Monday, December 10, 2018

Native American Quaker missionary: the story continues

After graduating from the 6th grade and while making his living in Ramona as a butcher, William Abel joined with other young men his age and began experimenting with liquor and wild living.
Simultaneous to Abel’s experiences in Ramona at the end of the 19th century, the Ramona Friends Church was founded (1883) and recognized as a monthly meeting in 1892 under the Pasadena Quarterly Meeting. At the time it was the only church in town. William Abel seems to have ignored the existence of this little meeting up until 1897.
In September 1897, Levi Gregory, superintendent of evangelism for California Yearly Meeting, held a three-week series of meetings in the Ramona Friends Church. Somehow, William Abel found himself in one of these meetings. Twenty conversions were reported at the end of the three weeks, and these included one surprised William Abel. There are various versions of his conversion experience, but we’ve yet to find one in his own words.
Subsequently these meetings were referred to in the documents as “the Ramona revival,” and the excitement seemed to go on for at least three years. A report written in 1898 notes that, “We frequently have overflow meetings…. No time for preaching but spontaneous prayers, praise, and testimonies, and hands raising for prayers. Oh, such wonderful love!” Concerning an offering for a new parsonage, the same report goes on, “One Friend put in fourteen acres of grain for the Lord’s work. Another gave the use of twenty acres and plowed it…. A Methodist gave a horse, a young Mexican who was converted at the revivals gave $5.00. Some tithed, others gave work, etc., etc.”
The generous “young Mexican” was probably William Abel. It’s interesting to note that $5.00 would have been his annual wage several years back when he worked as a goat-herder. Abel’s conversion was genuine and the following years found him still among Friends at Ramona, maturing as a new Christian. Abel was around 27 years old at the time of his conversion.
In 1900, Abel moved to Whittier, California to enroll in the new Training School for Christian Workers, a Quaker sponsored offspring of the holiness movement sweeping through the country. (This school would one day evolve into Azusa Pacific University, but that’s another story.) Abel was deeply impacted by his experiences at the school, including contact with Quaker prophet Amos Kenworthy and China missionary J. Hudson Taylor, both speakers at the school. He participated in different ministry opportunities when not in classes, including speaking in different Friends churches. Quaker missionary to Alaska, Dana Thomas, remembers “seeing many large audiences composed of cultured, intelligent people, who were moved in a wonderful manner by this simple native. He was a true Friend, refusing to address meetings where he did not feel the Spirit’s leading.”
In 1902, Abel cut short his studies and volunteered with Peniel Mission. Peniel sent him and a man named C.G. Carson to the Philippines where Abel served for the following 11 years. The few letters he wrote home give scant details of his work as a Bible colporteur and a street preacher. The work was hard, and at the end of these years (1913), Abel returned to California, weakened by malaria and sensing the need for further training. He enrolled again in the Training School for Christian Workers, this time graduating with the class of 1916.
After working in the greater Los Angeles area for over two years to repay his school bills, William Abel was ready for his next missionary adventure. This time the destination was the highlands of Bolivia.  (To be continued.)
(An additional personal note: Several discoveries linked this investigation to us, personally. One surprise was the role that the town of Ramona played in the story. I, Nancy, grew up in Ramona, attended the same elementary school, and found Jesus in the same Ramona Friends Church. The other discovery came as we found the 1916 graduation class photo for the School for Christian Workers. Of the eight graduates, Abel is the tall man in the back row. The young woman second from the left in the front row happens to be my husband’s grandmother. Both Hal’s grandparents, Clyde and Mary Kellogg Thomas were school mates of William Abel.)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Native American Quaker missionary: the story begins

The fact that one of the first Quaker missionaries to Bolivia was a Native American from Southern California has long fascinated people, myself included. But details of the life and service of William Abel remained largely unknown, and differing versions competed, according to who was telling the story.
So Hal and I spent a year investigating this part of the history of the Bolivian Friends Church (INELA). Our travels took us to university and mission archives in California and Indiana, the city museum and school district records in Ramona, California, the Indian museum in San Pascual, California, and the Kumeyaay Indian Reservation in Valley Center, also in California. Mysteries still remain, but we were able to unearth a good part of the story.
William Abel (probably not his original name) was born a member of the Kumeyaay Indian tribe on the tribe’s lands in San Pascual, California. The year was likely 1870, although Abel himself was never sure when he was born. This was during a time when white settlers and poachers were gradually taking over land that had been previously given back to the tribe by the US government. Within ten years no more Indians would be living in San Pascual.
While Hal and I were going through the archives at Azusa Pacific University, I found an autobiography written by Abel in the school’s 1900 newsletter. It was one of those historical discoveries that caused me to yell, even though I was in a library. Abel wrote it as a young man and new student in the Training School for Christian Workers, so it only covers his childhood. But it answered some of our questions and provided a wonderful link to the Aymara peoples of Bolivia. Let me share some of his early experience with you.
He writes that he lost both his parents by the time he was eight years old and found himself living for a time with his grandfather in the mountain village of Julian. He notes that he “was left mostly to look after myself.” He goes on to give a brief picture of his ten years in the area around Julian and his work herding first goats, then pigs, and finally, cattle. In his first work herding goats, he says he made his living, “such as it was,” and earned $5.00 a year. This corresponds to the conditions and customs of an indentured child servant, part of California’s legal way of dealing with the Indians. Summing up his misadventures as a child goat herder, Abel writes,
“I didn’t know how to herd goats, and the American for whom I worked was hard on me, oftentimes my flock would wander away from my care. The goats would climb up the mountain, on and on to the highest rock and there lie down. I would follow and by the time I was with them at the top, I would think it was a good place to lie down too. I was tired and while the goats were resting I would go to sleep.
“Sometime when I awoke, my goats would be gone and if I did not bring them home I would have to suffer for it. Once when I lost the flock I was afraid to go again to my master, and so I ran away, after two years as a boy goat herder.”
Abel tells of his next two years herding pigs, noting that “I didn’t know how to herd hogs any better than I did goats.” He goes on to explain the details of being fired from this job, at the probable age of ten: “The occasion of my leaving them [the hogs] was this: I had let them run into the dry foxtail so much that, strange as it may seem, the eyes of many had become destroyed, the eyeballs emptied by the barbs which had pierced them. My master, when he discovered this, accused me of having punched out their eyes with my thumb, and so he fired me.”
Abel writes that his life improved with the next job of herding cattle because he got to ride a horse. He did this for the next several years, and at the age of 18 was freed from his servanthood and made his way to the town of Ramona where he enrolled in the first-grade. He describes this experience: “I did not know my letters, but entered the public school. I was put in the first grade with the little children. I was ashamed, but I staid by and in three years I had passed the sixth grade, leaving the little ones behind, but I worked for it, studying almost night and day.”
Abel also apprenticed himself to a local butcher and in a few years learned the trade and opened his own butcher shop. It was all quite an accomplishment for an orphaned Indian boy who had been pushed off his tribal land and spent his childhood as an illiterate indentured child servant. We don’t know where the motivation to become educated and learn a trade came from, but it would not stop there.
As I read this, I was aware of the similarities of experience between the Kumeyaay and the Aymara, although a continent apart. The Aymara of Bolivia are a herding people (among other things) and have a history of loosing their ancestral lands and being marginalized. Universal education for Aymara kids is a recent reality, not part of their history. The list could go on.
I will continue with the William Abel story, the Quaker part, in the next blog.

Monday, November 26, 2018

When did it all begin?

For several years the Bolivian Friends Church (INELA) has looked forward to celebrating its 100th birthday. The big question has been—when will the party take place? That points to a more basic question—when and how did it all get started? As Hal and I have participated on the team investigating and writing the history of this church, the mystery surrounding its beginnings is part of what has made this project so much fun.
Of course the final decision as to the “official” centennial date has been the prerogative of Bolivian Quakers, but we’ve found the conversation fascinating. Some people in INELA wanted to recognize the founding as sometime between 1915 and 1920. In those years a group of new believers came together in the village of Amacari on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The history team has interviewed the now elderly grandchildren of those same believers. We discovered at least four differing versions of the story of how this one group came to be.
Oral history is fascinating, and we respect the memories of people, even as we compare the different stories, noting the contradictions and finding the matching threads. The original conversion stories note the influence of Protestant street preachers and even a Catholic catechist. However the first believers converted, the resulting group in Amacari met without any influence from other churches or outside mission groups up until 1924.
Most Bolivian Friends want to recognize 1919 as the founding date. William Abel, a Native American Quaker from Southern California came to La Paz at that time to literally give his life for the gospel. He joined forces with three Quaker women, two of whom also arrived in La Paz that same year. Florence Smith from Kansas Yearly Meeting, and Emma Morrow and Mattie Blount from Indiana formed a team with Abel, and the four Friends preached in the streets of the city. But within the year Abel died from small pox.
One of Abel’s young disciples, a Bolivian mestizo named Juan Ayllon, decided to throw in his lot with the Friends and made plans to prepare for missionary service. Ayllon became a Christian through the influence of a Methodist missionary, at a worship service in a Salvation Army Hall, and was later nourished in a local Baptist Church. Yet Ayllon chose Friends to be his community of faith, largely through the influence of Abel. After Abel’s death, Ayllon went to Guatemala to be trained for service in the newly formed Berea Training School for Christian Workers, a ministry of the Central American Friends Mission. This mission, along with the newly forming Friends Church in Central America, sent Juan Ayllon and his new bride, Tomasa, back to Bolivia as their first missionaries in 1924.
Juan Ayllon

Other Bolivian Friends think we should recognize 1924 as the birthdate of the INELA. That year marks the arrival of the Ayllons in La Paz and the formation of the La Paz Friends Church, first meeting on October 8, 1924. Ayllon also made contact with the believers in Amacari that year, persuading them to join with Friends. From 1924 on, the INELA began to take form and grow as an official church.
In its yearly meeting sessions in 2017, the INELA chose 2019 as the date to mark the centennial of the church, recognizing both the sacrifice of William Abel and the decision of Juan Ayllon to become a Quaker. I wouldn’t be surprised if the church also celebrated in 2024. In any case, its obvious that the Holy Spirit was at work long before any official organization, Quaker or otherwise, became involved. And it’s obvious that the Spirit used a variety of people from different faith communities, some of whom were Quaker. Oregon Yearly Meeting didn’t enter the scene until 1930.
Personally, I’m content with letting the Spirit take the credit. We can party on any of the above dates.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Bolivian Friends To Celebrate 100 Years

Next year the Bolivian Yearly Meeting of Friends (INELA) will celebrate its 100th birthday. A smallish coliseum has been rented and people are making plans to host visitors from around the world. We will gather on April 18-21, Easter weekend, to sing, pray, eat, and together proclaim, “See what God has done!”
In anticipation, Hal, I, and a team of Bolivian Quakers have been working together for six years to research and write the history of this yearly meeting that today spreads in some 200 congregations across the nation of Bolivia. The task has been formidable—gathering primary documents, interviewing a host of people, writing down the stories, and doing the work of historical interpretation in our cross-cultural community. (I got out of breath just writing that last sentence.)
We’re finally approaching the end of the project. The book in English (my part of the task) is written, and a potential publisher is considering the proposal. The Bolivian team members are on schedule to finish the book in Spanish and the documentary film before the actual celebration in La Paz.
In the next couple of months I will use this blog to tell parts of the story. I hope to whet appetites, stimulate curiosity, and encourage a sense of gratitude.

Hal was overall coordinator of the project, and Reynaldo Mamani headed the Bolivian team.

Humberto Gutierrez was in charge of the Spanish book, while I took on the writing of the book in English. Humberto's wife Petrona sits between us.

Felix Huarina, here with his wife Clementina, is in charge of the documentary film. The photo at the top of the article is the team with their family members at our Christmas party (2017).

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Floating over the fields

We celebrated our 50th anniversary with a hot air balloon ride, something we’ve always wanted to do. We were not disappointed.
I remember another 50th celebration—my birthday some years ago. I wanted it to be memorable, so Hal and I took time off from work, went to Magic Mountain, and spent the day riding roller-coasters. A beast appropriately named “The Viper” made an especially thrilling impression.
Two very different rides. Our anniversary beast was named “Ridge Runner,” and he gave us a more gently thrilling ride. We floated rather than raced. But what a visual feast!
A typical cloudy Oregon day, we couldn’t see the far peaks—Hood, Saint Helens, or Rainier—but the Chelalem range circled the Willamette Valley farmland, with narrow forrest groves snaking across the planted fields. I thought of lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty”: “Glory be to God for dappled things…. landscapes plotted and pieced—fold, fallow and plow….”

Because of a lack of winds, we drifted very slowly, with a lot of up-and-down trips, almost touching the fields at times, up above the forested hills at other times. The Willamette River meandered in the distance.
Part of the grace of this ride was that it was a gift from our kids. David met us at the air field before the flight so he could see us off, take photos, and meet us again wherever we landed. Along with all of us, he helped the crew in getting the balloon ready for flight.
And then, when we passengers were in the basket, ready for take-off, the assistant said to David, “Hop in.”
“Oh, no,” David replied. “I’m not a passenger. I’m here to see my parents off.”
The assistant merely repeated his command, “Hop in.
We all looked at each other, grinned, and David hopped in.
       Grace upon grace.

                                             Ready to go!

Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Bolivar's Horse

I thought of you two today,
about when you were kids
and we lived on Juan de Vargas Street
in Miraflores. Surrounded by buildings,
we used to cross two busy streets
to get to the Plaza Triangular
where you would run around
or ride your tricycles on the uneven pavement.
A huge statue dominated the plaza,
some Bolivian military hero
--Bolivar perhaps, yes, certainly
it was Bolivar—mounted on an antsy
but stationary stallion. The horse had one hoof
raised, head lifted back, while his master
held the reigns tight, not quite ready
to plunge into battle. The tail was tense,
high in the air. We dared ourselves
to sit on the base of the statue, just under that tail.
We held our breath and waited to see
if any cement turds would fall on our heads.
They never did.
But they could have. They most certainly
could have.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Running from the Witch

When I was eight we lived in Clevenger Canyon
in a forested lot with a dirt driveway.
The wooden house, dusky red,
seemed to grow right out of the forest floor.
It conversed at night with the whispering trees.
As the oldest kid, I got to stay up
one-half hour later than my brother and sister.
That meant at bedtime I had to travel alone
down a long dark hall to reach the bedroom we shared.
Every single night a witch chased me.
Black cape, frazzled hair, wicked grin—she wanted
to get me real bad. So I ran down that endless hall,
tried to quietly open and close the door,
dashed to the bed shedding robe and slippers,
dove in and pulled the covers over my head.
Only then was I safe.
This perilous chase took place every night of the year
we lived in Clevenger Canyon. She never got me. But it was close.
Now, every once in a while, I see the witch
peeking out between racks of clothes at the Goodwill,
slipping among the pews at church, or driving over the speed limit
on the freeway to Springfield. She winks.
I grin back.