This is a strange title for a progress report, but it’s what best reflects my sense of where we’re at. In regards to immediate time, we have three weeks left here in Bolivia to gather data, interview people and discuss our findings with our Bolivia team members. In terms of the overall project, we’re entering the fourth year of this five-year project to research and write the 100-year history of the Bolivian Friends Church (INELA).
A recent breakthrough (as in two nights ago) encourages me. It seems the official yearly meeting books of minutes from the year 1993 through the present time had gone missing. These are primary documents that include the time since 2002 after the mission had retired. I knew I wouldn’t be able to advance in my investigations without these resources. But Saturday night Tim did one more search in his office---and found them! He had a huge grin on his face as he brought the eight volumes down into our room and laid them on the table. (Timoteo Choque is the current president of the INELA.)
Although this means more detailed scanning work for me, I also grinned. Now I have something concrete to work with. I also groaned. These are eight volumes—200 pages each—of closely hand-written minutes. Some secretaries have clear hand writing; others don’t. Bolivian law requires that official minutes of legal organizations be hand-written and notorized.
(Pardon my spelling. The computer is telling me that “notorized” is misspelled, and suggesting I change it to “motorized.” I needed that suggestion. I need to laugh. It helps me work better. Right now I am imagining how I would handle all these hand written minutes if they were also motorized. I guess I would have to catch them before I could scan them. And would they even hold still for me? Probably not. They’ve been very elusive so far; why stop now?)
But more than the nitty gritty work load, I am feeling bowed down by the negative patterns we’re finding as we sort through all the data down through the years. We’re reminded that the church, while being the body of Christ in the spiritual realm, is also a human institution, affected by its surrounding culture, pounded by the events of history, and run by fallible human beings. This story is permeated by both light and shadows. The shadows tend to get to me. I find I have to fight against cynicism.
And fight I must. A year ago, our team adopted one of Paul’s prayers as our working motto, and we have it up on the wall in our office. Paul prays for the new believers in Philippi, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best….” (Philippians 1:9-10). We need faith to believe that this is God’s church, that the light (“all the light we cannot see”) is greater than the darkness. Above all we need love—love for God (we’re doing all this work for the glory of God—really, that’s more than a cliché to us), and love for the church herself. And not just the church as a shining spiritual concept, but the church as in the very real women and men, past and present, who attempt to follow Christ, who fail and fall, and who get up and keep going, sometimes groping, forward. According to Paul, it’s love, then, that will abound in knowledge, wisdom and discernment.
And that’s exactly what we need to move forward in this history project.