungry, about caring for our world by living in an environmentally friendly manner, about encouraging a new generation to be sexually responsible and to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.  Christian social concerns inspires involvement in prison and jail ministry, helps those who face addictions find support to live free lives, and it ends racism in our culture and in our world.  Issues such as capital punishment, immigration, poverty, disaster relief, health care inaccessibility and care for the aging are also Christian social concerns. 

            For me, the really good news is that each of the Christian social concerns mentioned above brings peace to our hurting world.  Feeding the hungry creates a world where people do not have to resort to violence to meet their basic needs.  Living an environmentally responsible life does no harm to the earth that sustains and feeds us.  Not spreading sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS does no violence to those we love. Visiting the prisoner, walking with those who struggle with addiction and treating all people justly and equally regardless of ethnic origin, country of origin, or economic status builds peace in our world.  Working to bring to an end the Christian social concerns of abortion, capital punishment and violence of all types gives me hope that one day Isaiah’s vision can become reality.  The hope of a new heaven and new earth where “the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more…and never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years…..”. (Isaiah 65)  That vision should give us all courage to work for peace AND Christian social concerns……….

 “[Christian discipleship] is a religious faith to be lived out, not just professed and talked about.  A faith commitment is a primary prerequisite to action; indeed, our first responsibility is to seek the truth in terms of God’s will.  But after we have discerned it, we are obliged to carry out the will of God by “doing the truth.”  The inward journey of faith can never be separated from the outward journey of practice;….the two are integral and indispensable to each other…..Commitment to the Christ Within will bear fruit in our outward lives and “testify” to the truth of our inward experience. 

--Wilmer Cooper, A Living Faith

 

May/June 2008

 “True Godliness does not turn men out of the world by enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavors to mend it.”  William Penn 

It all started with an old fashioned church dinner. 

Back in the early 1900’s the Ladies Aid Society of our Monthly Meeting raised money for aid to others with a chicken and dumplings meal that included salt rising bread (that in itself is a whole story….) and “everything else good to eat” for 25 cents. For a couple years now we’ve re-created this dinner and used it to highlight a bit of history of our Meeting and/or Quakers.  This year the focus was research by a Presbyterian friend on the Crimean War and Quaker efforts to prevent the war. Our friend pointed out a significant fact: once Quaker efforts failed to prevent the war, their attentions turned to alleviating the suffering of civilians caused by the war.  Quakers in England raised what would be equivalent of a million dollars today to compensate and help relieve the famine of Finnish citizens after the war.

Less than ten years later, Indiana Quakers found themselves doing the same thing during the Civil War.  Many Quakers left homes and businesses to help freed slaves who were facing famine, displacement, and disease in the aftermath of the battle of Vicksburg.  For six years the first pastors of our Monthly Meeting, Elkanah and Irena Beard, served in the Mississippi Valley and inaugurated a Quaker relief effort that had an impact on the region for more than 60 years.  The Beards then spent three years with the London Missionary Society for Friends in India working at mission stations, teaching and preaching before coming to Winchester in 1873 to begin this monthly meeting. 

Just after the Old Fashioned Church Dinner our United Society of Friends Women group met.  I spent some time that evening talking about the money we raise each year and explaining where it goes. As with many USFW groups, we’ve witnessed the passing of a generation of women who were incredibly involved and active in the Yearly Meeting USFW and USFWI.  Giving to the wider society was their second nature.  They were familiar with the funds and offerings and did not need to explain them at their meetings, they just gave.  I wondered if it was time to remind our group of the wider fellowship of USFW and how we fit in.

The Advocate was a great tool to help me explain where our money goes.  And the handbook for USFWI gave great histories of the beginning of each fund.  I called the USFWI treasurer, Adis Beeson, to walk me through how money flowed from yearly meetings to USFWI.  Putting it all together, I tried to explain how our money gets from Winchester, Indiana to the mission field in Kenya, schools in Jamaica, Ramallah, and Belize and Friends United Meeting partners and missionaries. 

That evening as I talked, I had an “aha” moment.  Over 90% of the money our USFW groups raise went outside of our meeting to some type of mission or ministry.  I was moved.  The fact is:  to most of the women in our USFW, it doesn’t matter how the money flows to missions or ministry, just so it flows.  Their work and commitment reaches into our community and into our world and I am blessed by their witness.  Their giving will never be written up as flashy articles in the local paper even though what they give is often a good percentage of the fund to which they give.  They are making a significant impact on our community and our world in hidden, faithful ways.  

What makes this such an active, vital, group?  What makes their passion for giving outside themselves such a natural thing?  I believe some of it comes from an ethos that was nurtured from the beginning of this monthly meeting by Elkanah and Irena Beard.  It is an ethos that sees God’s Kingdom starting here in our community and extending to our globe and to all humanity.  It is a passion for making God visible in our world.  I believe it also comes from our worship together in community. Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline reminds us “True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside.”  I know our concern for peace and justice flows from a deep, profound sense of Christ’s redeeming life, love, and power lived out in our daily lives. In Foster’s words, “True service is a lifestyle.”  Our USFW cares deeply about making a difference in our world in the name of Christ and they meet the needs of our world in simple, faithful ways.

Now that I am involved with USFWI, I realize our group is not unique.  In my phone call to Adis Beeson, I discovered that an amazing amount of money has been raised for the crisis in Kenya.  Our friends in Kenya are in need and all across FUM, USFW groups give to make a difference.  I am blessed by such faithful giving.

It all started from a deep concern for peace in our world and the ways in which our faith community historically met those needs.  It is obvious this concern for peace continues to encourage all of us to find ways to make God’s Kingdom visible in our world.  Helping those who suffer when there is no peace or justice is a place to start.  What began as a heritage is now a lifestyle.  I am blessed to be a part of such a faith community.

MARCH/APRIL 2008              

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by our world.

News from Kenya these past months remind us of how fragile peace is for many in our world.  In the Nov./Dec. 2007 Advocate we were given a very useful list of suggestions for how to pray for our missionaries.  The first suggestion was “when you hear disturbing news about the country where our missionaries are, stop and pray for their safety and that they will be given wisdom for any situation they face.”  Thankfully, USFWI is made up of more than just missionaries; it is also made up of Yearly Meeting Women’s Societies across Kenya.  We add those women and their families to our prayers, that they will find safety in the midst of unrest and fear, and that they will find wisdom and strength to be peace to their communities and to their country.

As I read through previous Advocates preparing for this article, I was once again impressed by the extent of first hand experience many have of places like Kenya, Ramallah, Jamaica, and Belize.  Those who have walked the ground and know the names of those whose lives are turned upside down by events such as fires, hurricanes, and political unrest have deep personal reasons for concern.  This helps create a desire to pray unceasingly for those under the umbrella of USFWI and FUM.  What a privilege we are given to bear one another’s burdens through difficult times and circumstances.

But many of the women in our societies have not traveled to Kenya, have not met people from Belize or do not know the names of students from Ramallah or Jamaica.  I do not believe their prayers are any less passionate or caring.  It does highlight the need for education and connection throughout USFWI.  We as a community should understand and know how events like the recent elections in Kenya, the beginning of a peace accord in Israel, or the fire at Swift-Purcell affect those whom we care about and pray for on a regular basis.

For the past 6 years our local Missions Committee has been working on the education of our Monthly Meeting about peace and Christian social concerns and FUM missions.  July through December each year the committee focuses on one FUM mission.  Then each year from January to June, the committee chooses another non-FUM mission or social concern on which to educate and focus.  That included among others: the environment and conservation, an in-depth look at aid agencies in the aftermath of the Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina to encourage well-informed and intelligent giving, and a 6 month period of education and information about HIV/AIDS here in America and around the world.  This year the committee will focus on local and international hunger issues and ways to feed a hungry planet.

This past 6 month period, the FUM mission focus was Ramallah Friends School.  Newsletters carried information and news about the school.  The committee hosted a soup supper and showed two 30-minute DVD’s: Searching for Peace in the Middle East by Earlham College President Emeritus Landrum Bolling (2006), and The Dividing Wall, a Mennonite Central Committee production (2004).  Afterwards there was time for discussion and questions about the situation in the Middle East.  The committee also organized a fall rummage sale that provided inexpensive treasures to lots of people, recycled many things that might otherwise have gone into a landfill, and raised over $1000 for the Friends Schools in Palestine.  Plans are underway for Ramallah Friends Schools director, Joyce Ajlouny, to speak to our meeting in the near future. 

 By spending 6 months on a FUM mission, our meeting has an opportunity to explore in depth the mission and the country.  It links hands on involvement through fund raisers to that specific place and ministry.  For six months our senses and awareness of the Middle East were heightened and enlarged, and many of us paid more attention to news from the Middle East.  Several expressed appreciation for the education.  They found it helpful in understanding what they hear on the news and raised their level of care and concern about the situation.  It is a small way to connect our meeting here in the Midwest with our larger world.  And in a world where I am sometimes overwhelmed with all the problems and all the needs, it is sometimes good to focus on just one thing for awhile and make a deeper connection.  I am thankful for our Missions committee and their work.

 Enrollment at Ramallah hit an all time high this year with a total of 1,148 students.  Some of the new students came from the Gaza Strip as their families moved to Ramallah as a result of the political unrest there.  Nearly 20 percent of the student body receives some form of financial assistance.  The USFWI Peace and Christian Social Concerns goal of raising $3000 for Eli and Sybil Jones Scholarships will go towards meeting those needs for financial assistance.  Those scholarships in turn will allow Palestinian children the opportunity for an education grounded in Quaker principles where they are encouraged to seek God and to cultivate ethical, moral and spiritual values.  What a great connection to make in our world.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2008

Being a part of the USFWI board this year put me on a very steep learning curve.  As I sat through my first board meetings last fall, I was impressed by this group of incredible women who cared deeply about the work and mission of USFWI.   I was also overwhelmed with all I didn’t know about USFWI.  Part of my first board experience was to help choose projects for funds established under USFWI.  While I knew the names of these funds from our local USFW meetings, the board meeting introduced me to the history of the funds, the responsibility I have to educate about projects chosen for Peace and Christian Social Concerns, and the passion with which the board of USFWI cares for these projects under their care.  One of my great challenges this year will be to translate that passion, experience and history I’ve witness at the board meetings to you, and to my local USFW meetings

During my years in Sudan and Uganda, I learned the difference between warm money and cold money.  The first business loans we gave out to refugees in Sudan came from a United Nations fund.  Although these were loans, most of the money was stolen, not returned, or misused.  People and groups who received these loans knew the money came from an organization and they chose their own wants and needs over obligations to an organization.  We quickly learned in order to establish a successful loan program with ongoing funds, we needed to make the money “warm”: to link it to real people whose lives would be affected if the money is misused or stolen.

We eventually came up with a plan to transfer money to community development workers within the settlements.  These workers were in charge of who got the loans.  When the loans were not repaid, the community pot diminished.  Those who lost out were the refugees themselves.  They soon realized they were not misusing money from an organization but were misusing their own money.  It did not take long for our loan repayment rate to jump over 90%! 

This past fall our local USFW groups worked together to make 2200 apple dumplings.  We sold half of them frozen and the other half were baked to raise over $3,000 for missions.  With every apple dumpling sold, a small piece of red paper was attached to the box or bag explaining where the profits from the sale of these dumplings went. People who bought dumplings knew they were making a donation to the local food pantry, helping to buy Christmas gifts for needy children in our county, supporting hospitals in Kenya, and schools in Jamaica, Kenya and Ramallah.  It is one small way of warming the money we raise: connecting it to real people with real needs locally and beyond Winchester.    

Through the process of approving projects for the outreach of USFWI funds, I realized how important it is to know the people and projects for which I am to encourage you to give.  It is hard to encourage giving to nameless, faceless, projects.  I want to understand and communicate the need for these funds to meet real human needs. I also desire those who receive funds to know there are men and women who work hard and sacrifice to raise needed funds for USFWI projects and the needs of our faith community worldwide.  These projects and funds are more than just names on paper, and support of them could and should be more than just uninvolved, casual offerings.  My learning curve this year will be to figure out ways to warm our money: to connect those who give and receive gifts, and how our offerings have the potential to change lives.

There are two projects for the Peace and Christian Social Concern fund for the year 2008:  $3,000 for scholarships for the Ramallah School and $3,000 for scholarships for young women at Lyndale and young men at Swift-Purcell in Jamaica.  The recent fire at Swift-Purcell Boy’s home raises our concern and awareness for the tremendous challenge before the school to continue its mission to educate young men.  Each night on the news we are reminded of the ongoing instability in the Middle East and the opportunity for the Friends School in Ramallah to be a haven of harmony and community in a culture of fear, violence and inequality. 

I am a product of a Quaker education.  I know deeply and profoundly how these schools and a Quaker education can change the life of a young man or young woman.   Giving students in Jamaica and Ramallah an opportunity for a Quaker education is one small way we can change our world through changed lives.

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2007

 I’m ashamed to admit my representative to the US congress receives more letters from me than my mother does.  My poor mother!  Every month a group at our Friends meeting gathers to learn about legislation before congress affecting hunger issues.  During the meeting we write a letter to our representative or senator encouraging them to vote for legislation that cares for local family farmers, for the food-insecure in our nation and world, and for fair and just trade throughout our globe.  I expect much from my senator and representative because I am their constituent in Winchester, Indiana and they represent me in Washington DC.

For the past year, I’ve been working my way through Apocalypse of the Word by Doug Gwyn.  I was quite excited one day to come across a description in 1675 of Quakers in London renting a room in a coffee house in order to lobby Parliament on the issue of religious toleration.  George Fox, William Penn and other Friends made personal contacts with members of parliament and testified in committee hearings.  Gwyn points out “the Quaker view of the relationship between church and state was thus prophetic rather than political.  The church’s effect upon the state was to spread in evangelizing the society, in demonstrating the new order within its own ranks, and in witnessing to the government for more just laws and practices.”

One of my responsibilities for USFWI is to be your representative at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) Annual board meetings in Washington DC  Nov. 8-11, 2007.  FCNL continues our long heritage of providing opportunities to speak prophetically to our government; the government we’ve elected to represent us in our nation’s capital.  FCNL’s commitment to build bi-partisan relationships with legislators gives us a voice and a face in Washington DC. A voice to raise concerns and to witness for peace in our world; a voice to speak for just treatment for our friends in Ramallah, Africa, Jamaica, Belize; a voice to work for fair legislation for Native Americans; and a voice to express concern for our environment. 

I pray for peace.  I pray for those who face hunger each day.  I pray for the spiritual and physical well-being of our friends in Ramallah, Africa, Jamaica, and Belize.  I also write to my representatives encouraging them to vote for legislation that brings life and peace to places and people struggling with war and violence. I write to ask them to vote for legislation that lessens the burdens of those struggling with poverty and disease throughout our world.  I somehow feel writing letters helps put feet to my prayers.  Thankfully, I have a mother who understands.

Check out FCNL’s website and mission statement at www.fcnl.org