David Zarembka is the coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with peace work in Africa since 1964. Recently, he sent me the text of an extremely insightful lecture he gave last October, titled Healing from Slavery, War, and Genocide: Lessons from John Woolman and Friends in Rwanda and Burundi.
(That latter link there is to a beautifully formatted PDF version of the text. If you want an HTML version that is faster to download, but is largely unformatted and therefore harder to read, you’ll find it here.)
I’ve known Dave a few years now. Like me, he’s a member of a Friends Meeting (Quaker congregation) that’s part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Unlike me, he’s devoted large portions of his life to fully living out the traditional Quaker testimonies of peace-seeking and simplicity. For the past eight years he’s been working with the thousands of Quakers who live in the violence-wracked areas of Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, helping build up their capacity to do effective peacebuilding work in the extremely difficult circumstances in which they live. (You can find more information about the Quaker congregations in Africa here.) Dave, and other members of the US-based organization Friends Peace Teams, have done this by establishing and running AGLI; and in the course of this work Dave has been traveling to the AGL region twice a year or so since 1998.
The Woolman lecture is, largely, Dave’s reflection on what he has learned from this work. The whole text of the lecture is very worth reading. It contains many great stories, some deeply spiritual testimonies (and some fond things Dave says about his daughter Joy Zarembka, who’s a hardworking anti-slavery campaigner.) But at the end of the lecture, Dave sums up the lessons he has taken from his experience working with his Central African colleagues in AGLI:
- To end, let us review the lessons I have learned from these various people:
1. Rather than run from those in conflict, let us visit them.
2. Do not let danger deter us.
3. Let us confront the violence in the United States so that we lessen the wars, conflicts, and economic exploitation that the United States brings to other parts of the world.
4. Let love replace hatred. Let us restore that of God in those who have done bad things.
5. Let us address the roots of violence in order to reduce societal and domestic violence.
6. Let us bring enemies together to “look each other in the eye.”
7. Let us stop judging people as “good” or “bad” but answer to that of God in absolutely everyone.
And the unifying lesson:
8. Let us dwell deep that we may feel and understand the spirits of people.
Twice each year I visit the AGLI sponsored HROC programs in Rwanda and Burundi. People frequently ask me if it is depressing to visit places with such recent violent histories. There is no doubt that Rwanda, in particular, is not a happy place—people are tense, reserved, cautious, and wary rather than open, welcoming, and happy as they are in Kenya, for example. Yet I always come back, not dejected and sad, but rejuvenated and optimistic. Each time I see how Adrien, Solange, Theoneste, Sizeli, and so many, many others are working to heal the gashing wounds in their society, to bring reconciliation and even friendship to enemies, and to restore their society to a peaceful whole. Frankly when I return to the United States and see this country moving so, so swiftly in the opposite direction, that is when I feel discouraged. My calling is to work with Friends in the Great Lakes region of Africa. I have to leave it to others, like each of you who have been so kind as to listen to me this afternoon, to bring healing and reconciliation in this country.
All this is deeply in the spirit of John Woolman, an 18th century Quaker in what later became the US who was an early campaigner against slavery and a witness to the disastrous effects European colonization was having on the native peoples of North America.
I have been thinking a bit about putting a Paypal button onto this blog, and inviting readers to contribute to some of the expenses I have in my work on it. I might still do that at some point. But right now I would prefer to urge you to consider digging as deep as you can to contribute to Dave’s work with AGLI. You can do so securely online, by clicking HERE. (Or if you prefer to send a check, you’ll find the address for that on that page, too.)
And Dave: thanks so much for what you and your colleagues there at AGLI do. It is truly transformational and inspiring.