I bring much back with me after an intense time together with over 100 Friends (sprinkled with a few non-Friends) from around Europe. All were concerned and/or working in some connection with the issue of migration and refugees in the world. There was much input; in the form of keynote addresses, panel presentations and background history of Friends’ post-war work in Europe. We were also offered a choice of workshops comprising a mixture of presentation and discussion. The program allowed adequate time to mix and mingle and informally talk with other participants, and on Saturday evening there were about twelve 5-minute slots for people to share a glimpse of what they are doing within this broad field. We also worshipped and worship-shared as a whole conference.
If you ask what the essence is of what I am bringing back with me- it is this: there is the big picture and the small picture. There are people who are working at micro-level/grassroots and people who work at structural, lobbying and political level. But we need both, and both fit into the Whole. If one ‘cog in the wheel’ is missing- then the whole structure works less effectively. We need each other, and we need more than Quakers. It was said quite strongly that others are also working in this field and we needs must engage with them. I think this is even more true for a small widely-spread Quaker community like Finland Yearly Meeting.
We were reminded that we live in the here and now, the end times and we are building the Kingdom on earth now- not at some future date. We were also reminded to reflect on history and how quickly a situation can change. A concrete example was given of how the situation for the Jews in Germany changed rapidly in just 20 years between 1918 and 1938. We were encouraged to continue to think about our arguments for why the death penalty is never necessary and not to be complacent that once something is achieved, it is so for all time. We are an integral part of the arc of history. We need to develop a counter-narrative to populism and remember that situations can go backward as well as forward.
QCEA and QUNO are working in our name: the team of young, energetic and knowledgeable people representing us is truly impressive. They cannot do so without money. We are certainly asked to remember them in our budget. Quiet diplomacy and off the record dinners to bring diplomats together work, and can be especially effective. We were shown a short video clip of a QCEA workshop bringing together young Croatian and Serbian people leading to greater understanding.
We are asked to consider how we should model the change we wish to see. Are we being ‘patterns and examples’? The steps we need to take are individual, corporate and global. Are our meetings always open to all? What are our stories?
And from the final Sunday meeting for worship, I bring 3 pieces of ministry:
- As well as creating cities of sanctuary we can think about being people of sanctuary and what this means.
- It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the negative, the tragic and the terrible which is the focus of most of our official daily news. But everywhere good, kind and wonderful things are taking place which do not make headline news. Such as a recent situation where 5 Muslim women and a Quaker woman were planting garlic and tulip bulbs in a community garden ready for next year, kneeling together with hands in the earth.
- The bird of Hope
Is the bird which sings in the darkness before dawn.
We were meeting in the ‘Chant d’Oiseau Centre’. Chant d’oiseau means birdsong.
I took away many papers and leaflets, one of which was a small, moving publication called: Hear Our Voices: undocumented children and young people share their stories. I would like to finish this report by quoting the last verse of an anonymous poem called ‘Weight in Gold’
And if dreams were worth their weight in gold
And resilience and courage cashed like cheques
Then young migrants would be in a class of their own.