Special guest writer Sue Tannehill shares a story about how a family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo worked with her Quaker community to create an English-to-Swahili translation of New York Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice. This article originally appeared in FGC's Vital Friends eNewsletter. Read the full newsletter here.
The Ramazani Family entered the United States as refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in August 2010. Quaker Pastor Ndanga Ramazani, his wife, and 7 children arrived in Buffalo, NY under the auspices of Catholic Charities. Eventually they found Buffalo Monthly Meeting and we welcomed them with open arms. They were Evangelical Friends. We are an unprogrammed meeting. That never mattered. Now, a church has grown up around Pastor Ndanga. Thanks to support from the Thomas H. and Mary Shoemaker Fund, his congregation has access to a Swahili translation of New York Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice and is applying to our regional meeting for status as a monthly meeting.
How did this all happen? It was built on good will and a grant.
It began with helping Ndanga’s family adjust to life in America. We offered financial assistance, tutoring support, accompaniment to teacher parent conferences and medical appointments, and help for addressing housing issues when their apartment was unsuitable. Ndanga began to attend college. Within a few years, he had his bachelor’s degree in social work and his two older daughters were also attending college. His third child received a scholarship to a Jesuit high school. They became citizens and bought a home.
Friends in Farmington-Scipio regional meeting also embraced them, and over three years paid off the $12,000 bill from Catholic Charities for their airfare to the United States from the DRC in Africa.
Buffalo is home to many refugees who fled DRC, and a group of them approached Ndanga. They said, “You are a pastor. We want to worship as we did in the DRC. Please be our pastor. “
Ndanga discussed this with our meeting and we found space for them at the same building where we rented space. Buffalo Monthly Meeting approved them as a preparative meeting, and many Friends, including our General Secretary, attended the services that were in Swahili. Though we didn’t understand the language, the sense of praise and worship was evident. Their worship was joyous – singing, dancing, testimonies, preaching the word of God. The church, named Christ is the Answer International Fellowship, grew with 40-80 people attending each Sunday afternoon. Ndanga, his wife and several of the children continued to worship with us in silent waiting worship and also later in the day in their own way. In January 2020, Buffalo Monthly Meeting sent Ndanga and his daughter Regine to a workshop on clerking with Arthur Larrabee and Steve Mohlke.
Eventually, the group who had approached Ndanga in the first place came to him, saying, “We want to be part of the Quakers.” Since many of the refugees were still learning English, a Friend suggested that we translate NYYM Faith and Practice into Swahili, so that the congregation could read about our form of worship and business practices. A grant from the Thomas H. and Mary Shoemaker Fund allowed us to get a professional translation from English to Swahili. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed printing, but in July 2020, 350 copies of NYYM Faith and Practice in Swahili were distributed. This August, Buffalo Monthly meeting will consider a letter that supports changing Christ is the Answer International Fellowship’s designation from a preparative meeting to a monthly meeting.
At a time when divisiveness is rampant, it feels good to welcome a faith community that shares our heritage and practices it in a different way. According to Scripture, there is clearly room for us all as we find in the Psalms both “Be Still and Know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10), and “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all ye lands” (Ps. 100:1).
We rejoice that we have been able to nurture this meeting and welcome so many recent immigrants into the wider body of Friends.