Photo: View over Danube river. Image by Ari.
In the beginning of May I represented the Finland Yearly Meeting at the Friends World Committee for Consulting’s European and Middle-East Section (FWCC-EMES) Annual Meeting. The meeting was held this time in Budapest, Hungary, where the representatives of each Yearly Meeting, representatives from Quaker organizations and visiting Friends all the way from the United States and Mexico traveled to. This was my second EMES meeting, having participated in Germany two years ago, therefore I was a bit more familiar with the meeting and some Friends I had met before.
The meeting’s theme was Living in a Foreign Land and we discussed topics of foreignness, otherness and hospitality. What is it like to settle down and start life all over in a country new to oneself; How can we welcome people around us and build our community a welcoming home to everyone? In places we call home, we often have privileges that we don’t even come to realize. However, it is also possible to encounter feelings of otherness in places you feel belonging to. One fundamental value to Quakers is that of God in everyone, a view that guides us to see the core similarities we are made of.
Many Friends had experiences of this topic and had, for example, lived in countries other than where they were born in. One of the most touching stories was that of a local who works in organizing education and courses for immigrants in Budapest. Grown up in Sierra Leone as a child soldier, he made a long journey full of dangers seeking for something else. After surviving the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean, in which tens of thousands of others every year are not equally lucky with, he arrived ashore somewhere and trekked by foot through forests for four days and nights and found himself somehow at the Hungarian border. In a country that is nowadays known not for its hospitality towards immigrants and strangers, he has made it home and now helps others do the same through his work. What amazed the most was how through all his hardship he always managed to keep his heart open and stay positive.
In ecumenical friendship, we learned a lot from fellow evangelical Quakers and their activities in Hungary, United States and Mexico. In addition to the silent worship, their meeting for worship includes plenty of singing, playing and programmed sermon. It was interesting to get acquainted with and even thought their ways differed from those of our own, we sought to increase our understanding and to gain from this rich heritage and wide range of spiritual insights.
The prompt to live adventurously came to me already before the gathering as I was invited to serve as one of the meeting’s elders. After some discernment I found myself encouraged to undertake this opportunity and help our community. With the warm support from Friends, in the end the task was easy, and it helped me connect better with the gathering. This sharing of various roles, whether big or small, I found a nice way engage everyone in the event.
All in all, what I found the best part about the meeting was to meet Friends from all over the world, hear about their activities and learn about their calling. Some I had met before and now we already knew each other from the start. The same, I’m sure, will happen the next time I am in contact with those Friends I met now for the first time. Perhaps we will have the chance to invite young Friends to experience our own hospitality next year as Europe and Middle-East Young Friends (EMEYF) have decided to have their next Spring Meeting either in Finland or Sweden. The next EMES meeting will take place in Paris one year from now.
More about this year’s EMES meeting can be read from the meeting’s epistle, available online at https://www.fwccemes.org/file_download/422/EMES+Epistle+2019.pdf. I wish to translate it soon to Finnish as well and upload to our website.
In Friendship, Ari