Saturday, December 2, 2017

He can see!

Yesterday afternoon Reilly got his trial eSight glasses and tried them on. It was set up for him to first try them at school, in the band room (his favorite classroom!). But rather than describe it secondhand, I will copy the email we got just from Kristin (our daughter, Reilly’s mom).

“Hey Dad and Mom,

We did it!!!  Reilly tried the eSight glasses, and couldn't stop smiling!  Check out facebook as I posted a lot of pictures.  He was on the news again, and will be again later tonight and tomorrow morning.  It was pretty exciting!  We were in the band room with all his friends, Dave and Pat, youth pastor and his wife (who also took photos as she is the photographer who took our pictures earlier), his band director, and the news.  You could tell when he started to see because he just got this huge smile on his face.  He was kinda quiet just looking all around the band room.  It was pretty emotional.  He started walking around and read some sheet music, looked at posters across the room, zoomed in and read things we couldn't see, etc...  Then we went outside to the courtyard and he stared at the sky and the sunset.  Pretty cool!

Tomorrow is the Springfield parade and Reilly is to wear his glasses.  I will be following him as he really shouldn't be wearing them for more than an hour at a time as he gets used to them.  It is also supposed to be raining, so he may not be able to wear them very much.

Will keep you in the loop and wish you were here, but know you will be experiencing his sight soon enough when you come!

Love, Kristin

We both cried. Imagine the miracle of sight, immediately given. Today he plays the snare drum in the marching band. I wish we could be there, but we certainly feel the joy. Thanks be to God.

Here are some of the photos Kristin put up on Facebook.
With his mom and dad

In the high school courtyard

Friday, December 1, 2017

Flea powder evangelism

Last Sunday Hal and other members of our history team went out to Amacari, a village on the shores of Lake Titicaca and birth place of the first Friends church (INELA) about 100 years ago.  
(The photo is of believers from Amacari--the village is in the background--in the 1930s or 40s.)
The actual story of this congregation is mired in the mists of oral history. Different descendants of the original group each have their own version of how it all got started, as told to them by their grandparents. The events take place sometime between 1915 and 1924. As historians our strategy has been to collect all the stories, then try to identify the similar threads and arrive at a reasonable explanation of what might have happened.
Last week Hal and I celebrated Thanksgiving Day with some old friends (and Friends), Bernabé and Flavia Yujra. They actually live on land where the mission house once stood. Now three generations of the Yujra extended family live in various houses clustered around the large sunny patio.

Bernabé happens to be the grandson of one of the original Amacari believers, a man with the Old Testament Babylonian name of Baltazar Yujra. Bernabé told me a version of the Amacari story I hadn’t heard before. (I have three basic versions, with multiple variations.) He says his grandpa told him the story directly.
According to this version, a foreign missionary showed up in Amacara around 1917 and stood in the plaza playing his violin. But what attracted the people more was something he carried in his little medicine bag—flea powder! He told the people to sprinkle some in their beds to take care of their flea problem.
They did and it worked! The fleas all died (and, thankfully, none of the people did). People felt so grateful they were open to listen to the missionary’s message. Several converted and so the church was born.
This version of the story is so different from all the other versions—it has none of the similar threads that weave through the others—that, if I include it in the history book at all, it will probably be as a footnote. It makes me wonder if old Baltazar had a sense of humor and a healthy imagination, if he might have been pulling his grandson’s leg a bit. (He told a completely different version to another grandson whom we had previously interviewed.)
Well, I do have a healthy imagination, so I’ve tweaked the story further. I’d like to envision this fiddling missionary standing in the plaza, playing a Viennese waltz. Throughout the village, all the fleas wake up, enchanted by the music. They all crawl out of the beds, out the doors of the adobe huts, and make their way to the plaza. The missionary then turns and slowly walks out of the village, playing his violin, while a stream of fleas follows him. The villagers, thrilled at this miraculous liberation. all convert to Christianity and, thus, the church in Amacari is born.
(I won’t include this version in the book, not even in a footnote.)

Back to Amacari last Sunday, 2017. The brethren were glad to receive so many visitors, including members of the executive council of the denomination and representatives from the New Jerusalem Friends Church in La Paz—all determined to celebrate this milestone.
Actually, the Amacari Friends Church is still very much a rural community, and the people aren’t too wrapped up in dates and timelines. They hadn’t realized they were celebrating their 100th anniversary. (And the date, 1917, is somewhat arbitrary. People back them didn’t pay much attention to dates either.)
But, hey!, everybody loves a party. And celebrate they did!
Happy Anniversary, Amacari Friends Church!
One final observation: The fleas are back, but the church goes on.

Amacari believers at prayer in the 1940s

Celebrating their 100th anniversary

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Even today, the blind see

His name is Thomas Reilly Gault, and, typical of grandparents, we’re proud of him. At 15, Reilly is known as a math whiz, and one application of this is his participation in speed-cubing contests, where he solves different of configurations of Rubik’s cubes as fast as he can.
One of his passions is music, with an emphasis in percussion. He is the lead drummer in his high school band, and plays the snare drums in the marching band. He also plays the marimba, piano (playing dinner music in hotels) and cello (playing the bridal march in weddings). He loves being part of the worship team in his congregation.
An interesting detail in all of this is that Reilly is legally blind. Glasses bring his vision up to 20/500 in each eye, which helps, but isn’t all that great. He uses a cane at school and has learned braille. With all of this, he looks forward to a career in engineering and music, and would love to be part of a youth ministry team someday. Needless to say, Reilly faces unique challenges as he walks into his dreams.
Recently, while browsing the Internet, Reilly discovered the new technology of electronic glasses that give people with impaired vision the chance to see as clearly as most of us do. He found “eSight” and became excited about the possibilities. His parents joined him and they contacted the organization and found that he would be a prime candidate for the glasses.
The major set-back in this possibility is that a pair of these wonder glasses costs $10,000, a price beyond the means of Reilly’s parents (my daughter Kristin and son-in-law, Jon Gault). But the organization helps family members engage their community to raise funds for this project.
So a few weeks ago, Jon and Kristin, after consulting with local government officials and the school system, took the plunge and set up a donation site. Reilly wrote the essay for the site. Here’s a part of his description:

“Until a few months ago, I did not know that there might have been a possibility that I could be able to see like other people.  I discovered eSight one day, while browsing the internet, trying to learn about possible cures for different types of blindness and visual impairments.  I immediately told my family, and they seemed interested right away.  I could not get this off of my mind, as it seemed that my disability could possibly become an ability.  As you can tell, I am really stoked about this idea, and I would love it if you would be willing to embark on this journey with me, this journey that could change my life. 
“I was born with albinism and optic nerve hypoplasia, where the back of my retinas, and my optic nerves, were not fully developed. When I was younger, around 1st grade, my vision was stable at 20/100.  After 2nd grade, my vision deteriorated to beyond legal blindness, which is 20/200.  It kept deteriorating, for some unexplainable reason, until it stabilized around 20/500, with correction (glasses).  My parents raised me with the mindset that I could do anything I put my mind to, regardless of my disability.  For example, a nurse told my parents that, because of my low vision, I would not be able to play any ball sports in the future.  My parents promptly enrolled me in soccer, which I went on to play from kindergarten to my freshmen year of high school.  After that, marching band took over.”
To read the rest of Reilly’s essay, go to his eSight page. To learn more about the electronic glasses and how they work, go to this site.
I love to read about Jesus instantly healing the blind, and I believe in the possibility of that happening today, although I confess I’ve never witnessed it or even heard of a case. But I’m also willing to let God work his sight-giving miracles through modern technology.

I can’t wait for Reilly to be able to clearly see his mom and dad, his brother and sister, and, yes, his grandparents for the first time. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Surviving the Hobbit Hole

I have a fantasy about being part of the persecuted church. I am captured for my faith and put into a dark dank little room and left there to suffer in solitude. But, in my imagination, I pray. I sense the presence of Jesus and meditate on his beauty. My circumstances become irrelevant as the glory overwhelms me. The divine beauty lifts me up.
Maybe it’s good to put such positive pictures in my head. But every now and then reality marches in and knocks them out.
Our current reality is called “The Hobbit Hole.” Hal and I gave it that name in order to inject a bit of humor into our living situation.
Several years ago, the executive council of the Friends Church here in La Paz fixed up this little apartment for us. It had been the office of the Bible school staff and when they relocated, the council painted it a peach color, put in a ply-wood partition and a miniscule kitchen counter and sink, and invited us to live here during our yearly visits to Bolivia. It was a loving gesture and we receive it in that spirit. It’s conveniently located near the office of the history commission we’re a part of, and right in the hub of activity of the Bolivian Friends Church headquarters. Moreover, it comes with its own small but private bathroom.
We’re grateful.
And yet….
People here have their own nickname for this space. They call it “The Refrigerator.” Truth be told, it’s small, dark, cold, and ugly. When we first moved in, we referred to it as “The Cave,” but later opted for the more positive “Hobbit Hole.” The peach-colored walls help.
The apartment does have one large window—that looks four feet out onto the unfinished brick
wall of the church. Not one beam of sunlight dares to enter. Ever.
Our “Hole” is located on the lower level of the large Friends school in back of the main church. Above us is a primary classroom, and from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the kids shuffle, stomp, recite in unison and scrap their desks across the floor. In the time between the morning and the afternoon shifts, rascally little boys and girls run up to our door, bang on it, and run away giggling. We choose to see the humor in all of this.
But at night, the place is dark and silent. Sleep is sweet.
So, we ask ourselves, “How do we choose life in this particular situation?” There is much we can do. Rugs help warm up the floors (tile over cement), as does the small but efficient space heater. We’ve brought in trees, mountains, flowers and even two affectionate giraffes with calendar photos on our partition.  Pictures by our artistic granddaughter, Gwen, add both joy and beauty. We try hard to keep things neat and orderly. Our table serves as a center for study, meals and hospitality. Yes, people do visit us here. We have seating for five if we bring in the stools that serve as our bedside tables. If more show up, some of us stand. It tends to keep visits short.

 Living room/dining room/office

Thank you, Gwen!

A place to fix simple meals

But I have to admit that my surroundings do affect my spirit. There are days when I fight depression, when the lack of sunlight and the sheer smallness of this space begin to give me a spiritual claustrophobia. I fight the temptation to give in, but this takes its toll on my energy level.
So we make an effort to get outside every day, to visit our friends around the city, to program adventures that let us see real trees and flowers growing out of the ground.
And in the early mornings, as I wait before the Lord, there are times when his beauty becomes more real than anything else, and glory fills even the Hobbit Hole.
For all the other times, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hospitality, Bolivian style

The view from Felix and Clemi’s fifth-floor guest apartment looks out over La Paz and to the mountains beyond. Not only is the view spectacular, sun floods the room with warmth every afternoon, as we’ve had the privilege to experience on two occasions since our return to Bolivia.
We’ve known Felix Huarina and his wife, Clementina, since 1972 when we first came to Bolivia as young inexperienced missionaries. Felix was part of the youth group at the big New Jerusalem Friends Church in La Paz. When he found out I had been involved in theater, he invited me to work with him in writing and directing dramas with the young people. That began a long friendship.

We attended the wedding of Felix and Clemi during our first term in Bolivia, and later, when Orpha and Iber joined the family, their parents asked us to be the childrens’ padrinos (god-parents). As part of our duties, we performed the rutuchi ceremony when the kids were still little. This is when the god-parents cut the kids’ hair and shave their heads, indicating that these are no longer infants; they have entered the next stage of life. (People believe that shaving the heads of children causes their hair to grow back thicker and more beautiful.)
It seemed to be joyful occasion for Felix and Clemi, but rather traumatic for the kids. They survived. That was a long time ago.

Now, whenever we return to La Paz, we are still made to feel part of the family. Felix and Clemi have constructed a five-story apartment building so that their kids can live with them, each with their own apartment. They tell us that the top story is for us, and they really do want us to move in. For practical reasons, we won’t be doing that, but it is a great weekend retreat.
Two weeks ago, Hal got sick enough that we called Felix to get a reference to a good clinic. He told us on the phone, “Stay there. We’ll be right over.” When he and Orpha got here, they told us to pack a bag, that we were coming home with them. Orpha’s husband, Milton, is a medical doctor, and he was able to diagnose Hal’s problem and get the necessary medication. That, plus Clemi’s chicken soup, and time in a warm sunny atmosphere got him over the hump.
Since then, we’ve been back once again to relax with the extended family and spend the night.
We see Felix frequently other times, too, as he is a member of the history commission we’re a part of. He is a film-maker by profession (and a radio broadcaster), and he is in charge of making the documentary movie to summarize the 100-year history of the Bolivian Friends Church.

Thank God for long term friendships. Thank God for our family away from home.

Dr. Milton with Orpha (whose hair grew back)

Iber, now a computer specialist, with his family

Felix (film-maker), on right, with other members of our history team

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sunday with Friends in La Paz

On Sunday I went to the New Jerusalem Friends Church and enjoyed worship among my Aymara Quaker friends. Going to this church is convenient as Hal and I live in a small guest apartment on the same property. In fact, our window faces the basement window of the church where the youth meet every Saturday night, and late into the previous evening we got to listen to the young drummer practicing his rhythms. I predict he’s going to become very good if he keeps up this vigorous practice.
I arrived at 10:00 a.m. for the second service, but things were running late, so I caught the tail end of the first service where the preacher was preparing the congregation for All-Saints-Day, coming up the end of the month. He strongly exhorted them not to follow the animistic customs of the culture by bringing food and offerings to the tombs of their dead ancestors.
The temple was full for this first service, and at the end a multitude of people moved to the altar to pray. Then they filed out to make room for the next service. As they passed the pew where I was sitting, many shook my hand and we exchanged verbal blessings.
The second service contrasted to the first. It began with an hour of Sunday school, and the lesson focused on time management, complete with PowerPoint illustrations. David Quispe taught the class and did an excellent job. This delighted me because David was one of a small group of teenagers that our daughter Kristin belonged to. I remembered all the times the kids gathered at our house to roast hot dogs (a novelty) and have fun. Now David pastors a church and is raising his own family. (He had been invited as a guest teacher for this Sunday school class.)
Somewhere in the middle of the class, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see my dear friend Salomé. We embraced and she invited me to sit with her in the back row. I’m afraid we whispered during the rest of the class (an advantage of being on the back row).
The following worship service rang with music, most of it adopted from the lively Pentecostal tradition that is so popular with young people here. No one danced, but quite a few clapped, and everyone sang at the top of their lungs. Then the church president went to the pulpit for announcements but took about ten minutes updating the congregation on the problems with the construction of a new room on the fourth floor of the building. Saturday night when they were to pour the cement, it rained, and some leakage damaged the ceiling of the auditorium. People are pretty upset, and the president assured everyone that steps were being taken to address the problem.
Pastor Silver Ramos then gave the morning sermon, apologizing for the lateness of the hour, but assuring people that he would not rob them by cutting down his sermon. He didn’t. He preached on the same subject as did his co-pastor in the earlier service, on the dangers of following the customs of the culture during All-Saints. He emphasized that death is death, and that if they were to bring a Bible to put on the grave of their ancestor, he would not read it. He’s dead and the dead don’t read. If they were to lay bread on his grave, he would not eat it. The dead don’t eat. “With death, everything ends,” he warned. I squirmed a bit, wishing he’d come out of the Old Testament and give some New Testament hope on the promises of God for our resurrection life. Maybe he’ll preach that sermon at Easter.

I’m again aware that I’m in a completely different culture. But I’m also aware that these people are my brothers and sisters and that I love them. It really is good to be here again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The beginning of the end

Last week we flew to La Paz, and yesterday we moved into the Hobbit Hole, a small apartment squished in between the New Jerusalem Friends Church and the large Friends school in back. The Hobbit Hole is directly under one of the school’s classrooms, and all morning long the kids have been reciting, singing, scrapping their chairs over the floor and, apparently, practicing for a violent overthrow of the government. I hope somebody is teaching Quaker peace-making. Some silence wouldn’t be bad either.
Last night we had a wonderful meeting with the people on the History Commission, the group we’re working with in this huge Bolivian Quaker history project. We’re encouraged by our team’s progress, initiative and motivation. And they’ve certainly given us a warm welcome.
I’m also encouraged by Jesus’ teaching on persistence in prayer: “Ask (and keep on asking) and it will be given to you; seek (and keep on seeking) and you will find; knock (and keep on knocking) and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Here are the prayer requests that I invite you to ask and keep on asking concerning our concluding five months of work on the project here in La Paz:
--That God’s Spirit would fill and motivate us by love (Phil. 1:9-11): love for God that fuels our obedience and hard work; love for the church with all her blemishes and challenges; love for and among our team members. Love.
--That God’s Spirit would fill our team, that relationships stay healthy and open, that we all be able to focus on Christ and worship and work together.
--That we might discover the missing pieces in this complex story.
--For truth; that God would guard us from error and presumption.
--For insight into all the questions our investigation has brought up; for discernment to see where the Spirit was (and is) moving in all the events and problems and people that make up this story.
--For good writing.
--For the joy of the Lord to be our strength.
--For a successful conclusion to this project.
--For it to fulfill its purpose to bless and encourage the church, both in Bolivia and in the Northwest USA.

Amen. Lord, hear our prayer.