In the Bolivian Friends history project, I am currently researching the 1970s. As usual my work involves wading through a lot of tedious detail and occasionally finding hidden treasure.
This decade especially fascinates me because Hal and I enter the story. We first arrived in Bolivia in January 1972. I find my head sticking up out of the letters and minutes and minutia I’m wading through. In fact, I wrote many of those council minutes. My memory is adding spice to the task.
One such minuted item, a piece of hidden treasure, involved a rather tense discussion in a mission council meeting. I remember it well. The mission team at that time was made up of Ron and Carolyn Stansell, Gil and Louise George, and Hal and me. Our friendship and trust gave us the freedom to disagree, and sometimes we did just that.
The particular issue that day was important. We were wrestling through ways to relate to a national church that was experiencing growing pains; we were seeking a path that was holistic and healthy. Ron expressed the view that our theological and biblical work was key, that we needed to focus on the formation of leaders who “rightly handled the word of truth.” Ron had been instrumental in beginning the extension Bible school program and an interdenominational seminary for pastoral training.
Gil countered that the key was not education but simply warm pastoral care of our leaders. He found great value in our task of driving teams of leaders to the conferences and gatherings around the country. Being in the cab of the pickup with different people for hours on end seemed a wonderful opportunity to listen, encourage and pray with people. Gil and Louise were the newest members of our staff and the only ones with actual pastoral experience.
Then Hal piped in with another perspective. The key to our relationship, he said, is understanding the culture of our people—their values, ways of making decisions, family ties, and worldview. Hal came to the task equipped as an anthropologist, and he was deep into his investigations of the Aymara culture.
At one point in the meeting (and this is a point that comes from memory, not recorded in the minutes), one of the women (and I can’t recall who) observed that bringing together these three perspectives—the biblical, pastoral and cultural—made for a very holistic approach. While that seems obvious in retrospect, it was an aha! moment for me. Hope replaced the tension I had been feeling. And that hope continues to warm me.
I can’t say, of course, that from then on the way forward was clear. We continued to struggle and work through all sorts of issues. But God was with us and with the church, giving light, slowly bringing about maturity. The insight I gained in that council meeting made a difference to me.
And it encourages me now as I wrestle with the different points of view on issues Friends in the northwest—and all over the country—are facing, within ourselves and in our surrounding contexts. It encourages me to slow down, listen carefully, value the differing perspectives, and know that as we stay together God will lead us. And take care of the church.