The Centre Communautaire is one of my favorite places to hang out. There’s always something happening in the courtyard of this Anglican guest house in Bujumbura, but there’s a restful, peaceful atmosphere that allows for restful contemplation in between the other things I do there. And in case you haven’t been there recently, Bujumbura is the capital of Burundi, a country that is steadily building a framework for peace after decades of ugly violence, and in the process is seeing the benefits of renewed economic development.
During my stay at the Centre last week, a dramatic and interesting meeting took place. Three of us in the meeting were mainly there to get ready to journey to Uvira, Congo the next day. The task in Uvira was to help plan a Great Lakes Young Friends Conference on Peace and Justice being held next August. That’s another story and another blog.
The purpose of the meeting was for leaders of the Friends Church in Burundi to decide how to set in motion a peacemaking process in their sister yearly meeting in Congo. That yearly meeting exists in an environment almost completely devoid of peace, so it’s not a suprise that unresolved conflict has become a part of the yearly meeting’s DNA. But the Burundi Friends leaders and the Rwanda Friends leaders who were supportive of the meeting, but not able to be there, are not willing to concede that peace is not possible within Congo Yearly Meeting.
There was a bit of a delay in getting the meeting underway (not a surprise), until one of its members arrived. She is clerk of one of the Burundi Yearly Meetings, and her “day job” makes it hard to get to church meetings on time. She is Deputy Speaker of the Burundi Parliament and can’t go anywhere without her “protocol” person and her bodyguards. Thankfully, she’s a humble person and made important contributions to the meeting.
I tried to keep in my place as a guest in the meeting, but have been involved enough with the Congo leadership issues to warrant making a few comments in the discussion. I mostly watched with admiration as they shared insights and crafted a plan to encourage reconciliation between the Congo YM leaders and a group of critics who mostly want the members of the YM to have a chance to select new leaders. Or at least to have a voice in whether all or some of the present leaders would remain in their positions.
Whether there will be positive results of the meeting remains to be seen. The leaders decided to invite two separate delegations to come to meet with them in Bujumbura—the current leaders and their critics. Africans are great at telling stories and listening to stories. I think the purpose of the two will be to provide a safe place for each group to tell their stories and to have them heard respectfully.
These meetings won’t guarantee there will be peace and unity in Congo Yearly Meeting. But it’s a good way to start the process. What I heard in the meeting was more than the specifics of their agreement. I heard wisdom, respect, and concern. I heard that these leaders knew it wouldn’t be easy to make peace in this situation, but they were willing to take some risks to be facilitators of the process. I heard and saw the peace testimony of Friends being brought to bear in a difficult situation. I knew that I needed to find ways to call on folks at home to pray for peace, not just in the world as a whole, but in pockets of our Quaker world where it doesn’t exist at the moment.
Contributed by Lon Fendall, West Chehalem Friends