Friday, November 29, 2013

Confronting the abominable scowl

Last week Hal and I enjoyed prowling around in the archives of Southwest Yearly Meeting of Friends, hot on the trail of the puzzle pieces as we research the history of the Bolivian Friends Church. One of the occupational hazards of archival research is the temptation to scamper off on any of the fascinating rabbit trails that frequently pop up. Because of the limited time we had, we managed to resist many of these tempting trails. But not all of them.
The rabbit trail I’m about to lead you down appeared in the lower right hand corner of page 8 of the magazine Christian Workman, from “first month” 1905. (The Christian Workman was the early printed voice of California Yearly Meeting.) It’s a short trail, essentially a list of the characteristics of an effective “junior worker.” A“junior worker” might be what we would today call a youth pastor.
Some of these characteristics, while timeless, reflect a different age. The junior worker...
--Is gentle.
--Cultivates simplicity.
--Speaks a kind word often.
--Lays stress on small duties.
(Perhaps we would describe youth pastors today in more dynamic terms?)
Some of the characteristics definitely root in the early 20th century:
--Uses blackboard.  (A what?)
--Wears junior badge. (This congers up memories of my brownie button, which I wore with pride. But I somehow can’t picture a youth-pastor-badge, or anyone today wearing such a thing.)
My favorite characteristic from the list stands out in its quaintness. I learned that an effective junior worker…
--Thinks scowling abominable.
Abominable. That’s a strong word. In other words, the junior worker is not only someone who scowls at a scowl, he or she wholeheartedly opposes it.
I’ve been chewing on the term awhile, and I’m sensing more and more its appropriateness. However quaint the expression, the common sense therein applies as much to us as it did to those 1905 junior leaders.
Scowling people are still, if not totally abominable, at least irritating.
I offer my own grandkids as an example. Normally these young people are adorable, but on that rare occasion when one of them wakes up grumpy, “abominable” may not be too wild a term to use.
Please observe these photos of the grandkids scowling abominably. You’ll quickly discern that they are posing for instructional purposes. These are not their normal expressions. But I wanted to illustrate what a scowl looks like, and rather than the blackboard, I’m using digital photography, this being 2013.
Of course, the really abominable scowl is the inward one. I must confess that I sometimes bear one, carefully disguising its outward manifestation if other people are present. I have days when a black cloud hangs over my spirit and I can see no good in the world around me, including the people who inhabit it. Abominable is exactly the right word in this case. Some would call it sin (a word that fits better in a document from 1905, but applies today).
The antidote is thankfulness, I think. On dark days, deliberate thankfulness is an offering we make to God. An unnatural offering, but a real one. An old hymn tells us to “count your many blessings, count them one by one.” 
It’s hard to do that and scowl at the same time.

Monday, November 18, 2013

History of the Bolivian Friends: finding the puzzle pieces

I love puzzles. I am currently beginning the largest and most complicated puzzle of my life. This one will take longer than usual, and I will need a lot of help in putting it together.
In January of this year, both the Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Global Outreach and the Bolivian Evangelical Friends Church (INELA) officially approved a five-year project to research and write the history of the INELA. As this yearly meeting approaches its centennial celebration (2024), people are concerned to pass on the details of its birth, development and growth as a heritage to the next generations.
We traveled twice to Bolivia this year to organize the Bolivian research team, set up an office, and begin the work. We want the work to reflect both insider (Bolivian Quakers) and outsider (us and the NWYM mission archives) perspectives, with three resulting products: a book in Spanish for Bolivian Quakers, a book in English for NWYM and other English-speaking Quakers, and a documentary film in Spanish, with English sub-titles. The two books will not be translations but two separate books for the two separate audiences, although we will share the research.
Currently Hal and I are in Southern California, scrounging around in the archives of Azusa Pacific University and the Evangelical Friends Church Southwest. We’re following the trails of a few names that exist almost as myth in the very beginning of Friends in Bolivia: William Abel and Juan Ayllon. We’re trying to sift fact from fiction. To get back to my puzzle metaphor, we’re trying to find the missing pieces.
Without going into a lot of detail here, two discoveries are especially exciting because they connect us personally to the story. They both concern William Abel, the Native American Quaker that began it all. I learned that he left the Mesa Grande reservation in Southern California shortly after his parents died, and he moved to the town of Ramona. He reluctantly attended revival services at the Ramona Friends Church in 1897. California Yearly Meeting superintendent of evangelism, Levi Gregory, was preaching, and on the second night, William Abel made a decision to join his destiny to the cause of Jesus Christ. He became a Christian.
This links to me in that I grew up in Ramona and also became a Christian in the Ramona Friends Church, at a much later date, of course. This church, always small, no longer exists.
Two years later Levi Gregory was involved, along with several other Quakers, in founding the Training School for Christian Workers in Southern California, the institution that gradually evolved into Azusa Pacific University. Gregory apparently used his influence on his young convert, and William became the first person to enroll in the school in 1900.
William Abel’s story takes several twists and turns. He spent under two years at the school and left in 1902 as a missionary to the Philippines where he spent the next 11 years. Sensing the need for more training, he returned to the school and finally graduated in 1916. After that he left as a missionary to Bolivia, and the history of Friends in Bolivia begins.
But the personal link to Hal is that graduating class of 1916. We have obtained a graduation photo of the Training School for Christian Workers, 1916. Of the eight graduates, William Abel is the man in the middle of the last row. And on the first row, the pretty young woman second from the left, identified as Mary Kellogg, just happens to be Hal’s grandmother.
What a delightful discovery. We knew that Grandma and Grandpa Clyde Thomas attended the training school, but we had no idea they were classmates of William Abel. (Grandpa and Grandma Thomas moved to Oregon after their marriage, raised their five kids, the oldest being Hal’s dad Bill Thomas, and then went to Burundi as Friends missionaries. But that’s another story.)
Later this morning we’ll drive our rented car to the headquarters of Evangelical Friends Southwest where we’ve graciously been given access to the archives. I’m hoping to find something about the revival meetings in Ramona, maybe a story about William Abel’s background, and so on. We have many questions.
Fortunately, I really do love a good puzzle. It's fortunate because I’ll be spending a lot of time on this one—not just the beginnings of the work, but its development on the high plains of Bolivia and its growth down into the tropical valleys and into what is today a thriving community of Christian Quakers. I imagine the completed picture will be multicolored, with all shades of light and dark. I imagine it will be complex and beautiful.
In the meantime, we’re having fun finding the pieces.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The merry clay of Chiang Mai: Grace sightings

We’ve just returned from nine days (including travel) in Thailand and the gathering of Evangelical Friends Mission (EFM) workers from around the globe. We met at a resort hotel in Chiang Mai, an uncommon luxury for some of those in attendance. I spotted grace in many places, both blatant and tucked into obscure corners.
--The people and their stories: I loved getting to know Quaker missionaries from (and to) India, the Philippines, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Hungary, Guatemala and Cambodia. I took on the role of being a “story catcher,” and spent time interviewing women from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, listening to their stories of encounter with Jesus, arranged marriages, and experiences as Quaker Christian ministers in Hindu and Muslim contexts. While our stories contrast in many ways, our experiences of grace coincide.
--The merry clay of Christian experience: One evening the family from Bhutan shared a song from their context, and the English translation contained one of those phrases that serendipitously combine error and truth. When the words, “He lifted me out of the merry clay,” flashed on the Powerpoint, some of us smiled. I’ve been smiling ever since. While perhaps not representative of the bog and mire of hard times, what a delightful way to think of this good earth.
--The merry clay of Chiang Mai: The resort where we stayed was set in the middle of a huge botanical garden that included a series of small lakes, joined by streams that flowed around tropical trees and flowers. This was merry clay indeed, full of beauty and grace. Insect song and the calls of strange birds added to the mystery and gave a new setting for worship. We walked every day and continued to discover new paths through the forest.
--Thai hospitality: I love the Thai greeting, hands folded and head bowed as if in prayer. Maybe I’m romanticizing, but it seemed to communicate a reverence for the presence of another person. Our welcome was warm, the food amazing. Of course we only got a glimpse of this complex culture, but my desire to know and understand more has been kindled. I suspect I would find grace upon grace.
--Friendships new and old: I especially loved talking with Kathi, missionary to Ireland, and sensed the beginning of friendship. But I also savored those afternoons when the EFM missionaries and staff had their coaching sessions, leaving us Quakers from other yearly meetings free to do whatever we wished. The “whatever” we chose was to meet in the coffee shop--Johan, Becky, Hal and me, iced Thai chai, yoghurt smoothies and great conversation.
--Another family fix: Of course part of the allure of this trip was knowing that our Rwandan kids and grandkids would be part of the event. This was their territory, as David and Debby serve under EFM, the sponsors of the event. It was good watching them interact with their cross-cultural team members. And having another chance to run around with Aren, Gwen and Alandra was honey to my spirit. Again, grace upon grace.
--Home again, with memories that make me smile.
Thank you, Lord.