Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12:2
Today we leave. I travel to a “guest house” in Nairobi today, and go to the airport early tomorrow morning for the long flight home. We were 850 Friends from 51 countries around the world.
Yesterday began with a presentation by the African section of the FWCC. Most moving were the story of the survivor of Rwandan genocide, followed by joyful African dancing. It may sound bizarre, but the juxtaposition of something so painful and something so joyous was awesome. My Swedish Friend Julia, who lent me the $80 to go on Safari, sat in front of me weeping uncontrollably. I paid her back by the way.
In Home Group, we shared about what we would take home from the conference. It was again 90 minutes of deep worship sharing. Noah was very moved. I shared that I feel that I have been transformed by this experience, and that I know I am better at the “light” than the “salt”. By that I mean, I am better at shining a light – on something or someone that matters to me, or on myself – than I am at actually changing the way it tastes. “The Kingdom of God is among us” I said, and I meant it. All were warm and loving, if a bit formal. It was a wistful and heartfelt finale, and we each seemed a bit worn out to me.
I have passed out little posters from my “business” White Pines Productions as gifts to Kenyan Friends and others here. I inscribe them personally. They are colorful posters of the residency program we run, and that is far less important than that they are from me, and that the Kenyans I have met here who have touched me – Henry my roommate, Kennedy Avomba, Pastor Joyce from home group, to name just a few – can take something home from me to remember me by. And who knows? Maybe we will get an application from a Kenyan ensemble for next summer.
Over the last few days I have learned a little more about the divisions which have been painful here, and about the persecution of homosexuals in many African cultures. Turns out it’s illegal here – I had no idea. My British Friend from home group was wearing a wedding ring today, a cover employed by many visiting homosexuals. I also learned of the strife experienced by the Young Adult Friends group here, who were unable to unite on a minute to share with the gathering. To my surprise, it was not the issue of human sexuality which divided them, but rather a more foundational question: what is our spiritual priority? Some YAF’s felt strongly it was to live a Christian life, and whether or not the Religious Society of Friends survived was secondary. Other YAF’s felt that the survival and eventual reunification of the Society of Friends must be the priority. I had several Friends here from that group, and the effort expended on their deliberations was evident. But one of them said to me this morning that he was not sorry about how it turned out, and that it had been the most deeply worshipful gathering of Friends with an attention to business he had ever been a part of, and he is an experienced Friend. I feel this bodes well.
I do not have it in me to write a “summation” of this experience now. It has been too overwhelming, too wonderful, too exhausting. Perhaps I will have something to say in reflection in a week or two. But the scripture I have quoted above speaks to my experience very deeply, and has application for all the Friends here, of all “behavior and customs”.
I have been changed and my faith is deeper and more energized than ever. I have felt the presence of God over and over here, and have a deeper understanding of my world-wide faith community, for sure. I have made new Friends and I have the sense that our paths will cross again. And I am convinced that these kinds of gatherings are vitally important and we should bend our resources towards ensuring that they continue.
And now, some video. Lake Nakuru first:
Below, we have some nice baboons, who did not jump on any of us:
Last night, the gathering ended with a raucous party/talent show. The video below captures less than a minute of a dance party that lasted at least a half an hour. I am ususally shy at events like these, but let me tell you, I was cutting the rug big-time. Later, my Kenyan Friend John and I shared our adapted “Who’s On First”, in which the confusion is not about baseball, but rather who to talk to for a variety of questions a westerner at the conference might ask a Kenyan who works there (“What’s the name of the guy in charge of the rooms here?” “Who.” etc) . I dedicated it to Cornelius, one of the co-directors of the gathering, who I drove mad when my bag was delayed. To use an un-quakerly Vaudeville expression, we slayed them, Kenyan, American, European, all of them. Laughter is holy and we proved it last night.
The following is the presentation at the final celebration of the Young Adult Friends, who had endured all the difficulty I mentioned before. They sang a song together as they lighted candles, one to the other after dimming the lights in the auditorium. The video is too dark . . . or is it? I include it because it seems to represent to me a visual representation of Friends sharing light in the darkness. Notice how the points of light increase in number as the song continues. I can think of no better metaphor to end with.