Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Sunday evening, hurrying home after an all-church retreat, I fell on the sidewalk leading to my apartment. "Fell," a mild word, does not quite capture what happened. My sleeping bag had come undone, and it slipped between my feet has I was half-running up the sidewalk in the rain. And, I might add, the dark. Dramatic, but true.

With no warning or time to brace myself, I went splat, face forward, on the cement. For an eternal 15 seconds I couldn't move. Soon I became aware of people above me. "Nancy, are you all right?" And to each other, "What should we do?" The observation ran through my mind, "So this is what it's like."

But quickly, my impulse to breathe kicked in, along with the realization that I could wiggle all my limbs. I found my glasses, surprised they were unbroken, and, with the help of my friends, slowly got up.

I felt greatly comforted by the presence of friends--Lynn, who is also a pastor of our congregation, and my neighbor Fred. Once in my apartment we assessed the damage and decided that my right hand, somewhat bloody and swollen, needed attending to.

Lynn took me to the emergency room of the local hospital. Actually, this was a first for me in all my 64 years of living. And I found it fascinating--the people, the processes, the questions, the equipment, the care. To make a long story short (a cliche I like), they x-rayed my hand, bathed and bandaged my wounds and pronounced me fine. Nothing broken. I spent the next day with my hand in a splint, swallowing Advil for the swelling, watching movies and generally taking the day off. Yesterday the optometrist re-bent my glasses and they again fit my face. The aches and pains lessen with each day.

But I keep reliving the experience. Even though minor, it's been traumatic.

I remember the feeling of helplessness as I felt myself falling, and as I lay there those brief--but long--seconds. I think of people in Haiti, trapped for days before rescue. I think of those for whom rescue never came.

I recall the comfort of having Lynn and Fred there, concerned and ready to do whatever was needed. Lynn accompanied me through the whole ER episode, and our running conversation about all that went on helped turn the crisis into adventure. Later that evening as I skyped with Hal (in Bolivia), I recall my satisfaction at his look of alarm as I held up my bandaged paw to the video camera. "Nancy! What's happened to you?!" (Why is that so satisfying?) And I think of all the people and supplies pouring into Haiti right now, of the logistical difficulties in getting the help to those who need it most. I pray that the accompaniment of caring people from around the world will be enough to make a difference.

I reflect on grace, on God's obvious protection and provision. I'm grateful. I realize again the vulnerability of life, that none of us are immune from the dangers that are part of our existence on planet earth, calamities both small and large. But God is here. And so are his people. My small personal trauma can't really be compared to what's happening in Haiti, but it's impacted me. I pray that it makes a difference in how I respond to the world around me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Right for You"

Recently my friend, Quaker poet Arthur O. Roberts, sent me this delightfully satirical poem, with permission to post it here.

“Right for You” by Arthur O. Roberts

Ponder with me, good folks out there,
a frequently-urged commercial admonition:
“Ask your doctor if it’s right for you!”
Right for you! Not someone else, right for you!
A reassuring fatherly voice reminds us that
this medicine “is not for everyone”, including
lesser souls who suffer one or more ailments
delineated rapidly in such sweetly dulcet tones
you know it’s right for you, especially as a smiling--
if slightly smirking—couple embrace to show
the happiness this medical wonder brings.
It’s such a faithful affirmation of our trust
in the guiding principle of individualism,
that our bodies ache for this healing balm,
and our minds eagerly respond:
“we’ll call the doctor in the morning.”

(You can find more of Arthur Robert's writings, poetry and otherwise, through or on

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti, Afghanistan and the White Rider

The news from Haiti this week has been devastating. I struggle to form an adequate response to the horror and suffering. As I pray, mostly in silent yearning, sometimes the only thing that comes is, “Jesus, have mercy.” Actually, that’s not a bad way to pray.

Concurrently I’ve been reading the book of Revelation, along with Eugene Peterson’s insightful commentary (Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 1988). Peterson interprets the last book of the Bible, not so much as prophecy of future events, but as revelations about Jesus, the church and God’s sovereignty in history. Connections abound.

Peterson’s comments on chapters 6 and 7 of Revelation are entitled, “The Last Word on Evil.” As the Lamb, Jesus, opens the first seal, a conquering warrior on a white horse appears. Peterson sees this as another symbol of Jesus, in his role as sovereign over human history. The seals that follow symbolize all the evil our world currently experiences: war, famine and poverty, sickness unto death, religious persecution and natural disasters. The sixth seal focuses the imagination on an enormous earthquake, and the pictures evoked match the images coming from the television set.

The challenging part for me is connecting the White Rider, the sovereign King, with what is actually happening in Haiti right now. As of this writing, water and food are still sitting on the airport tarmac. Time is running out for people trapped under the rubble. I pray for the conquering one to hurry up, while the hours stretch thin. The big questions of evil, suffering and a sovereign, all powerful God are not easily answered.

Another incident this week adds a thread to the weaving of the White Rider and the earthquake. This one brings in the war in Afghanistan, the threat of terror and the dubiousness of my own country’s military intervention. It’s a rather simple, everyday type of incident, but it brings me hope.

I met someone who is quietly making a difference in Afghanistan. Julia Bolz is her name, and you probably have not yet heard of her. My friend Fred Gregory had told me about her, as part of our conversations about US Christians and the rest of the world. Julia is doing in Afghanistan what Greg Mortenson is doing in Pakistan (made famous in his book, Three Cups of Tea). She happened to be passing through town this week, and Fred called me to come over to the president’s office at George Fox University (where he works) to meet her. We conversed for no more than an hour, but I find my hope for world peace and all sorts of other impossible dreams renewed.

Julie, a young woman, possibly in her late thirties or early forties, left a profitable law practice in Seattle about eight years ago, in search of a life with more purpose in a hurting world. After a series of brief stints with NGOs in places like Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan, she landed in Afghanistan. A time of questioning local people about their needs and any hope they saw for their nation, prompted her response. She began working with leaders in a small village in northern Afghanistan to build a school for girls.

One thing led to another, and today Julie is leading an organization with an on-site team of expatriates and Afghans, responsible for building 10 new schools for girls, improving 20 existing schools, facilitating teacher training and other support programs. Julie estimates that 25,000 Afghani children are currently receiving their care and attention. She feels that hope for the rebuilding of the country and the fight against terrorism lies in education, and specifically in the education of girls.

I am fascinated that Julie chose a Quechua/Aymara word for the name of her organization, Ayni Education International. Ayni is an important word in the Aymara culture where I’ve spent so much of my life. It means reciprocity and reflects a key Aymara value. I imagine this is also a key value in Afghani culture, and an important concept for any kind of international development work. (Julie told me I was one of the few people she had met that was already familiar with the word ayni.)

So, how does this relate to the disaster in Haiti, and where does the conquering White Rider of St. John’s strange vision come in? The fiery red horse of Revelation 6 represents war, and one of its contemporary expressions is certainly Afghanistan. But the White Horse and its Rider?

I’m reminded of the nature of apocalyptic literature, that it stimulates my imagination and engages my heart, rather than presents me with a blow-by-blow description of present—or future—reality. I’m also reminded of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God, how he compared it to something as small and common as a seed, something that often works invisibly. The invisible, buried seed and the White Rider seem like opposites. Rather, they provide two perspectives on a Reality that is active amid all the distressing realities of our world. And that gives me hope.

So, I will keep on with my ridiculously small prayers for mercy in Haiti. I will join with my local congregation to find responsible ways to channel financial gifts to Haiti, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. I will pray for Julia Bolz and tell people about her. I will continue to offer my body as a living sacrifice of worship, to be used in whatever way God determines. And everyday I will remember the center, the quiet place in the storm, the one who is both the invisible seed and the White Rider.

Jesus, have mercy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Call to prayer for Bolivia Yearly Meeting

I just saw Hal off to the airport, part of a team of four who will be representing Northwest Yearly Meeting at the annual sessions this week of the Iglesia Nacional EvangĂ©lica de Los Amigos (INELA). They arrive in La Paz early tomorrow morning and will spend the day resting, getting acclimated to the 12,000 foot altitude. Fortunately, it’s summer and not too cold.

All these travelers have invested much of their lives among Andean Friends. This will be a first return trip for former missionary Quentin Nordyke and his son Kevin who grew up there. Dan Cammack served as a missionary among Peruvian Friends, and Hal, of course, spent over 25 years among Andean Friends. This is an emotional journey for the whole team.

It’s an important visit for the INELA also, and the yearly meeting sessions as well as the visit need to be covered in prayer. The conflictive issues confronting the entire country of Bolivia are, unfortunately, reflected in the church.

The Aymara culture is by nature conflictive, and part of the gospel impact has been toward peace and reconciliation between social and cultural divisions. Both sides of this complex reality continue in the Bolivian Friends Church. While many spiritually mature men and women lead the church and reach out to their surrounding context, certain tensions and conflicts make up part of a continuous background struggle. Currently the focus seems to be mistrust between rural traditional Aymara Christians and more progressive urban Aymara Christians. The socio-political tendency of the country at this time favors a return to indigenous traditions.

Sometimes I wonder why peace-loving Friends have suffered so many internal conflicts and divisions. I have to remind myself of the very real difference that the gospel of Jesus Christ has made and is making, despite the temptations and tendencies of the context. And I remember the importance of prayer in encouraging the faith community as they work through their differences.

INELA yearly meeting sessions run from Jan. 7-10, Thursday through Sunday. Some ways to pray include the following:

--that the 600 people participating would be willing and able to listen to God and to each other
--for the voice of the Spirit in vision and guidance
--that the visiting team would be able to speak prophetic words of encouragement
--that God would continue building his church, so that the purposes of God in that particular context would be carried out.

“Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.”