Being Salt and the Light – Paul Parrish in Kenya, blog II

“‘If the world is broken, where are are the Christians?’ This is a common sentiment amongst the African Friends I’ve encountered. From food sufficiency and orphans to  gender injustice and conciliation, social action features prominently in the service of their faith.

Kenya knows its fair share of social problems: extreme poverty, the requisition of fertile land by powerful interests, gender inequality, AIDs, human trafficking and bitter, ethnic, tribal, denominational, racial, and generational rivalries. And it’s not hidden away or sanitised either. We’ve arrived at the World Conference at a time of accusations about a planned assassination attempt on the Deputy Prime Minister. And an alleged memo from British High Commission suggests that the President is to be indicted by the International Criminal Court upon his retirement for the part he played in 2007-2008’s post-election violence. Election violence that has already ensnared the Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Eldoret North MP William Ruto, and two others.  Mere words cannot describe or convey the immense concern shared by ordinary Kenyan Friends about their country, and its international standing, should the violent enmity return.

‘Mahatma Gandhi was once asked a question on what he thought was the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India. His response was Christians.’ Esther Mombo

It was timely, then, that Esther Mombo of St. Paul’s United Theological College today reflected on the metaphor and symbolism of Being Salt and Light. First of all, she pointed out that, while salt features prominently in the Bible, sugar doesn’t. Instead, and perhaps surprisingly for today’s readers, salt was used in its place:

“Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” Mark 9:50

In the Bible, salt was indispensible. In addition to making sustenance savory, she reminded us that salt may also be used as a preservative, a cleanser, and to encourage healing.

Similarly Dr. Mombo used the imagery of the many white head-scarves worn by the women in the audience to demonstrate light’s dazzling significance, its brilliant shine, and its graceful witness.

Quaker World Conference (Kabarak University, Kenya). 20 April 2012.

The problem is not our theology, she suggested, but our spirituality.  That is to say, our preaching, versus what is practised. If the World is broken, she suggested, it is because of our broken-ness. She encouraged us to not let our light leak, and be hidden:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds.” Matthew 5:14-16

She encouraged us not to shy away from the realities of our society. She implored us to contaminate ourselves, and get involved. She wants us to become influential in our societies and to uphold all that which affirms life. She said we should not succumb to the affliction, weakness and fearlessness that affronts life, and contributes to life’s ruin.

Although they speak in many tongues, the Africans I’ve encountered here at the World Conference wish for unity in opposition to the many challenges that befall their families and communities. And they believe they know where to begin – with themselves.

[All Bible quotes are New International Version® Copyright 2011. Used by permission.]

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About Paul Parrish

Paul was the Policy and Advocacy Officer of the Sustainable Energy Security programme between November 2010 and November 2012.
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