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Your location>Home>Publications>PeaceWays>Spring 2007

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Love and Caring for Each Other:
AVP and Spirituality From a Kenyan Christian Perspective

By Malesi Kinaro

The spiritual part of Alternatives to Violence (AVP) began with the first basic workshop in Kakamega and Eldoret. The foreign facilitator asked the participants to pass around an imagined magic wand. In Kakamega people did this but with a great question in their minds: “These are spiritual issues, are we being inducted into witchcraft”. In Eldoret when the same facilitator tried this again, the participants completely refused. They felt that they were being inducted into devil worship.

At an apprenticeship workshop with the police and prison officers in Kakamega another issue came up. This time it had to do with the guidelines. The participants were told that there would be no prayers during AVP because AVP is not religious and prayers would seem to be exclusive. There was open rebellion by these born again Christian police officers. They started the day with a prayer and ended with a prayer. There was one Muslim participant who, when asked to pray, said he had no difficulty in letting the Christians pray.

The question always was, “Since we are all Christians why are we being asked not to pray”, or “In Kenya when we have more than one religion all religions pray, either one after the other or one prays to start and another to close. Why are we being asked not to pray?” Some participants even wondered, “Do these people want to bring conflict between Christians and Muslims, which does not exist at present? Why do they always carry their conflicts to us? We are adults and we know who we are”.

The issue was even thornier at the Kaimosi Friends Theological College (FTC), a basically evangelical college. I was one of the facilitators who introduced AVP at this college. As usual in AVP the philosophy was discussed; “Not religious but can be spiritual”. This immediately put us on a collision path with the students. Later the transforming power was introduced. It talked about “A power around us and in us which can use us and transform us”. The wheel was introduced and called “mandala” and we were asked to explain what the word meant. We said that it had an Eastern religious origin, possibly Buddhist.

We had the most difficult basic AVP workshop I have ever been part of. We were seen as introducing witchcraft, Buddhism or even satanic worship. I was confronted in all these places, “You say you are an evangelist, a born again Christian … how can you be part of this thing … this new religion that is disguising itself as a peace program?”

Of course we made the AVP explanation that although AVP was developed by Quakers, the concept has been found to help Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists etc. If we used only Christian terminology how would we help a Muslim or a Buddhist, or a Hindu who might benefit from the experience? The immediate response was: “Aha so you are becoming a Universalist? How can you marry that with the fact that you are a Christian evangelist? What does being a Christian evangelist and counselor mean to you?”

I did my MA counseling in a wonderful Evangelical University, Nairobi International School of Theology (NIST). This is the place where I experienced the greatest Spiritual growth and Christian rooting. NIST had a very loving environment. You went to learn counseling but you ended up doing Theology, Bible study, Christian growth, just name it. You really came out of NIST aware of all major theological debates that are going on in the world.

Before joining NIST I had a very great exposure to Quakerism in all its branches. I had attended the un-programmed Christ centered meeting at the Nairobi Friends International Center for all the 3 years I was at the University of Nairobi. I had worked for a fairly liberal Friends organization, Friends World Committee for Consultation, and I had come in contact with Quakers in their diversity. In 1991 I had been so SHOCKED by the diversity at the FWCC world conference in the Netherlands that I almost packed my things to come back to Kenya. In Kenya I knew who Friends were. They were all Christ centered whether they attended the programmed or un-programmed meetings. Now I was meeting people who asked us “why did you pray and say ‘in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior?’, Jesus is NOT my savior. Nobody is. Jesus was just a good guy like the Buddha, or Gandhi who speak more to my condition than your Jesus.”

From NIST I came to recognize the strategies that can be used to lead one from a purely evangelical to a liberal outlook. I began to see the strategies the devil can use to cleverly, profusely but surely lead a firm believer in the Christian faith to a diluted unclear position. The government of Kenya had done research to find out the extent of devil worship in Kenyan institutions of learning and had come out with a revealing article on how this practice was taking root.

At the Kakamega workshop I asked myself many questions. “What is the magic wand we had passed round? Was I becoming part of an organization that was anti-Christian? What exactly is the transforming power? Why weren’t we allowed to pray or even talk about any link between Christianity and AVP especially in a purely Christian environment?”

Like many things I have done in my life when I have not had clarity but at the same time I have not felt my faith threatened, I continued being involved in AVP workshops becoming the coordinator of the AVP in Western Kenya. We have done AVP workshops for church leaders, teachers, prison officers, police officers, Friends Theological College students, community members, womens groups, youth groups, and high school students.

I have seen tremendous change in many but not all, who have taken these workshops, even if it is only a basic workshop. These are some of the human stories from the various people that have taken AVP workshops in the areas I have been involved:

• AVP just opened a place in me I can’t explain. The transforming power is just using me and all the time I am aware when I am about to act in a way that will bring violence.
Getry Agizah,
a lead facilitator in Western Kenya

• We were kind of childish and narrow minded when you first brought AVP to us. As we continued with the other levels we got to understand that AVP was about learning skills for personal reactions when faced with a potentially violent situation. It was not challenging our faith.
John Bulimo a former student from FTC.

• To me AVP is a discipleship tool. It does not take away from Christianity. In fact it adds value. The exercises on affirmation and building a community of Trust, are Biblical. It is a great discipleship tool.
Pastor Joseph Shamala,
a pastor from Kakamega Friends Church

• AVP just changed my life. Before it, I never took time before reacting. When I was angry, I just flew into a rage. I was a terror in the home. In fact my family doesn’t believe I am the same person.
Florence of Ndalu
Kitale, Kenya

• What did you do to my wife? She is not just the same person. There is so much peace at home I just cannot believe it? I too need this training.
Florence’s husband

• I think AVP has saved me. I was always angry. I never thought about myself. I would go for my salary, buy bread and some meat then just rush home. I was always in a hurry, always harassed. Now I go to the bank, go to the hotel to take a meal. Since the first basic I have bought myself 3 dresses. As a result of reminding myself that I matter, I have become a much better mother and wife. I listen to members of my family.
Lydia Osama
a teacher, of Ndalu – Kitale

• Thank you so, so much!! Here the teachers just tell us “read to get A to go to the University.” The parents tell us the same. Some of us know that we shall never get ‘A’. We shall not go to the university. You have really opened our eyes to look at ourselves with value. Now I see from the merging of the tree of violence and that of non-violence that I have alternative ways of making development.
James, a student at St. Don Bosco
Secondary School, Nyabiosi in Nyamira.

The stories can fill a whole book.

I find AVP to be a tool that allows sharing, that makes people look at each other as equals. This is difficult at the start, especially with disciplined forces (police, military), where ranking is important because it enables discipline and therefore effectiveness. Yet, by the second day, these people of different ranks forget their ranks and just become human beings wrestling with issues that affect them all.

Because AVP is so participatory, it speaks strongly to the African idea of community which has always been so valued but which is fast disappearing. Everybody is busy trying to make ends meet. With 60% of the community living below the poverty line who has time to listen to another? Who has time to sit and reflect on the way they are rowing their lives? Who has time to think about the language they are using to talk to each other? The stress level is high. Men have lost their traditional role as bread winners and much anger exists in homes. Women feel over burdened with bringing up their families. The young adults with no jobs have lost self confidence and sometimes self value. They are angry with the world. Those in school see no value in their education because it has no benefits unless you are very brilliant.

Then comes AVP and you have 3 full days, virtually locked up, away from the hassle and bustle of life … phones switched off, no going in and out to attend to other chores … just being listened to, affirmed and loved for 3 full days.

For me and for those I have interviewed, this is where the crux of the matter lies. The most important spiritual principle is stressed … LOVE & CARING for each other. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees what he thought was the greatest commandment, He said “Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt: 22:37 NIV).

Jesus commanded Christians to love others as they love themselves. In many instances the priests, pastors and evangelists do not tell their congregation how to love themselves. You can only love as much as you love yourself. During the processing of the affirmation exercise, participants are asked to talk for 3 minutes about “what I like about myself”. When asked how this exercise was for them many participants respond, “I was embarrassed. It looked like I was being proud and indulging is self pride.” Many Christians have forgotten that Jesus said “love your neighbor as you love yourself”. They just tell how one should love his/her neighbor.

In AVP one begins to learn how to love herself. How to affirm herself, actually take time to look into herself to not only think but verbalize these traits that she likes about herself. Then he is asked to tell another person traits in a leader they love or a person they respect and why. One is given time to THINK positively about themselves and others.

This is an area that modern Christianity does not stress. Even when Christians go for a retreat of 3-5 days there are experts who teach the participants with limited time for discussion. The whole concept, which is gaining more and more prominence, is that of “the servant of God”, that an anointed pastor or priest has all the answers. He has been set aside by God and talks to God on behalf of his congregation.

Personally my position has crystallized as I have facilitated AVP workshops. AVP takes people back to what Christianity was meant to be. It brings everybody back to an equal level where all are teachers, all are learners. Facilitators simply lead the process but they also learn all the time.

AVP gives people time to be there for each other for 3 full days. If one goes through the 3 levels and becomes an active facilitator the AVP principles become a way of life. AVP opens one’s mind to areas of caring for others, of self respect and love that have a profound effect on one’s outlook.

AVP recognizes that for true change to take place one must allow a power greater that himself to come into play. This is the transforming power. I recognize that this power works even among people who are not Christians. Paul says in Romans 1:26 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse”. This to me means that God’s Power and Divine Nature are there in the world and can be tapped by all humanity. It can use you if you align your thoughts and actions according to His will. This to my thinking is different from allowing yourself to be led and guided by Jesus Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit in your life. Indeed, this to me is a higher level which, when combined with the aforementioned natural eternal power and divine nature can make one the most transformed being there can be.

I believe like Quakers do, that there is good in everybody; and I can help one to see and express that good in them by the way I interact with them. The concept of salvation through Jesus Christ is a higher calling which requires a conscious and intelligent understanding and is based on Faith. I embrace all religions of the world because I know that we have all traveled different paths. That does not stop me from telling others about the wonder of being in Christ as a Christian. AVP is a great tool that enables me to interact with humanity, sharing with them a concept that truly transforms violence to non violence.