Doing Peace Peacefully
I knew the meeting would be a challenging one, especially the discussion about the conference venue. The conference is for young Friends in the four yearly meetings of the Great Lakes region in central Africa. Burundi, Congo (DRC), and Rwanda all border on one or more of the huge lakes, and the proximity of these countries means violence regularly spills across the countries’ shared borders.
The first conference in 2011 was planned only for one of the yearly meetings—the one in Congo. A team of young Friends who had been or were enrolled at George Fox University formed the team who went as facilitators and their own enrichment. As the conference ended there were discussions about having another conference and ultimately it was decided that Congo Friends should host it, but the invitation should go to the other three yearly meetings as well.
It’s possible to accomplish good things in not so good ways. That was what was heavy on my mind as I convened the meeting in Kigali, Rwanda earlier this month. The African members of the planning committee had expressed their thoughts about a number of conference issues a few months before and their expressions about where to hold the conference were in sharp disagreement. The Congo committee members said they were eager to welcome the conference attendees to their country, their yearly meeting, and their peace center—the site of the last conference. But others on the committee expressed concerns about the safety of the attendees, expressed doubt that there would be a good place to hold the conference in the nearest Congo town to the Burundi border, and worried about visitors from outside the region having to pay high visa fees to enter the country.
The American members of the planning committee were praying that unity might be found on this question and that the goal of being able to learn more about peace could be achieved without serious disunity on the venue question. Indeed a way was found to craft an agreement that took into account everyone’s concerns and allowed the committee to celebrate the decision. More work needs to be done, but it was a good way to get the planning process underway. Careful listening, deep respect for others, and the presence of the Holy Spirit had brought the group into unity. It was a good start indeed toward a conference that will not only be about peace, but will be planned in peaceful ways.
Contributed by Lon Fendall, West Chehalem Friends