by Eden Grace
49th Annual Michener Memorial Lecture of Southeastern Yearly Meeting of Friends, given 20 January 2019
I. Taking account of mission history
There’s a well-known saying, variously attributed to Jomo Kenyatta, Desmond Tutu, or Chinua Achebe which goes “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.” The claim, in essence, is that there was a conspiratorial link between colonial power and missionary endeavor.
Similarly, Chinua Achebe states in Things Fall Apart: “The white man is very clever. He came quietly with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” In other words, the imposition of a Western Christian worldview through missionary teaching was so destructive to indigenous social structures that the communal norms of behavior “fell apart” and, as the history of 20th century Africa attests, chaos resulted. Long after most African countries achieved political independence, poverty, corruption, and violence persist in what seem like hopelessly entrenched and recapitulating cycles.
In fact, however, if you think about it, there is no inherent reason why sub-Saharan Africa should be impoverished – it is one of the wealthiest places on earth, in terms of climate, natural resources, and human capital. The suffering of post-colonial Africa is, I believe, directly attributable to the ongoing effects of colonial distortions of the self and the community, which remain potent, having long outlived the actual political structures of colonialism. This phenomenon is called “coloniality”—the fact that “after the removal of the invading power, the power structures they put in place still have an influence on the invaded subjects.” [Snyman, Gerrie. “Responding to the decolonial turn: Epistemic Vulnerability”. Missionalia: Southern African Journal of Missiology,[S.l.], 43: 3, p.268, Dec. 2015. ISSN 2312-878X]
You could think of this as a form of internalized colonialism, similar to how we speak of internalized racism or internalized sexism. There is a distortion of the self – one author calls it self-crucifixion – that pervades the formerly-colonized community. Things fell apart, and they are not yet healed. And this reality is seen not just in political structures, but in the independent churches as they remain psychologically colonized in what we sometimes call “dependency syndrome.”
Because, of course, it’s true that the Western (European and North American) missionary project in Africa was, in many places and in deeply insidious ways, closely allied with colonizing political power, resource-grabbing economic power, and community-fracturing cultural power. The church served to pacify populations and to rationalize unthinkable exploitation. The models of leadership on the mission station mirrored the models of leadership in the colonial administration: despotic, patriarchal-hierarchical and without any discernable accountability, to the local community or for that matter, to anyone else. The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa may have been the most egregious proponent of a theological rationalization of racism, but churches in all parts of Africa participated in the colonial project of white supremacy and cultural imperialism. The triumphalist rhetoric of those colonial-era missionaries, couched in lofty spiritual language about the God-given task of civilizing the degraded heathen, makes us cringe today, and we want nothing to do with it.
You would think that the Christian missions movement had learned from the disastrous history of its association with colonialism and would no longer make the same mistakes today, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Even within the last few weeks, we’ve seen in the news the example of a young missionary who was so convinced of the righteousness of his cause that he invaded an island in the Andaman Sea, which he quite clearly knew was in direct opposition to the wishes of the island’s inhabitants. Despite countless warnings, he persisted until he was eventually murdered. He believed he was motivated by a Godly love for these people, convinced that without his declaration of God’s saving grace to them, they would be consigned to eternal perishing, utterly cut off from the love of God. He was oblivious to the fact that his expression of “love” was grotesquely non-consensual. What a striking example of the arrogant missionary! If it had been a movie, the characterization of this missionary would be criticized for hyperbole and stereotyping.
Even well-meaning development workers (the politically correct version of missionaries) often enter a context with imported solutions based on their analysis of the nature of the problems people face and the interventions that will help. Often these imported strategies do more harm than good, because they completely overlook the fact that the poor and oppressed are the experts in their situation and usually have very good ideas about things that could make a difference. It is assumed, without question, that the local community has no knowledge to contribute to the project, and no right to consent to the changes being imposed on their lives. When a development strategy is decided in a board room thousands of miles away, by those in power, it is unlikely to make any lasting positive impact on the lives of the people, and can sometimes do real damage.
I’ll give you a relatively harmless example from a Quaker hospital in Kenya. When an American Friend visited and saw the open ward, with 20 beds filled with sick people lining the long room, she was appalled at the lack of privacy, with each sick person exposed to the view of all the others and of all the family and visitors that paraded through the busy ward. She felt deeply touched by this degrading situation, to the point of tears, and she quickly raised money to install privacy curtains around each bed. She thanked God that she was able to raise the dignity of those who were suffering. She never thought to ask anyone whether they felt the open ward was a problem. In fact, in most African cultures, people who are suffering feel most comforted when surrounded by the support of others. Isolation is a terrible thing, and there could be nothing worse, when you’re sick, than being alone. Of course, the privacy curtains were never used. All this woman did was waste people’s time and money, and miss an opportunity to learn, but often the results of well-meaning interventions are much more harmful. Stories abound of African communities made poorer and sicker by failed do-gooders.
All of this negative history is absolutely true and important to reckon with, but at the same time, the history of Christian involvement in Africa is not quite so simplistic. When I visited Zimbabwe in 1998 with the World Council of Churches, I heard Nelson Mandela speak. I was shocked when he thanked the western Christian churches for sending missionaries, for establishing the only schools open to blacks and the only health care available to blacks; for providing him and his generation access to the biblical vision of liberation from oppression, and the intellectual and moral courage to commit their lives to that Godly purpose. Mission-educated people have been some of the greatest champions in the struggles for liberation in Africa because they have taken ownership of the Biblical vision of freedom and justice for themselves and their context. Churches have often taken risky and prophetic stances against both colonialism and post-colonial dictatorship. Churches and missions provided for the human needs of people with a spirit of dignity, when colonial powers saw Africans only as brute laborers. The Quaker mission in Kenya markedly improved the status of women in the Luhya community by offering education to women, allowing women to be in leadership in the church and community, and challenging some of the cultural taboos that functioned to keep women in a subservient role in society (for example, dietary taboos that forbid women of child-bearing age from consuming even minimally adequate amounts of protein). Today, there are a disproportionate number of women from Quaker backgrounds in senior leadership in all sectors in the country of Kenya – a direct legacy of the Quaker testimony of equality.
II. Distinctives of Quaker Mission
So what do we [I want to acknowledge that I am speaking as a white, middle-class, American citizen, and that I am delivering this lecture to a yearly meeting in the United States. I embrace the responsibility to take moral ownership of the privilege assigned to me and my communities of identity. In no way do I mean to erase the existence of non-white and non-middle
class Friends, in the United States and in Southeastern Yearly Meeting. It remains a problematic reality that North American yearly meetings are most closely identified with the dominant white culture, and it is to this collective identity of privilege that I speak.] make of this complicated history? And how do those of us from the privileged West, relate with integrity to our brothers and sisters in Africa and other post-colonial parts of the world? Or, as Snyman, a white South African biblical scholar, puts it: “From a position of whiteness, how does one then respond in a credible way to coloniality?” [Snyman 2015, p. 269]
It’s my belief that Quakerism contains within it the knowledge of a better way, even if we have not always lived up to our own best potential. Rather than sweep away Quaker missionary history as being irredeemably implicated by the colonial paradigm, let’s examine it more closely and see how it might be instructive, even prophetic, for us today.
Toward that end, I want to look at two signature moments in the history of Quaker missions–the Valiant Sixty in the first generation of Quakerism, and the founding of the mission in Kenya in 1902. Both of these episodes are often lifted up as illustrative of the best of Friends, the first being an itinerant mission and the second being a settled mission. Taking them together, I think we can derive a set of principles that could function as the marks of integrity of a distinctively Quaker mission.
The earliest Quaker believers were consumed with a heady rush of urgency that sent them out in droves to proclaim that the good news of the gospel as newly understood by Friends–that of direct, unmediated relationship with the living Christ–had universal significance for all people everywhere. These working-class women and man from backwater towns, most of them in their teens and twenties, without any formal theological education, relied on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as they embarked on audacious missionary journeys to proclaim to the world what God was doing. In 1656, George Fox exhorted these itinerant Friends with breathy tones: “Let all nations hear the sound by word or writing. Spare no place, spare no tongue, nor pen; but be obedient to the Lord God: go through the work; be valiant for the truth upon earth; tread and trample upon all that is contrary.” They became known collectively as the Valiant Sixty, although there were more than sixty of them.
Mary Fisher’s story is especially instructive. [Sharon Kaziunas, “Mary Fisher: a woman of fortitude and faith”, seemingly no longer available on the internet. This remarkably well-researched paper was written by a high school senior at George School, and awarded first prize in the school’s Quaker Leaders Essay Contest.]
Mary was an unmarried, uneducated servant in Yorkshire who was converted
by George Fox in December 1651 at the age of 34. Her first missionary journey was to preach to the students of Cambridge University, as a result of which she was imprisoned, beaten by a mob, and publicly flogged. In 1655, she crossed the Atlantic to visit Barbados, where Quakerism was flourishing, and Massachusetts, where she and her traveling companion, Ann Austin, were the first Quakers to visit the colony. In Boston they were strip-searched, imprisoned, their books were burned, and they were deported with a permanent ban on returning.
Less than a year after returning from Boston, Mary Fisher felt a leading to preach the gospel directly to Mohammed IV, the Grand Turk of the Ottoman Empire. At this time, with the Ottoman Empire in rapid ascent as a European power, the Grand Turk was a legendary bad guy in the popular imagination. In reality, though, the Empire was administered by the despotic and cruel Grand Vizier, since the Grand Turk was just 16 years old. Mary, herself childless, felt called to speak a gospel message of love to the tender heart of this child ruler, and perhaps prevent a continent-encompassing war in Europe. She wrote later that she was convinced “there is a royall (sp.) seed amongst them which in time God will raise”; in other words, she was seeking “that of God” in her country’s enemy.
Mary and five Quaker companions set sail in 1657 and spent several months preaching in Italy before proceeding westward toward Jerusalem. When they reached Smyrna, on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea, the English Consul detained them because he feared their preaching would bring ridicule upon the reputation of England. He forcibly installed them on a ship sailing back to Venice. In a scene reminiscent of Paul’s missionary journeys in the book of Acts, the ship encountered a violent storm and was forced ashore on Zante Island, in the far west of Greece. At this point, the group separated, and Mary decided to persist in reaching the Grand Turk. She therefore set off, alone, to cross Greece overland in order to reach the Turk’s encampment at Adrianople, on the European side of the Bosporus, a journey of just over 1,000 km. There is no historical record of events along this astonishing solitary journey, but Mary did indeed make it to Adrianople.
When she arrived, she announced that she had a message to deliver to the Sultan from the “Great God.” She was received the following day by the court in a manner befitting an ambassador and asked to deliver her message. She took several minutes to center herself before speaking, delaying long enough that the Grand Turk asked if she would prefer him to clear the room of all the officials, in case she was feeling intimidated. She said no, she was comfortable to speak to the entire court, and proceeded to give her message, the specific content of which we have no record. During so many months journeying to reach this point, surely she had reflected deeply and at length about the content of her message. And yet, when the moment arrived, she waited upon the Lord and spoke only as led. [I’m indebted to Kaziunas for this observation.]
After Mary finished speaking, she and the Grand Turk engaged in a brief conversation about the nature of true prophets and how one would know whether either Jesus or Mohammed were divinely-sent. It is reported that she and the Sultan agreed that it is by their fruits that we should know them. After the audience was over, Mary was offered a military escort back to Constantinople, where should could find passage to England, but she refused that honor and made her own way home, having faithfully discharged the leading that had been laid upon her. She never knew whether her message had an effect on the Grand Turk, although it caused a sensation in England. She wrote afterward that she continued to feel a great upwelling of love toward the Grand Turk and his people, and prayed that they would also feel an increase of love.
From this remarkable story, we can begin to see tell-tale marks of a distinctive Quaker missiology as expressed in its itinerant form. I’ve identified seven points here: [Many of these points are expertly discussed in Janet Scott, “Ecclesiology and Mission: A Quaker Perspective”, International Review of Missions, vol. 90, issue 358, 25 March 2009, p. 317-323]
1. God is already there. As Friends, we participate in what God is doing. We don’t claim that we are bringing God to a godless place or an “unreached” people. God is already at work in every place and already has a relationship with every people group. We are invited to join in and participate in God’s mission as witnesses to God’s love.
2. There is that of God in every person. This point is closely related to the one above it. Just as God is already present in every time and place, so we believe that every person has the ability to be in direct relationship with God, the Inward Teacher. As Johan Maurer wrote recently, “an essential component of Quaker missiology [is that] we are not transferring knowledge, but directing people to the witness of God that is already within them.” [Johan Mauer, The dilemma of the uninvited missionary blog post on Can you believe? 30 Nov 2018]
3. The day of the Lord is come and coming. The good news that Friends have always been called to proclaim is that God is present and transforming the world. The Kingdom of God is a dynamic reality that changes everything, right here and right now, not at some future time. This matters, not as a ticket on the lifeboat rescue from hell, but as a transformational power to remake this world of sin and injustice. In this regard, Quaker missionaries can make no distinction between the gospel truth and the work of social justice and liberation.
4. Act only as led and discerned. A missionary journey arises as a personal leading, and is tested by and accountable to the worshipping body. Even when a Quaker organization has a big strategic plan, emphasis is always put on the discernment of a personal leading before being called to act. Even when we’ve been sent with a purpose, the moment-to-moment work of staying close to the Guide is our constant spiritual discipline.
5. Anyone can be called. Throughout Quaker history, it has been boldly acknowledged that radical faithfulness is not limited to those with professional training or social status. Quaker movements for evangelism and social change have often been youth-led and women-led movements. As Mary Fisher demonstrates, a humble person of no outward consequence can, and will, be called to do great things. “The simple message of the Valiant Sixty extended the Quaker movement across the barriers of class or ethnicity”.
6. Let your life speak. Friends have always recognized that an integrity of word and deed is the most compelling witness, and thus have always emphasized a testimony to truth. The most effective evangelism comes not from a noisy declaration of words, but from the daily witness of a consistent, transformed life that makes quiet example of the reality of the Kingdom of God for all who observe it. We rather like the aphorism attributed to St Francis “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
7. Vulnerability of the ministering self. The one who is led to minister is ultimately powerless to effect change. We give our selves over to be used by God, and accept that it is only God who can bring about any result. Indeed, we may never know the consequences of our faithfulness. We embrace the task of obedience to God’s call, and to any suffering that may result, in a spirit of vulnerability, yieldedness and trust. Mary Fisher’s call to visit the Grand Turk is echoed by the attempt by Rufus Jones and two other American Quakers to visit Hitler in De cember 1938, one month after Kristallnacht, for which they were roundly ridiculed9. [Quakers, article in The Holocast Encyclopedia (website)] (I’ll return to the theme of vulnerability a bit later in the lecture.)
There are stories too numerous to count, throughout Quaker history, of faithful Friends called to bold witness for the sake of the gospel. However, at this point, I will jump 250 years to the next example I’d like to explore.
The story of the Kaimosi mission, founded in 1902 in western Kenya, is often told and much romanticized, but there has been almost no scholarly, academic, or social science analysis of this history. Almost nothing has been published that would tell the story from the African point of view (just like we have no record of the Grand Turk’s experience of Mary Fisher’s visit), and we are left with rather propagandistic accounts reflecting the missionaries’ point of view, and aimed at an audience of North American supporters. Even so, these accounts may be instructive, and for the purposes of this lecture, I am relying on a booklet published by the Friends Africa Industrial Mission in 1905, three years after the first arrival of the missionaries. [Booklet simply entitled “The Friends Africa Industrial Mission” (FAIM), 1905, no authors stated, printed by the Publishing Association of Friends, Plainfield, Indiana.] Like the letter from Fox to the Valiant Sixty, there’s a breathless excitement to the tone of this booklet. The introduction states “History is being made so rapidly on our station at Kaimosi that before the reader has completed this book, much might be added to the information herein contained.”
The movement began when a group of Young Friends from what is now Malone University, a Quaker college in Canton, Ohio, organized the Friends Africa Industrial Mission by traveling extensively among North American yearly meetings in 1900 and 1901, soliciting funds and volunteers to form a committee. The purpose of the effort was to evangelize among the Kavirondo (now Luhya) tribe at the same time as to teach industrial skills so that any new church could be financially self-supporting from the beginning. By February of 1901, there were twenty young friends feeling a leading to go as missionaries to Kenya. The committee sent three young men as “prospectors” to find a suitable location for an industrial mission. They set off in April 1902, spent a month with British and Irish Friends, and then sailed to Mombasa, landing at the end of June. They traveled by the newly-completed railroad to its terminus in Kisumu, and began prospecting in the western highlands for a location that would meet the particular requirements of an industrial mission. In August 1902, when two of the three were too sick to continue, they stumbled upon what is now Kaimosi, a stunningly-beautiful well-watered, fertile and forested location, and perceived that it was “the place of God’s own choosing.” [FAIM p. 42]
They purchased 858 acres from the British government for 64 cents per acre. (Of course, we have to take note here of the fact that the British government had no moral right to sell this land, but from the perspective of our young Friends, the testimony of “fair dealing” was important to them and they were glad to pay for, rather than seize, land for the mission.)
In July 1903, the second group of missionaries joined the original three, including a medical doctor and nurse and including two women and a baby. In 1904 Cherubini Matolas and his wife (whose name I can’t find) were sent to work alongside the missionaries as “native helpers” from the Friends Industrial Mission in Pemba, Zanzibar (under London Yearly Meeting). Cherubini took on responsibility for most of the teaching and preaching. Also in 1904, Emory and Deborah Rees joined the mission as linguists and Bible translators. The Reeses had already been in Africa for four years, having been previously been sent by Vermillion Grove Quarterly Meeting in Illinois as missionaries to Zulu miners in Johannesburg. In a very short time, the basic pattern of the mission took shape in its four departments: industrial, medical, educational, and evangelistic. In all things “evangelization of the heathen” was the primary goal, but the approach taken was unusually holistic for its time. I want to briefly describe the four departments before drawing conclusions about the distinctives of Quaker mission work in its settled, rather than itinerant, form.
The Kaimosi missionaries were exceedingly hardworking, and instituted as diversified a program as they could manage, including constructing homes and mission buildings, subsistence and commercial agriculture, making a dam and sluiceway, operating a sawmill, brickmaking, road building, bridge building, tailoring, fine carpentry, milling of grain, and before long, a printing press and hydroelectric power generation. (The 1905 booklet notes that the local people were already expert ironworkers before they came into contact with the British or Americans.)
The concept of an Industrial Mission was considered very progressive at that time. [Wilcox, Wayland D., “The Need of the Industrial Missions in Africa” in The Biblical World, vol. XLI, no. 2, Feb 2013, p. 103-108] Rather than focus solely on the eternal salvation of African souls and the establishment of a church, the mission activity was centered around vocational training and job creation. In 1901, the British authorities had instituted a “hut tax” in order to force Africans into the colonial labor market. Since working on settler plantations was so unpleasant and dehumanizing, very few Africans had any desire to seek that work, and there became an acute labor shortage in the colony. “Mine owners, planters and traders do not as a class wish the natives to be trained beyond the drudgery of manual labor. They value the native only as a cheap servant, and their interest ceases with their interest in the labor market.” [Wilcox, p. 105] The mission did everything they could to help Africans avoid being swept into the exploitative settler plantation economy or forced into urban migration, by providing jobs with a living wage in the village context.
The industrial department also provided significant income for the mission, as well as meeting all of the practical needs of the community and making them economically independent of donations from America. It was also noted that employment in one of the mission’s many industries provided a work environment with dignity, respect, and a constant Christian influence. The 1905 booklet noted that casual conversation while working side by side in manual labor proved a much more effective form of evangelism than formal preaching, and the missionaries always worked alongside Africans, not standing apart as overseers. This focus on work certainly contains patronizing overtones of the Protestant ethic of hard work and self-reliance as being constitutive of a Christian life with dignity, but there is also a commitment to the integration of the gospel that is a Quaker distinctive. The booklet says, in defense of the Industrial Mission concept, that “the most powerful preaching is the daily living.” [FAIM p. 48]
Ten weeks after arriving in Kaimosi, the team wrote to the committee back home asking for a medical doctor to be sent, because the local community wanted the mission to provide these much-needed services. Elisha and Virginia Blackburn, a married doctor/nurse pair, entered Kaimosi in July 1903 to find a long queue of patients anxiously awaiting their arrival. The most common ailments among the local community were malaria, plague, dysentery, small-pox, snake-bite, jiggers, skin infections and upper respiratory illness. Hospitals were built at Kaimosi (1917) and Lirhanda (1912), and a nursing school was established in 1925. The demand for health care services made that one of the most important activities of the mission – a fact that continues to be true today, as a third of Kenya’s health care is provided by mission facilities, especially in remote, underserved, or impoverished communities.
“It is the strong conviction of all missionary workers that the greater part of the evangelization of the heathen must be done by native evangelists.” [FAIM p. 45] In other words, from the very beginning, the mission assumed that the most effective communication of the gospel is not cross-cultural, but is conducted by Africans themselves. Therefore there was a strong emphasis on equipping the earliest converts to be teachers and preachers. At the time, the local language had no written form, and the local people had very little knowledge of Swahili, being very far from the coast. The Reeses and their African colleagues worked painstakingly to develop a written form of the language, to write school books, to translate religious tracts and songs, and to translate the entire New Testament by 1925. Literacy was considered an essential part of Christian conversion for every new believer, so that they could read the Bible for themselves. By 1911 there were 10 schools with 500 pupils. By 1916 there were 32 schools. In 1922 there were 77 schools with a total enrollment of 5,000 pupils, both boys and girls. In 1922 an “advanced” school was opened to provide secondary school education for those with an academic interest. Friends education was practical in nature, and therefore quite distinct from the “classical” British education offered by other missions. (The colonial government did not offer any education for Africans.) Quaker schools were pioneers in several respects, including girls’ education and the inclusion of subjects like agriculture and vocational training in an academic school curriculum. Today, there are approximately 2,000 Friends schools in Kenya, and this remains a very significant part of the work of every local church and the work for which Friends are most widely known among the general population.
The sharing of the gospel was always the mission’s fundamental purpose, and all other activities served that end. According to the 1905 report, daily morning devotions were attended by all 60 people living/working on the compound. The first convert was Ahonya, Arthur Chilson’s household servant. Although there were few converts in the first few years, the services were attended by hundreds, and as the language work progressed, the rate of conversion increased. The local chiefs were very interested in learning about this new faith, and expressed interest in conversion (although it can be assumed that there was some mixed motive, considering that white missionaries would have had considerable social capital in the British colony.) From the very beginning, the church work was entirely self-supporting as every member was expected to tithe, and the church grew very rapidly after its initial slow start.
There’s an interesting passage about conversation in the 1905 booklet that I will read at some length:
The number of converts has not been large, but those that have been reported have shown a radical change in their lives and commendable courage and zeal. As the natives are so ready to mimic and to grasp the form without the vital principle, it has been the policy of the mission to make sure that a person was truly in earnest before he should be reckoned among the converts. Instead of making it easy for them and urging them to publicly confess Christ, the reverse is the rule. They are urged to accept Him and an opportunity is given to tell of what has been done for them, but every step is watched and carefully guarded lest the cause of Christ be brought into disrepute by some who have the name to live but whose lives would put the lie to their profession. [FAIM p. 58-59]
While we may feel uncomfortable today by this focus on conversion evangelism, I find it interesting that the early Kaimosi missionaries fully expected the work of Christ in the hearts of Africans to be just as profound as it was in their own hearts. They did not have a double standard about the nature of Quaker faith, and were very cautious about superficial religiosity and conversions motivated by a desire to gain from association with missionaries. They looked for the sustained testimony of a changed life, just as the early Friends did when distinguishing between true faith and the outward profession of it. Having taken considerable length to describe the early Kaimosi mission, I hope we can draw three more distinctive principles of enduring relevance for settled or institutional Quaker work, to add to the list of seven principles we derived from Mary Fisher’s story.
8. Service to mind, body, spirit, and community. The holistic nature of the Kaimosi mission was unique in its time, in comparison to other Christian missions, and is a reflection of the Quaker understanding that faith and life are fully integrated. The whole person and the whole community are served through a diverse program that includes schools, hospitals, churches, and job creation. Even today, this is the model of ministry found in frontier Friends missions such as Turkana and Samburu, in the northern desert regions of Kenya.
9. Local ownership and local prioritizing. Certainly, the Kaimosi missionaries were products of their time and representatives of a racist paradigm, but they did feel it important to listen to the needs of the local community, such as when they prioritized health care in their first expansion of work. They also made sure that every church was self-governing, with local leadership, from the very beginning, so there was never a phase of “handing over” the church to the people, as there was in other denominational missions that had sent pastors to the field. East Africa Yearly Meeting became an independent yearly meeting and a full member of FUM in 1947, 16 years before Kenyan independence and decades before other denominations granted mission-originated churches equal membership.
10. Addressing issues of justice and equality in the context. With 20-20 hindsight, we see how complicit the Kaimosi missionaries were in the colonial structures, but in their context they had a radical commitment to the integrity of the local community and to protecting it from exploitation in the settler colonial economy. And the Quaker testimony of equality between women and men created opportunities for women in all spheres, liberating them from some of the more egregiously sexist aspects of indigenous culture. All of the women in the mission held full-time professional responsibilities and were considered equal partners in the work, and they participated in important networks with local women that have had a lasting impact on Luhya culture, as can be seen in the strength of the United Society of Friends Women organization in Kenya today.
III. Emerging missional spirituality
At this point, having articulated ten marks of a distinctively Quaker missiology, I’d like to shift gears a bit, away from the “how” of Quaker mission, to explore the spirituality and theology of our call to witness in the world. Why are we not content to keep the precious pearl of Quakerism to ourselves? Why do we have such relentless hope for changing the world? What may be emerging as a spirituality that can carry missional Quakerism into the 21st century?
I’ve been helped by the three-fold missional spirituality of German liberation theologian Dorothee Sölle, because it feels like it describes my experience of engagement with the world of beauty and suffering, and my Quaker response to that world. “For Sölle, the mystical journey begins with the via positiva of amazement, moves through the via negativa of letting go, and concludes with the via transformativa of resistance.” [Nancy Hawkins, “Dorothee Sölle: Radical Christian, Mystic in our Midst”, The Way, July 2005, p. 93. Ref. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. by Dorothee Sölle. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.]
Via positiva – the way of goodness – begins at the beginning, with original blessing. We don’t begin our spiritual journey with a knowledge of sin and fallenness, as much of the Protestant tradition does. We begin with praise for the beauty and glory of God’s creation. We notice, and we are amazed. We stand in awe of how good God is and how blessed God made this world. If you’re not speechless with awe and praise at the goodness of this world, you’re not paying attention.
And I can tell you from personal experience that if you aren’t cultivating amazement at all that is good, Quaker work will defeat you. Because this world is not what it should be. It is not a place in which all people thrive and the planet inhales and exhales with freedom.
Which brings us into the via negativa – the way of suffering and letting go. We become aware of all that is not right, of how far we and our human community have fallen from God’s intended goodness. We ache with sorrow for sin, with a broken and a contrite heart. If you’re not heartbroken by the injustice and suffering of this world, you’re not paying attention.
But thank God, this suffering is not the end of the story. For God is already at work, liberating and redeeming the world from evil. And we are invited to participate in what God is doing, which is the via transformativa. The way of resistance and change. We are able to be used by God for transformation. If you’re not feeling yourself swept up by the powerful energy of God’s reign of justice, you’re not paying attention.
So we are called to all three of these spiritual gestures – amazement, heartbrokenness, and transformation. This is what I mean when I talk about participation in God’s mission, when I use as the definition of mission “finding out what God is doing, and joining in.” God is, in every moment and every context, being born, suffering, dying, and resurrecting. Can you not perceive it? For us as Friends today, particularly Friends from the United States, we have become aware of the suffering we have unintentionally inflicted on others. We feel an urgent need to bring an anti-racist, anti-colonial analysis to our experience of participating in God’s work in the world. We see the sins of our predecessors, and we want to do better. We do not want to perpetuate systems of domination or coercion. How do we divest ourselves of the unearned privilege we have as Americans?
There’s been a lot of emphasis recently in ecumenical mission circles on “mission from the margins” as an alternative to the patronizing assumption that mission is normally done by the powerful to the powerless, by the rich to the poor, or by the privileged to the marginalized. For too long, mission has been envisioned as a benevolent motion from the center to the margin, from centers of power to places of deprivation. The needier they are, the more superior we can feel when we help them. Missionaries from Christian countries felt an urgent duty to “reach” the “unreached” in “hard to reach” places, positioning themselves with power over those they reach with their unexamined assumption that God is not already there. There’s an essential corrective to be applied, as we who have been traditionally centered yield power to those who have been traditionally disempowered.
A groundbreaking World Council of Churches mission document states:
We affirm that marginalized people are agents of mission and exercise a prophetic role which emphasizes that fullness of life is for all. The marginalized in society are the main partners in God’s mission. Marginalized, oppressed, and suffering people have a special gift to distinguish what news is good for them and what news is bad for their endangered life. In order to commit ourselves to God’s life-giving mission, we have to listen to the voices from the margins to hear what is life-affirming and what is life-destroying. We must turn our direction of mission to the actions that the marginalized are taking. Justice, solidarity, and inclusivity are key expressions of mission from the margins. [World Council of Churches, Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, 2012, par. 107.]
It’s not that we, who are privileged, are bringing good news to the poor and oppressed (a construct which continues to place the power to control the narrative in our hands). Rather, God is making the good news manifest precisely in the places, lives, communities and ecosystems which are most targeted by structures of oppressive bad news, and from these places of incarnation, we too (even we oppressors) can experience liberation.
And it is not that those who are oppressed (and even we who are oppressed) are made into some kind of fetish of the beatitudes, so that our suffering is in itself a thing to be glorified or embraced, but rather that it is in human suffering that the redemption of the cross takes its meaning and power and that resurrection truly liberates.
Liberation theology speaks of the “preferential option for the poor.” God does not opt for the poor out of paternalistic compassion but in order to make clear that God stands in solidarity with those who are sinned against, the victims of all systemic injustice, those who are taken advantage of, and those made vulnerable. Indeed, the mission of God that Jesus understood and pursued was a mission of realizing the reign of God with those considered the last and the least, the sinners and outcasts. To that extent, Jesus rejects power and privileges, identifies himself with the poor, takes upon himself their vulnerability and allows himself to be broken and crushed.
The idea of “mission from the margins” is powerful and it challenges us to examine our institutions as well as our hearts, to see where we hold on to power. Yet, something about it has been troubling me. In talking about margins, are we not reinforcing the imaginary geography that places some people in the center and some at the edge? In describing people as marginalized, are we not still “othering” them, gazing upon them from our place at the center of the page?
I’ve become more drawn toward thinking about vulnerability than about marginalization. Jesus, the very embodiment of God, entered the world as an excruciatingly vulnerable creature – a newborn baby, in a country under military occupation, poor and without adequate shelter, soon to become a refugee fleeing for his life from state-sponsored violence. There’s a white South African author named Gerrie Snyman who has greatly influenced my thinking with his exploration of a “hermeneutics of vulnerability” especially in light of the point I made above, that vulnerability is one of the distinctive features of a Quaker missionary.
There is, to begin with, the more common understanding of vulnerability as a negative state. Vulnerable populations are those at greatest risk of harm, or in need of special protection. Within systems of oppression and injustice, the vulnerable are those who suffer the most. For a long time, this has been my ethical yardstick for how to evaluate our Quaker mission work–what is the effect on those who are most vulnerable? This leads us to focus our programs on girls who are at risk of early marriage and female genital mutilation, people living with HIV/AIDS, victims and perpetrators of violence, those who lack access to safe water, those too poor to afford hospital care, etc.
But in focusing on the vulnerability of others, I run the risk of patronizing and stigmatizing. “No one wants to be in a position of such vulnerability. … Vulnerability does not equal well-being. It is something to overcome. … The [popular] definition sees a vulnerable person as a failed autonomous subject in terms of a particular Western paradigm.” [Snyman 2017, p. 191]. In this Western patriarchal paradigm, the ideal is to become “a self-sufficient master subject that maintains itself as independent and invulnerable…. Invulnerability is constitutive of the master model of subjectivity with which Western science is practiced – it is constitutive of the cultural identity of those who occupy positions of privilege and who participate in domination by values such as detachment, self-containment, self-mastery, and control.” [Snyman 2017, p. 191, also referencing Erinn Gilson, The Ethics of Vulnerability, A Feminist Analysis of Social Life and Practice, 2016, p. 85]
This is dense language, but what Snyman is pointing out is that the popular understanding of vulnerability as a negative state serves to reinforce a dysfunctional concept of the human person as ideally isolated and invulnerable. The characteristics of this dysfunctional Western ideal in its extreme form are what we now call toxic masculinity. The Quaker – or for that matter, the Christian – concept of the human person is one who is deeply connected to others and to God, in a radical and dynamic relationship of love.
Which leads us to consider whether vulnerability should be also be seen as a positive state, one which we might be called to as a spiritual practice. Vulnerability, by definition, is the ability to be wounded, and the ability to be wounded is an essential feature of being in real relationship, of loving and being loved. “We cannot come into being, flourish, and survive if our existence is not connected to the existence of others.” [Henk ten Have, “Vulnerability as the Antidote to Neoliberalism in Bioethics”, 2014, p. 89, as quoted in Snyman 2017, p. 191] Vulnerability is a universal human condition, without which no loving connection is possible.
Snyman speaks of epistemic vulnerability: an openness to not knowing and a willingness to be wrong without disengaging from the relationship. The word epistemic – or epistemological – refers to the question of how it is that we know what we know. By choosing a spiritual stance of epistemic vulnerability, we choose an “openness to changes in the self in light of coming to perceive what one does not know and has prevented oneself from knowing.… Epistemic vulnerability entails rejecting the closure of the self that defines invulnerability.” [Gilson, p. 96, as quoted in Snyman 2017, p. 192] For me, at least, epistemic vulnerability begins with dislocation, with being foreign or not in control.
This kind of vulnerability is basic to Quaker spirituality, since this is how we approach God in worship, this is very the premise of why we worship as we do. In “waiting worship”, we lay aside self-mastery and control, and open ourselves to be surprised and changed by God. In our meetings for worship, we make ourselves utterly vulnerable to whatever may come forth from the silence, whether it be edifying or psychotic. Indeed, we believe that if we attempted to control worship in order to prevent the off-the-wall messages, we would be closing off the possibility for the true messages as well. I love the Thomas Kelly description of worship that begins “It is an overwhelming experience to fall into the hands of the living God” [Kelly, Thomas R., Holy Obedience, 1939 William Penn Lecture, Arch Street Meetinghouse, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting] because it reminds us that every meeting for worship is a leap into the unknown, trusting that the hands of God are waiting to catch us. This vulnerability we choose in our worship brings us into unity with the excruciating vulnerability of the baby in the manger and the savior on the cross.
What could epistemic vulnerability mean for Quaker mission in the 21st century? “A failure to recognize vulnerability facilitates the flourishing of oppressive social, economic, and political relations, or, conversely, to undo oppressive relations it is necessary to recognize vulnerability.” [Snyman 2017, p. 193]
And by this, Snyman means recognizing the vulnerability of the oppressor, not just of those who are oppressed. Can a hermeneutic of vulnerability, an openness to the unknown and the other, and a willingness to feel the pain of that connection, shape the witness of Friends, and in particular of privileged Friends, in the world today?
Is this not exactly what Jesus invited us to do? “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’” (Mark 8:34-35)
As we look again at our list of ten distinctives of Quaker mission, consider that Friends have, within our tradition, the example of faithfulness to this call from Jesus to radical vulnerability.
1. God is already there.
2. There is that of God in every person.
3. The day of the Lord is come and coming.
4. Act only as led and discerned.
5. Anyone can be called.
6. Let your life speak.
7. Vulnerability of the ministering self.
8. Service to mind, body, spirit and community.
9. Local ownership and local prioritizing.
10. Addressing issues of justice and equality in the context.
I want to end by telling you about a particular portion of FUM’s current African work that I feel especially passionate about. Since 2006, Friends have been supporting girls to attend high school, first in the Turkana tribe, and then a few years later adding the Samburu tribe. Both of these communities are semi-nomadic pastoralists in arid regions of north-central and north-west Kenya. Both are highly-marginalized and impoverished communities, even by African standards. And both are home to rapidly-growing, locally-led Quaker movements.
Among these two cultures, early marriage of girls, and consequently early childbearing, is the historic norm (typically beginning at age 11). Among the Samburu, girls are also subjected to female genital mutilation at the time of marriage. Social scientists and medical researchers have described the damage done to girls due to early marriage and early childbirth. Researchers have also demonstrated the dramatically positive impact of girls education on the wellbeing, not just of the girls themselves, but also of families and whole communities. [For example, ref: Today’s Challenges for Girls’ Education, Brookings Institute, 2015. Girls’ Education, The World Bank. The Impact of Girl-Child Education on Community Development: A Study of Ika Local Government Area of Akwaibom State, Research on Humanities & Social Scientists, 4: 12, 2014. Girls’ Education — The Facts, UNESCO.
www.girlsnotbrides.org: the movement to end child marriage.] Study after study shows that education for girls is one of the most effective interventions in alleviation of poverty and systemic oppression.
We on the FUM staff began focusing on girl child education at the invitation of the local Quaker communities in Samburu and Turkana, where the meeting members had made it a priority, but the need outstripped their resources. Friends from the global community of FUM partnered with local Friends Meetings to support girls to attend secondary school. Pastors and other meeting leaders involve themselves in the success of the girls and in the well-being of the whole family. The Friends in each region appoint a committee to choose the neediest girls, those most at risk of early marriage due to poverty. All secondary schools are boarding schools in those remote parts of the country, so the meeting sends people to visit the girls during the term, and gives them internships with responsibility during the school vacations.
Many Christian child sponsorship programs focus on the relationship between the child and their sponsor, someone’s whose picture they have and name they know. As Friends, we don’t do that. Our feeling is that this objectifies the child and encourages her to think of her sponsor as a savior figure, thereby reinforcing the pernicious dependency syndrome. Rather, the girls in the Friends program have the dignity and pride of knowing that their local meeting has invested in them. The meeting knows them, believes in them, prays for them, and stands by them. In my mind, this is a crucial difference. Some of our donors have had a very hard time understanding why we won’t center them in the story, since it flies in the face of the donor experience they expect as benevolent Americans. Still, I’m firm on this point.
When we started this program more than ten years ago, there were almost no girls completing primary school in the Friends schools in Turkana and Samburu, even though primary school is free in Kenya. They would start in 1st grade with equal numbers of boys and girls in the class, but by 7th or 8th grade, the girls had all dropped out, most of them to get married. With this scholarship program in place, we’ve seen a dramatic turn-around in girls’ drop-out rates in upper primary school. Parents know that there’s a scholarship awaiting, so they feel less tempted to withdraw their daughter. And child marriage rates are dropping, as it becomes less socially acceptable and as more people commit themselves to finding alternatives. Earlier this year in Samburu, the Friends primary school opened a residential “rescue center” for girls who were at extremely high risk of marriage, or had been married and escaped.
In Turkana and Samburu, a high school diploma is an advanced degree, and these girls find jobs immediately upon graduation. An anecdote I cherish is that, in Turkana, one girl used part of her very first paycheck to buy new benches for the meetinghouse, to replace ones that had been destroyed by termites. In Samburu, the lead teacher in the early childhood program at Loltulelei Friends school is a girl who received a scholarship through FUM. One of the Turkana girls who performed so well in secondary school that she was given a scholarship at a prestigious private university in Nairobi, wrote to tell me about the how she is mentoring several girls in a Nairobi slum and has started an organization with several of her friends aimed at empowering Turkana women. These girls and women are changing their communities and their country. I might even say that these are the Quaker missionaries of today.
- Brookings Institute,Today’s Challenges for Girls’ Education,
- Gilson, Erinn. The Ethics of Vulnerability, A Feminist Analysis of Social Life and Practice, 2016, p. 85, p. 96.
- Girls Not Brides: the movement to end child marriage (website) www.girlsnotbrides.org.
- Hawkins, Nancy. “Dorothee Sölle: Radical Christian, Mystic in our Midst”, The Way, July 2005, p. 93.
- Henk ten Have, “Vulnerability as the Antidote to Neoliberalism in Bioethics”, 2014, p. 89, as quoted in Snyman 2017, p. 191.
- Hodgkin, Lucy Violet. A Book of Quaker Saints, 1917, ch 28
- Holocaust Encyclopedia (website). article on Quakers (article).
- Kaziunas, Sharon.“Mary Fisher: a woman of fortitude and
faith” (senior project by a Quakerism student at George School, Newtown PA, seemingly no longer available on the internet.)
- Kelly, Thomas, Holy Obedience, 1939 William Penn Lecture, Arch Street Meetinghouse, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
- Kobani, Doreen, The Impact of Girl-Child Education on Community Development: A Study of Ika Local Government Area of Akwaibom State, Research on Humanities & Social Scientists, 4: 12, 2014.
- Maurer, Johan. The dilemma of the uninvited missionary blog post on Can you believe? 30 Nov 2018
- Publishing Association of Friends, “The Friends Africa Industrial Mission”, pp.42, 45, 48, 58-9, 1905, no authors stated, Plainfield, Indiana.
- Quakers in the World (website), essay on Mary Fisher
- Sewel, William, A History of the Rise, Increase and Progress of
the Christian people called Quakers, 1728 edition, p 251-252.
- Scott, Janet “Eccle siology and Mission: A Quaker Perspective”, International Review of Missions, 90: 358, 25 March 2009, p. 317-323.
- Snyman, Gerrie. “Responding to the decolonial turn: Epistemic Vulnerability, Missionalia: Southern African Journal of Missiology,[S.l.], 43: 3, p. 191-3, 268-9, Dec. 2015. ISSN 2312-878X.
- Sölle, Dorothe. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.
- UNESCO, Girls’ Education — The Facts.
- Wilcox, Wayland D., “The Need of the Industrial Missions in Africa” in The Biblical World, 41: 2, Feb 2013, p. 103-108
- World Bank, The, Girls’ Education, 2015.
- World Council of Churches, Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, 2012, par. 107.
About the Author
Eden Grace has served as FUM’s Global Ministries Director since July 2013.
From 2004 – 2013, She served as the Field Officer for FUM in the Africa Ministries Office in Kisumu,Kenya. Eden was responsible for shepherding FUM’s programmatic work in 11 countries on 4 continents. She has a passion for the holistic and transformation witness of Friends that arises from deep worship in the gathered body. She is particularly engaged in issues of race, class, gender, and culture within the beloved fellowship of believers. She thinks of her role specifically, and that of FUM in general, as a ligament in the body of Christ (Eph. 4:15-16; Col. 2:19).
Eden holds a Masters of Divinity degree from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a Certificate in International Mission and Ecumenism from the Boston Theological Institute. Her undergradu ate degree is from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where she studied drama, literature and semiotics. In addition to her extensive involvement with Friends’ organizations, she has also served in leadership roles in the World Council of Churches and the Massachusetts Council of Churches, and carries a deep concern for Christian unity.
Eden Grace is a member of Beacon Hill Friends Meeting in Boston, in New England Yearly Meeting, and is an active attender of West Rich mond Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana. She and her husband Jim have two young adult sons, are the host family for a Kenyan college stu dent, and have taken in a Richmond teen. Eden loves to travel, sing sacred choral music, read fiction, and make quilts using African fabrics.
The Dwight and Ardis Michener Memorial Lecture
Published annually by Southeastern Yearly Meeting Publications, Southeastern Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, nonprofit corporation founded in 1963.
www.seym.org / SEYMQuakers. org
© 2019 All rights reserved.
Requests for permission to quote or to translate should be addressed to Southeastern Yearly Meeting Publications.
Manuscript provided by Eden Grace, Lecturer
Cover image: Lawyer’s Scale an anonymous free web download selected by LC. Artwork page 34 was drawn for this pamphlet by Nathan Kintu, Uganda, in his first year at Olney Friends School.
Illustration by Nathan Kintu, Kampala, Ugunda, a 16-year old Junior in his first year at Olney Friends School, who offers his perspective on the state of missionary work.
Copy editing: Phoebe Andersen.
Print masters: provided by SEYM Publications.
Dingbats are AfrikaBorders by Castle Type Library; a collection of border patterns from Ashanti, Bushongo, and Zulu.
Subscriptions: Individual copies are available through Quaker bookstores or directly from SEYM.
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ISBN 978-1-939831-28-6 (eReader EPUB)
About Dwight and Ardis Michener
Dwight W. Michener and Ardis Roberts Michener were life-long members of the Society of Friends. They met at William Penn College, Oskaloosa, Iowa. Throughout their lives, Dwight and Ardis embraced the William Penn College ideals of equal access without discrimination to race, gender, age, religi on, or national origin. Social Concerns and support of Quakerism would remain a burning passion throughout their lives.
In 1941 Dwight and Ardis worked for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Marseille, France, as financial managers for “money transfers” to “suffering France.” They managed the office that supervised programs that included feeding children, vitamin distributi on, milk distribution, emigration, relief work, village reconstruction, and farm projects to name a few. 23,961,244 French francs were gifted. When the US entered the war, the AFSC asked all volunteers with children to return home, so the Micheners returned to New Jersey to be with their daughter, Jean, who had spent her sophomore year at Westtown School while her parents were in France. The AFSC report (AFSC.org) of this project includes letters and drawings sent to Dwight and Ardis and other volunteers from the French children.
After returning to the States, Dwight and Ardis were asked by AFSC to help raise morale in some of the Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camps by visiting conscientious objectors. COs who worked for peace and opposed war were assigned to work on farms, in hospitals, and men tal institutions, or were imprisoned. In 1947 the men listed affiliation with 231 denominations, the majority from peace churches. Many were exposed to harsh treatment and required support. Many suffered from PTSD. Dwight and Ardis did what they could to encourage them in their service.
While Dwight’s career as an economist was at Chase Manhat tan Bank, Ardis was an ardent volunteer, working for numerous Friends concerns and devoting much time to the Girl Scouts. They both were very involved in Montclair Monthly Meeting and in the Cape May Conference (later Friends General Conference). In 1955 they hosted two of the 25 Hiroshima Maidens who came to New York for reconstructive surgeries. “The rejuvenation of these young women [is] scarcely refe renced in…archival documents available at Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College.…as it was taken for granted that Quakers would help” (Annie Devon Kramer, Stanford University).
In mid-20th century, the Micheners bought a home on the edge of Lake-Walk-in-Water, Florida, started a Friends worship group there, and invited many renowned Friends to visit. Feeling strongly about hel ping the fledgling Southeastern Friends Conference, Dwight and Ardis invited guests to present lectures, arranging location and hospitality. All Meetings were invited. This became known as the Michener Lecture, and in due time outgrew the Lodge on Avon Lake and was moved to the Orlando Meeting House with the annual date becoming the First Day of Martin Luther King weekend and under the care of the now incorpora ted Southeastern Yearly Meeting.
Fortunately for Southeastern Yearly Meeting, daughter Jean Michener Nicholson, Westtown School and Swarthmore College schoolmate of Cathy Jones Gaskill, a member of Southeastern Yearly Meeting, determined this tradition should continue to enrich Southeas tern Quakers in Florida, southern Georgia, and coastal South Carolina. She arranged an endowment, a permanently restricted investment to help fund a lecturers’ expenses and to publish the lectures. Commencing in 1970, there have been continuous Michener Lectures now known as the Dwight and Ardis Michener Memorial Lecture under the care of the SEYM.
—Lyn Cope, edited by Judy Nicholson Asselin
Southeastern Yearly Meeting
Quakers in Florida, southeast Georgia, & coastal South Carolina