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

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