Monday, January 11, 2016

Bolivian Friends (INELA) Yearly Meeting: Reflections

Hal and I landed in Bolivia on January 1 and five days later participated in the opening session of the INELA’s 2016 yearly meeting. (INELA stands for “National Evangelical Friends Church.”) For five days (Jan. 6-10) some 263 registered representatives of all the churches of the INELA gathered in La Paz to worship and conduct business, according to the customs of Friends. Here are some highlights:

--Some considered the final approval of the new Estatutos (equivalent to the Faith and Practice of yearly meetings in the US) to be miraculous. The necessary revision process has been going on for more than 10 years, accompanied by controversy, even agony, and many drafts. We spent several days reading aloud the whole document with its over 100 articles, making observations, and, section by section, approving it by consensus. INELA president, Timoteo Choque, along with the Estatutos committee, will spend much of 2016 obtaining legal government approval of the document, in order for it to come into practice in 2017. Choque’s experience as a lawyer has been most helpful in this whole process.
The new Estatutos affirms the INELA’s status as an evangelical, Christ-centered Quaker yearly meeting, and adds a section that establishes the Quaker principles of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality. It makes major structural changes, putting the executive authority back under one national committee, followed by 15 district executive committees that maintain the broad participatory leadership base of the church.
--Another major change is the formation of a commission (responsible to the national executive committee) for church discipline, called the commission for “Admonition and Restoration.” In contrast to the rather harsh disciplinary procedures of the past, this commission is to emphasize restoration of pastors and leaders who have fallen into some kind of moral problem.
--The annual reports of the national women’s and youth organizations are always a highlight. These groups provide much of the sacrificial energy to carry on the ground-level ministry of church, and the representatives appropriately and enthusiastically affirmed their reports.
--The new social action branch of the INELA, El Buen Amigo (The Good Friend), gave its report which was also received with appreciation and enthusiasm. This group of mostly university and professional volunteers represents the young idealistic branch of the yearly meeting. In many of their projects this past year, they worked alongside the Missions Commission in new areas, conducting medical or dental clinics, teaching, and affirming new believers. They provide a light of hope and an outlet for young people anxious to “do something” for Christ and their society.
I could report on much more, of course. Sunday morning’s concluding worship service began at 8:30 and ended at 1:00. One by one different groups of leaders came forward and were “consecrated” for a new year of service, a ritual that is very meaningful in this context. I was especially moved to see the district executive councils crowding the front of the temple; the 15 districts of the church were all represented, again emphasizing the communal, highly participatory leadership of the INELA. Likewise, the pastors of the 200 congregations came forward to receive words of dedication and encouragement for the new year.
The choir of the New Jerusalem Friends Church (where we were meeting) gave a rousing presentation that included two original Aymara hymns and two historic hymns of the Christian church, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” The uniqueness of the Aymara Friends Church thus flowed into the greater stream of the Body of Christ throughout the generations. It brought tears.
I confess to sleeping through much of the sermon, the last hour of the service. I’m reasonably sure it was good, given by one of our pastors from the upper city, El Alto. The loud “amens” at the end woke me up, and we all joined in the final song and prayer. And then came the communal meal in the patio behind the church, where different congregations and districts spread their offerings on blankets on the ground. Hal and I went from group to group and ate more than we should have, but it was all good, flavored by the love and dedication of these Andean Quakers.
We are blessed to have been adopted into this family of Friends.

Consecration of women leaders

Consecration of youth leaders

Consecration of leaders of the 15 districts

Prayers of dedication

Sing to the Lord!


  1. Your description of Yearly Meeting sounds wonderful. I wish I could have been there. Is the New Jerusalem Friends Church, the same as the former Max Paredes Friends Church? Is the large building with the balcony the Max Paredes Friends Church now? Wow!

    The reorganization sounds great. Through your reporting I see their growth in maturity as a Yearly Meeting, carefully guiding their churches/organization through this time. It is impressive to see so many delegates and so much internal life, and excitement for ministry (like the volunteerism in the youth and women's ministries) and all this without foreign funding (I’m sure you have some joint projects, but not everything). Almost 100 years and many generations of leaders through good times and hard times, and lots of God’s grace have brought about so much growth and maturity. I see a growing maturity in our Rwanda Friends yearly meeting as well, although our 30 years compared to INELA’s almost 100 years look quite different. It is also great to be back in the Northwest and to watch and be a part of NWYM as they move forward through the difficulties they face, trying to discern Christ’s will together.

    I could hear the voices singing, “Firmes y adelante juestes de la fe, sin temor alguno …” It was moving for me as I imagined it. And the best part was the meal afterwards. So delicious and fun, and I wasn’t even there!

  2. I love your response, David! Yes, Nueva Jerusalen is the same as the Max Paredes church (which never was its name, just the street it was on). By the way, we are here in the office this morning with Humberto, all doing our different tasks on the history project. And last night we have supper in Felix's home. Orfa had found your Facebook site and we all looked at your photo collection together.

  3. Loved the descriptions and photos and David's response. I've been wondering and praying about your work, relationships, health and joy. Thanks for sharing like this. Grateful for your friendship and prayers.

  4. Nancy, I looked carefully at the photos in this entry. I'm struck that you're the only white person in the large group photo. That is truly mission as blessing. Rolheiser names blessing as seeing the other, delighting in them and entrusting/releasing the power and future to them. You have blessed with your life in multiple places--in Bolivia, in Oregon, in your family, at Fuller and in my life. I'm sure there are more. Thank you!

  5. Thank you. What an encouraging report!!!

  6. Thank you so much for the description. I really enjoyed it.