Monday, March 26, 2012

Reflections on Friends in Bolivia, Part 2

It’s good to be home.  We left the muggy tropical heat of Santa Cruz on Tuesday morning and arrived in the Portland Airport Wednesday night in a snow storm.  I love it.

I continue reflecting on the Bolivian Friends Church, thankful for insights that came from this time of listening.  In mid-March I shared insights that encourage me.  Here I’ll share concerns.

The first concern comes from the socio-political pressure the church faces. While we found many sources of encouragement, including a new sense of dignity that most indigenous peoples in Bolivia now experience and an economic growth that seems to have trickled down to most of our friends, pressures to conform to animistic religious practices continue.  This especially affects indigenous evangelicals in rural areas and is a source of deep concern to Friends leaders.

The second concern that Friends leaders expressed to us is the lack of a new generation of young men and women called to pastoral leadership among Friends.  This is partly related to the first concern in that government regulations and control make it difficult for pastoral training institutes to operate.  People are prayerfully seeking solutions to this concern.

The third concern is a personal observation about the current isolation of Bolivian Friends. I’m speaking in terms of the greater church and the almost fear of relating to parts of the Body of Christ that aren’t Quaker, that don’t hold the same views (especially on the sacraments), that don’t have the same history or sing the same hymns.   It’s a pattern that I sense somewhat among US Quakers, and while this is not universally true, it’s enough of a pattern to worry me.

This reminds me a little of the dwarves in C.S. Lewis’ final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle. Refusing to join forces with others, their theme song became, “The dwarves are for the dwarves!”  Friends in Bolivia will grow in strength and courage when they can see that they are a part of the greater Body of Christ.

That’s true of us here as well.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Quakers and kites

Between packing our bags and last minute visits with friends, I am reading Dickens’ David Copperfield on my Kindle. Last night I came across this quote. Aunt Betsey is defending to David the childlike activities of an old friend who lives with her.  She says, “If he likes to fly a kite sometimes, what of that! Franklin used to fly a kite. He was a Quaker, or something of that sort, if I am not mistaken.* And a Quaker flying a kite is a much more ridiculous object than anybody else.

Now why would anyone think that?

(*She was mistaken.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Reflections on Friends in Bolivia, Part 1

After two weeks in La Paz, we’re back in Santa Cruz, finishing up interviews with students and leaders, getting ready for the transition back to Oregon. Our time in La Paz was intense.  We were there primarily to listen, and listen we did. It may take some time to absorb it all, but we’re getting a picture of what God is doing among Quakers in Bolivia (INELA), as well as the challenges our sisters and brothers there face.  The following are some reflections:

--I see administrative maturity, after some years of struggle with some difficult governmental regulations and a competitive regionalism that is a part of Aymara culture. In the last yearly meeting sessions in January, leaders representing the different regions (the La Paz highlands and the Santa Cruz lowlands) decided to work for solutions that would both satisfy legal requirements and promote unity in the church. Leaders seem committed to working together for the common good, and this is real growth.
Meeting with leaders of the La Paz Region
--I see a new optimism (faith might be a better word) in the Bolivian Friends Church’s ability to plan and carry forth projects independent of outside funding.  The new meeting house (“temple” is the word used here) on Max Paredes Street gives strong testimony to this faith in action, and this is but one of many such projects.

New Jerusalem Friends Church, INELA offices, clinic, dental office, primary and high school

--I see a new commitment to reaching out in ministry to other areas. A highlight for us was meeting with the La Paz Regional Friends Board to listen to their plans for sending four Bolivian missionary couples to areas of Bolivia that don’t have Friends churches.  We were able to sign an agreement with the Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Global Outreach contributing 30% toward the costs of the mission project.  While this might seem to contradict the previous observation about financial independence, it really doesn’t.  This is no longer a matter of dependency, but of cooperation between two independent yearly meetings.
Working together in mission
--I saw evidence of a vibrant group of young Quakers.  The yearly meeting youth organization is strong, encouraging activities that bring together young Friends from all regions.  There is growing interest in learning about and strengthening Friends testimonies, such as peace-making, simplicity, equality, and the use of silence in worship.  There is also an enthusiasm for an involvement in holistic mission that would bring together preaching the gospel with ministry to the social needs of people. If young people are the future of a church, Bolivian Friends can look forward with hope.

--We were continually blessed by the hospitality and generosity of our Aymara Friends.  While this is certainly not a new development, we were again made aware of this expression of Bolivian Quakers. We stayed in Aymara homes, ate at Aymara tables, and spent hours listening to stories of how God has been at work in congregations and individual lives.
Sajjta de pollo, my favorite!
We see many examples of Quaker women and men, filled with the Spirit, spending their lives in loving ministry to others, seeking the voice of Jesus, and longing to grow in all ways as the church, the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16). There is much to be grateful for.

Carmelo Aspi, Quaker theologian, past president of the INELA, dedicated writer

Salome Huarina, Quaker pastor, theologian, missionary--and one of my favorite people