Do you enjoy a good story? YES, you say? Then count this your lucky day: here’s a multi-layered story, going on even as we tell it. Then add a bonus: what follows may also spark a good conversation in groups you belong to. Let the story engage you; the end result may bring still more surprise!
FROM NEW ENGLAND TO A WIDENING WORLD
Quakers typically tune in to the world; they take its hopes and needs seriously. I have personally witnessed them bring healing in the broken places, pursuing peace where division rules – Friends offering friendship.
Come with me to New England, that storied northeast corner of the United States. Here we’ll focus on what commands attention among the young people in the Quaker educational (“Sunday School” or “First Day”) programs there. Exhibit A immediately transports us to distant Bolivia, experiencing an ongoing water crisis. To view the short presentation, click on the image below:
Hearing about a problem – across the street or across the world – the easy thing is to say “That’s too bad” and move on. New England’s Quaker youth have chosen to take action. With solid adult support they developed a plan, complete with timelines. Best of all, they are following it! Beth Collea, Religious Education & Outreach Coordinator, at New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (NEYM), was enthusiastic as she shared their plan:
Outline for International Quaker Youth Action Project
Bolivian youth and youth in the U.S. working together:
In November/December teachers or First Day/Sunday School coordinators and FIBC teachers will plan together.
Information about the Friends Meeting/ Friends School will be sent with photographs including a description of the group to FIBC participants & vice versa
They will talk about possible dates for communication procedure: letter writing, sending photos, video conference between young Friends
In January/February the participants will exchange letters or cards
Letter writing activity. Participants will write about a specific topic on their letter, for example: family, hobbies, school, Friends Meeting life; or they can do free writing. Letters will be sent via email as a digital version by the teacher.
Create (postal) cards. They will be mailed or sent via email as a digital version by the teacher.
In March/April/May the participants will take part in a Video Conference activity
Teachers will talk via Skype or zoom to make sure the connection works ahead.
Video conference between young Friends (talking about culture, e.g. holidays, food, festivals, etc.)
NOTE: Youth and teachers in the U.S can plan to do fund raising activities during any stage (1, 2 or 3) for the Bolivian Youth´s Biosand Filters Project. (Example: Presentation about Bolivian Friends, Presentation about the water crisis in Bolivia, Presentation about Bolivian culture, Bolivia fair, etc.)
Does the story end there? No way! Beth writes:
And there are more connections in the works! My colleague, Melinda Wenner Bradley, from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and I have been invited to Kenya to create a gathering of Sunday School teachers to share our methods and to encourage each other in the work.
Melinda and I are headed in Kenya in mid-January for a 2-week stay--traveling in the ministry as Quakers say. We will offer our Sunday School teachers' conference at Friends Theological College in Kaimosi. Most of the participants will come from Kenya but two will come from Uganda and one Friend from Tanzania.
I will be taking some hard copies of How Maps Change Things and the Peters Projection postcards with QR Codes for a downloadable copy of the book.
We are traveling as part of the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative (QREC)--it's 4.5 years old and is now worldwide!
There is a question I would love to ask you to hold with me and converse as you feel moved. I remember early in your career you organized work camps to repair the damage from World War II.
It's been my experience that active, work camp opportunities, are often vital faith formative times. I conducted a Peace and Justice Inventory of Friends in my Quaker Meeting about 14 years ago. I wanted to know who had had what experiences in life and service so I could enrich our Sunday School lessons with their visits and recountings.
It turned out that almost every single adult had had a critical experience with service in their late teens or early 20's that marked their lives significantly thereafter. These were turning points that might have clarified a career direction or confirmed within them a sense of internationalism or social justice around particular issues like public health or wealth inequality etc.
The American Friends Service Committee used to organize work camps. I'm wondering if we need to rekindle this movement for active exercise of our faith. What changes as we put our faith into action?
As you look back, do you have any sense of the impact on faith development of those times of putting faith into action?
AN ASIDE TO YOU, THE READER:
Kenya in turmoil
Extremists equipped with guns and explosives stormed a hotel; police were dispatched to the scene. The result: rising fear of terrorism piled on to widespread social anxiety, and – at latest count – five attackers and 21 civilians, including one American, one Briton and three from other African countries killed. (Photo provided by Bloomberg News.)
Beth and her colleague Melinda are working in Kenya, in the shadow of that that difficult and dangerous situation. The teachers they are working with surely know it well.
Their action, then, aptly illustrates the earlier comment about healing in the broken places, Friends offering friendship. Try to answer the question, What would I do in that situation? How would I feel, how would I act, what would I say?
While the current crisis makes headlines, it doesn’t tell the whole story; there is an ongoing need for education, for hope, for a sense of purpose, for finding a satisfying role in the wider world – goals that all people share.
If you have a copy of the Peters World Map and of the book How Maps Change Things, visualize groups of educators using those very tools that you have access to, to enlarge their understanding. What new insights do you think might develop? What “Aha!” moments might occur?
If you don’t already have one, you can download a free copy of How Maps Change Things from Many Ways to See the World; enter code HMCT$10 at checkout.
The Quakers are clear that they find these resources that you have useful. Why else introduce them to young students in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania? Based on experience, they see value in what may seem commonplace: a map and a book, in the complex dynamics of daily life not just in Africa but anywhere. Here is what they say:
Using Equal Area Maps to
Open Racial Justice Conversations
Beth Collea, Religious Education & Outreach Coordinator, NEYM
As First Day School teachers, we can play a vital role in opening or encouraging challenging conversations in our meetings. World maps are a wonderful pedagogical key to enter the tender and often fraught conversations around racial and social justice without triggering denial and defensiveness. The distortions of the still commonly used Mercator projection, originally created to aid navigators in the Sixteenth Century, can lead to ethnocentrism. Equal area maps allow students and learners of all ages to see and feel at a visceral level that some of our assumptions, long taken as truth, are someone’s interpretation of reality! The South Up Map literally turns our world upside down.
The geographic reality of the maps is crucial but that is only part of their gift to us. Perhaps equally instructive is the experience of confronting old ideas that need to be challenged and adjusted. The maps begin to limber up our cultural framework in a way that almost entirely avoids defensiveness and denial. From this good foundation, we can move onto the charge and challenge Ward Kaiser, cartographer and social justice advocate, offers us. In order to participate in changing the future, we need to expand our perimeter of kindness encircling people who live very different lives in very different places from us, but are equally part of our human family. The maps help us reach the profound truth that we are all in this together!
To support you in exploring racial justice issues, NEYM purchased two of the Hobo-Dyer equal area maps for each meeting in New England that has a children’s program. They are two-sided with a North-up and a South-up version so you can viscerally feel your understandings colliding with reality. Display them side by side!
Intersection points between our worldview and our Quaker faith emerge quickly. How Maps Change Things: A Conversation About the Maps We Choose and the World We Want by Ward L. Kaiser is an invaluable resource and now a free download is available. See the QR Code on the Peters Projection Map postcard for a free downloadable pdf or e-book. Kaiser lays a charge on people of any faith to expand our capacity for caring even in the face of challenges of global dimensions. The Light at work within will guide and sustain us as we step up to this formidable task!
Write a Minute of Hope and Quaker Intention as a class
If we were to operationalize all of our Quaker beliefs and practices, what would the world look like?
Not a Quaker? You can still participate in the closing creative exercise, “Write a Minute of Hope ..” by either
Substituting the name of a group you are familiar with: Rotary Club, Christian Church, Temple, whatever, and giving your answer.
Finding out about Quaker beliefs and practices, then answer. (Find a practicing Quaker, or search online for help.)
Either way, you’ll reap a benefit – guaranteed!