Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How to become president

I recently checked out a library book compiled by Herbert Hoover in 1949. It’s called On Growing Up: His Letters from and to American Children. The letters show Hoover’s character and values. One in particular seems especially appropriate today, for children of all ages.

Dear Mr. Hoover,
I am a boy 10 years old and who would like to become President like you were when I grow up. I thought that if I wrote to you that you can give me some information how you got to be a President. I wish you would send me an autograph. I would like that very much.
Your friend, Martin ______

Dear Martin:
I am in favor of your ambition to be President. As to your request on the rules as to “how to get to be President,” I suggest that:
The first rule is just to be a boy getting all the constructive joy out of life;
The second rule is that no one should win the Presidency without honesty and sportsmanship and consideration for others in his character—together with religious faith;
The third rule is that he should be a man of education.
If you follow these rules, you will be a man of standing in your community even if you do not make the White House. And who can tell? Maybe that also.
Regards, Herbert Hoover

Perhaps if Hoover were writing this letter today, he would factor in little girls as well as little boys. But it’s still excellent advice. 
If only…….

Monday, December 17, 2018

1919, a year of convergence in Bolivia

William Abel was not the first known Quaker to visit Bolivia with the intent to share the gospel message. That honor goes to Florence Smith, a recorded Friends minister and Bible teacher from Kansas Yearly Meeting. She had met Abel in the Training School for Christian Workers, probably in 1913, his first year back from the Philippines. The school had invited her to be a teacher, and she served for the 1913-1914 school year. Abel would have been one of her students.
Smith’s passion was evangelism, so she left the school after only one year to pursue a ministry of preaching. We lose track of her activities but discover that sometime around 1917, she traveled to Bolivia as an independent missionary, and found employment in La Paz teaching English.
William Abel graduated from the school in 1916, and after several years working to pay back his school debts, he renewed his relationship to Peniel Missions, the agency that had sent him to the Philippines. Peniel assigned him to Bolivia, apparently to work in a newly established mission farm on Lake Titicaca.
Travelling by boat and train, Abel arrived in La Paz sometime in March 1919. While waiting for the right time to move out to the farm, he occupied himself with selling Bibles (a typical missionary activity of the times) and preaching on the streets of the city. We don’t know when or how he reestablished contact with Florence Smith.
But Smith was definitely active in persuading two other Quaker missionaries to come to La Paz in 1919. The Union Bible Seminary in Westfield, Indiana had been actively looking for a mission field, and partly through Smith’s persuasion, they commissioned two young Quaker women for that work. That very year Emma Morrow and Mattie Blount traveled together and were met at the La Paz train station by Smith. The month was May. The three women began exploring what form their mission work would take. Although their Spanish language skills were largely lacking, the women soon joined forces with William Abel and began preaching on the streets of La Paz.
El Prado, La Paz, the 1930s

On August 21, 1919, Morrow wrote home a description of a three-week series of street meetings where the four ministered together, after having obtained an official permit from the local government. Morrow wrote that,
“We have been out in the ‘Prado,’ one of the main streets of the city every night except two since Aug. 8th, and during that time hundreds of people have heard the Gospel. I believe there has been an average of a hundred people each night that would stand for a full hour, and sometimes longer, to listen, while many came and went, and the attention has been remarkably good….
“We have given away thousands of tracts and have sold 100 New Testaments during the three weeks…. Mr. Able [sic] and Florence Smith do the preaching, and Mattie and I pray and help sing.”
Abel apparently made several converts and influenced several other young Christians, among them Juan Ayllón, a young mestizo Christian. He joined with Abel in the street ministry and was deeply influenced by Abel’s spirit and zeal for the work.
Upon his arrival in La Paz, Abel had written home, “I have a strange feeling that somewhere around these parts I shall end my days.” And, indeed, William Abel died of small pox only eight months after his arrival, on October 12, 1919. Ayllón and Morrow cared for him in his final illness, and Ayllón arranged for the funeral and burial in La Paz. The verse on the marble slab marking his niche reads, “Whether living or dying, I am the Lord’s.”
Ayllón would take up Abel’s mantel in the years to come. Today the Bolivian Friends Church (INELA) considers both Abel and Ayllón to be its founders, Abel’s sacrificial death being the seed of the church (John 12:24).
But the year 1919 and the convergence of Friends missionaries from different yearly meetings (Kansas, California, and Indiana) would prove to be the foundation of all the Quaker work that would later grow up in Bolivia. These would eventually find expression in the different Bolivian yearly meetings, the largest being the Bolivian Holiness Friends, the INELA, and Central Friends. They all date back to three hardy young Quaker women, one Indian Quaker from California, and one young mestizo convert, preaching on the streets of La Paz.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Native American Quaker missionary: the story continues

After graduating from the 6th grade and while making his living in Ramona as a butcher, William Abel joined with other young men his age and began experimenting with liquor and wild living.
Simultaneous to Abel’s experiences in Ramona at the end of the 19th century, the Ramona Friends Church was founded (1883) and recognized as a monthly meeting in 1892 under the Pasadena Quarterly Meeting. At the time it was the only church in town. William Abel seems to have ignored the existence of this little meeting up until 1897.
In September 1897, Levi Gregory, superintendent of evangelism for California Yearly Meeting, held a three-week series of meetings in the Ramona Friends Church. Somehow, William Abel found himself in one of these meetings. Twenty conversions were reported at the end of the three weeks, and these included one surprised William Abel. There are various versions of his conversion experience, but we’ve yet to find one in his own words.
Subsequently these meetings were referred to in the documents as “the Ramona revival,” and the excitement seemed to go on for at least three years. A report written in 1898 notes that, “We frequently have overflow meetings…. No time for preaching but spontaneous prayers, praise, and testimonies, and hands raising for prayers. Oh, such wonderful love!” Concerning an offering for a new parsonage, the same report goes on, “One Friend put in fourteen acres of grain for the Lord’s work. Another gave the use of twenty acres and plowed it…. A Methodist gave a horse, a young Mexican who was converted at the revivals gave $5.00. Some tithed, others gave work, etc., etc.”
The generous “young Mexican” was probably William Abel. It’s interesting to note that $5.00 would have been his annual wage several years back when he worked as a goat-herder. Abel’s conversion was genuine and the following years found him still among Friends at Ramona, maturing as a new Christian. Abel was around 27 years old at the time of his conversion.
In 1900, Abel moved to Whittier, California to enroll in the new Training School for Christian Workers, a Quaker sponsored offspring of the holiness movement sweeping through the country. (This school would one day evolve into Azusa Pacific University, but that’s another story.) Abel was deeply impacted by his experiences at the school, including contact with Quaker prophet Amos Kenworthy and China missionary J. Hudson Taylor, both speakers at the school. He participated in different ministry opportunities when not in classes, including speaking in different Friends churches. Quaker missionary to Alaska, Dana Thomas, remembers “seeing many large audiences composed of cultured, intelligent people, who were moved in a wonderful manner by this simple native. He was a true Friend, refusing to address meetings where he did not feel the Spirit’s leading.”
In 1902, Abel cut short his studies and volunteered with Peniel Mission. Peniel sent him and a man named C.G. Carson to the Philippines where Abel served for the following 11 years. The few letters he wrote home give scant details of his work as a Bible colporteur and a street preacher. The work was hard, and at the end of these years (1913), Abel returned to California, weakened by malaria and sensing the need for further training. He enrolled again in the Training School for Christian Workers, this time graduating with the class of 1916.
After working in the greater Los Angeles area for over two years to repay his school bills, William Abel was ready for his next missionary adventure. This time the destination was the highlands of Bolivia.  (To be continued.)
(An additional personal note: Several discoveries linked this investigation to us, personally. One surprise was the role that the town of Ramona played in the story. I, Nancy, grew up in Ramona, attended the same elementary school, and found Jesus in the same Ramona Friends Church. The other discovery came as we found the 1916 graduation class photo for the School for Christian Workers. Of the eight graduates, Abel is the tall man in the back row. The young woman second from the left in the front row happens to be my husband’s grandmother. Both Hal’s grandparents, Clyde and Mary Kellogg Thomas were school mates of William Abel.)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Native American Quaker missionary: the story begins

The fact that one of the first Quaker missionaries to Bolivia was a Native American from Southern California has long fascinated people, myself included. But details of the life and service of William Abel remained largely unknown, and differing versions competed, according to who was telling the story.
So Hal and I spent a year investigating this part of the history of the Bolivian Friends Church (INELA). Our travels took us to university and mission archives in California and Indiana, the city museum and school district records in Ramona, California, the Indian museum in San Pascual, California, and the Kumeyaay Indian Reservation in Valley Center, also in California. Mysteries still remain, but we were able to unearth a good part of the story.
William Abel (probably not his original name) was born a member of the Kumeyaay Indian tribe on the tribe’s lands in San Pascual, California. The year was likely 1870, although Abel himself was never sure when he was born. This was during a time when white settlers and poachers were gradually taking over land that had been previously given back to the tribe by the US government. Within ten years no more Indians would be living in San Pascual.
While Hal and I were going through the archives at Azusa Pacific University, I found an autobiography written by Abel in the school’s 1900 newsletter. It was one of those historical discoveries that caused me to yell, even though I was in a library. Abel wrote it as a young man and new student in the Training School for Christian Workers, so it only covers his childhood. But it answered some of our questions and provided a wonderful link to the Aymara peoples of Bolivia. Let me share some of his early experience with you.
He writes that he lost both his parents by the time he was eight years old and found himself living for a time with his grandfather in the mountain village of Julian. He notes that he “was left mostly to look after myself.” He goes on to give a brief picture of his ten years in the area around Julian and his work herding first goats, then pigs, and finally, cattle. In his first work herding goats, he says he made his living, “such as it was,” and earned $5.00 a year. This corresponds to the conditions and customs of an indentured child servant, part of California’s legal way of dealing with the Indians. Summing up his misadventures as a child goat herder, Abel writes,
“I didn’t know how to herd goats, and the American for whom I worked was hard on me, oftentimes my flock would wander away from my care. The goats would climb up the mountain, on and on to the highest rock and there lie down. I would follow and by the time I was with them at the top, I would think it was a good place to lie down too. I was tired and while the goats were resting I would go to sleep.
“Sometime when I awoke, my goats would be gone and if I did not bring them home I would have to suffer for it. Once when I lost the flock I was afraid to go again to my master, and so I ran away, after two years as a boy goat herder.”
Abel tells of his next two years herding pigs, noting that “I didn’t know how to herd hogs any better than I did goats.” He goes on to explain the details of being fired from this job, at the probable age of ten: “The occasion of my leaving them [the hogs] was this: I had let them run into the dry foxtail so much that, strange as it may seem, the eyes of many had become destroyed, the eyeballs emptied by the barbs which had pierced them. My master, when he discovered this, accused me of having punched out their eyes with my thumb, and so he fired me.”
Abel writes that his life improved with the next job of herding cattle because he got to ride a horse. He did this for the next several years, and at the age of 18 was freed from his servanthood and made his way to the town of Ramona where he enrolled in the first-grade. He describes this experience: “I did not know my letters, but entered the public school. I was put in the first grade with the little children. I was ashamed, but I staid by and in three years I had passed the sixth grade, leaving the little ones behind, but I worked for it, studying almost night and day.”
Abel also apprenticed himself to a local butcher and in a few years learned the trade and opened his own butcher shop. It was all quite an accomplishment for an orphaned Indian boy who had been pushed off his tribal land and spent his childhood as an illiterate indentured child servant. We don’t know where the motivation to become educated and learn a trade came from, but it would not stop there.
As I read this, I was aware of the similarities of experience between the Kumeyaay and the Aymara, although a continent apart. The Aymara of Bolivia are a herding people (among other things) and have a history of loosing their ancestral lands and being marginalized. Universal education for Aymara kids is a recent reality, not part of their history. The list could go on.
I will continue with the William Abel story, the Quaker part, in the next blog.

Monday, November 26, 2018

When did it all begin?

For several years the Bolivian Friends Church (INELA) has looked forward to celebrating its 100th birthday. The big question has been—when will the party take place? That points to a more basic question—when and how did it all get started? As Hal and I have participated on the team investigating and writing the history of this church, the mystery surrounding its beginnings is part of what has made this project so much fun.
Of course the final decision as to the “official” centennial date has been the prerogative of Bolivian Quakers, but we’ve found the conversation fascinating. Some people in INELA wanted to recognize the founding as sometime between 1915 and 1920. In those years a group of new believers came together in the village of Amacari on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The history team has interviewed the now elderly grandchildren of those same believers. We discovered at least four differing versions of the story of how this one group came to be.
Oral history is fascinating, and we respect the memories of people, even as we compare the different stories, noting the contradictions and finding the matching threads. The original conversion stories note the influence of Protestant street preachers and even a Catholic catechist. However the first believers converted, the resulting group in Amacari met without any influence from other churches or outside mission groups up until 1924.
Most Bolivian Friends want to recognize 1919 as the founding date. William Abel, a Native American Quaker from Southern California came to La Paz at that time to literally give his life for the gospel. He joined forces with three Quaker women, two of whom also arrived in La Paz that same year. Florence Smith from Kansas Yearly Meeting, and Emma Morrow and Mattie Blount from Indiana formed a team with Abel, and the four Friends preached in the streets of the city. But within the year Abel died from small pox.
One of Abel’s young disciples, a Bolivian mestizo named Juan Ayllon, decided to throw in his lot with the Friends and made plans to prepare for missionary service. Ayllon became a Christian through the influence of a Methodist missionary, at a worship service in a Salvation Army Hall, and was later nourished in a local Baptist Church. Yet Ayllon chose Friends to be his community of faith, largely through the influence of Abel. After Abel’s death, Ayllon went to Guatemala to be trained for service in the newly formed Berea Training School for Christian Workers, a ministry of the Central American Friends Mission. This mission, along with the newly forming Friends Church in Central America, sent Juan Ayllon and his new bride, Tomasa, back to Bolivia as their first missionaries in 1924.
Juan Ayllon

Other Bolivian Friends think we should recognize 1924 as the birthdate of the INELA. That year marks the arrival of the Ayllons in La Paz and the formation of the La Paz Friends Church, first meeting on October 8, 1924. Ayllon also made contact with the believers in Amacari that year, persuading them to join with Friends. From 1924 on, the INELA began to take form and grow as an official church.
In its yearly meeting sessions in 2017, the INELA chose 2019 as the date to mark the centennial of the church, recognizing both the sacrifice of William Abel and the decision of Juan Ayllon to become a Quaker. I wouldn’t be surprised if the church also celebrated in 2024. In any case, its obvious that the Holy Spirit was at work long before any official organization, Quaker or otherwise, became involved. And it’s obvious that the Spirit used a variety of people from different faith communities, some of whom were Quaker. Oregon Yearly Meeting didn’t enter the scene until 1930.
Personally, I’m content with letting the Spirit take the credit. We can party on any of the above dates.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Bolivian Friends To Celebrate 100 Years

Next year the Bolivian Yearly Meeting of Friends (INELA) will celebrate its 100th birthday. A smallish coliseum has been rented and people are making plans to host visitors from around the world. We will gather on April 18-21, Easter weekend, to sing, pray, eat, and together proclaim, “See what God has done!”
In anticipation, Hal, I, and a team of Bolivian Quakers have been working together for six years to research and write the history of this yearly meeting that today spreads in some 200 congregations across the nation of Bolivia. The task has been formidable—gathering primary documents, interviewing a host of people, writing down the stories, and doing the work of historical interpretation in our cross-cultural community. (I got out of breath just writing that last sentence.)
We’re finally approaching the end of the project. The book in English (my part of the task) is written, and a potential publisher is considering the proposal. The Bolivian team members are on schedule to finish the book in Spanish and the documentary film before the actual celebration in La Paz.
In the next couple of months I will use this blog to tell parts of the story. I hope to whet appetites, stimulate curiosity, and encourage a sense of gratitude.

Hal was overall coordinator of the project, and Reynaldo Mamani headed the Bolivian team.

Humberto Gutierrez was in charge of the Spanish book, while I took on the writing of the book in English. Humberto's wife Petrona sits between us.

Felix Huarina, here with his wife Clementina, is in charge of the documentary film. The photo at the top of the article is the team with their family members at our Christmas party (2017).

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Floating over the fields

We celebrated our 50th anniversary with a hot air balloon ride, something we’ve always wanted to do. We were not disappointed.
I remember another 50th celebration—my birthday some years ago. I wanted it to be memorable, so Hal and I took time off from work, went to Magic Mountain, and spent the day riding roller-coasters. A beast appropriately named “The Viper” made an especially thrilling impression.
Two very different rides. Our anniversary beast was named “Ridge Runner,” and he gave us a more gently thrilling ride. We floated rather than raced. But what a visual feast!
A typical cloudy Oregon day, we couldn’t see the far peaks—Hood, Saint Helens, or Rainier—but the Chelalem range circled the Willamette Valley farmland, with narrow forrest groves snaking across the planted fields. I thought of lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty”: “Glory be to God for dappled things…. landscapes plotted and pieced—fold, fallow and plow….”

Because of a lack of winds, we drifted very slowly, with a lot of up-and-down trips, almost touching the fields at times, up above the forested hills at other times. The Willamette River meandered in the distance.
Part of the grace of this ride was that it was a gift from our kids. David met us at the air field before the flight so he could see us off, take photos, and meet us again wherever we landed. Along with all of us, he helped the crew in getting the balloon ready for flight.
And then, when we passengers were in the basket, ready for take-off, the assistant said to David, “Hop in.”
“Oh, no,” David replied. “I’m not a passenger. I’m here to see my parents off.”
The assistant merely repeated his command, “Hop in.
We all looked at each other, grinned, and David hopped in.
       Grace upon grace.

                                             Ready to go!

Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Bolivar's Horse

I thought of you two today,
about when you were kids
and we lived on Juan de Vargas Street
in Miraflores. Surrounded by buildings,
we used to cross two busy streets
to get to the Plaza Triangular
where you would run around
or ride your tricycles on the uneven pavement.
A huge statue dominated the plaza,
some Bolivian military hero
--Bolivar perhaps, yes, certainly
it was Bolivar—mounted on an antsy
but stationary stallion. The horse had one hoof
raised, head lifted back, while his master
held the reigns tight, not quite ready
to plunge into battle. The tail was tense,
high in the air. We dared ourselves
to sit on the base of the statue, just under that tail.
We held our breath and waited to see
if any cement turds would fall on our heads.
They never did.
But they could have. They most certainly
could have.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Running from the Witch

When I was eight we lived in Clevenger Canyon
in a forested lot with a dirt driveway.
The wooden house, dusky red,
seemed to grow right out of the forest floor.
It conversed at night with the whispering trees.
As the oldest kid, I got to stay up
one-half hour later than my brother and sister.
That meant at bedtime I had to travel alone
down a long dark hall to reach the bedroom we shared.
Every single night a witch chased me.
Black cape, frazzled hair, wicked grin—she wanted
to get me real bad. So I ran down that endless hall,
tried to quietly open and close the door,
dashed to the bed shedding robe and slippers,
dove in and pulled the covers over my head.
Only then was I safe.
This perilous chase took place every night of the year
we lived in Clevenger Canyon. She never got me. But it was close.
Now, every once in a while, I see the witch
peeking out between racks of clothes at the Goodwill,
slipping among the pews at church, or driving over the speed limit
on the freeway to Springfield. She winks.
I grin back.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Peter explains Minecraft

Here’s a pit of witches, Grandma.
I give them levitation. They float up.
When it wears off they crash down
and die. Dead witches look like squiggles.

When horses levitate and then fall down,
they die. They take full fall damage.
The red flash lets you know.

But when cats levitate and it wears off,
they don’t die. They fall down
but they bounce back.
Cats don’t take fall damage.

Watch me make a pit of cats.
They try to get out. See them yowl and fight.
I’ll take one out, put it on a leash and give
it levitation. It’s a cat balloon!

Now about worlds,
you get to a different world through a portal.
There’s the home world
and then there’s the netherworld.

The netherworld is full of darkness and fire. Scary.
The End is under the netherworld.
It’s floating green islands in the black sky
with dragons.

Isn’t it good, Grandma,
that kittens don’t get hurt.

(From notes on a conversation with Peter, nine-years old)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Mexican mariachi in a Bolivian celebration for two Oregonians

The past two weekends we’ve been heavily involved in gatherings of Friends leaders from around the Bolivian yearly meeting. Our history team has been sharing some of the findings of our investigations, especially of the past 28 years. (We talked about earlier periods in previous meetings.)
We’ve all been concerned about the lack of growth of the church. For the first 75 years, the Friends Church here added numerous congregations each decade. But since 1990, we’ve hovered right around 200 congregations. Some of the confusion comes in realizing that while the national missionary movement has added churches in new areas, at the same time an equal number of churches in other areas have closed.
So we’ve been talking about this, analyzing and reflecting, trying to discern causes and figure out how to move into the next 100 years (or at least the next 25 years) in a healthy way. The discussions have been hard, but necessary.
But even with this hard stuff, the Bolivian Friends Church is a celebrating church. And last Saturday afternoon, after a long, exhausting day of wrestling with the issues, we celebrated. Hal loves to visit with people after meetings and we’re usually the last to leave the premises. This time, as we were talking to Palermo and Hipólito, Reynaldo came and told us to hurry down to the fellowship hall for tea before we left. He then took us by the sleeve so we had to accompany him.
As we walked into the large room, a Mexican mariachi band began playing and people opened up a path for us. There in the front of the room was a three-layer cake with the words, “Happy 50th Anniversary, Hal and Nancy!” We were totally surprised. People clapped and yelled and made a lot of good un-Quakerly Latin American noise.
The celebration lasted a while, with everyone lining up to personally give us an abrazo and a blessing. The cake was yummy, the people even better. The band played the whole time. We learned that they were from the Cordillera Quarterly Meeting, a Bolivian Quaker mariachi band!
With all the hard stuff, the church is still the church. Lack of love is not one of the reasons for lack of growth!
(This was the third 50th anniversary celebration we’ve been treated to so far this year by Bolivian Quakers. And our actual anniversary isn’t until August.)

Words of congratulations by Friends president Hector Castro

Friends women bless us

How good to celebrate with friends!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Pizza at Martinni's

What could be more natural
in this high Andean city
with its cobblestone streets,
open-air markets, and cacophony
of languages than pizza
at Martinni’s? Pizza, the ubiquitous
nourishment much modified
from its Mediterranean origins,
accompanied, of course, by another
universal—Coca Cola. This is true
comfort food, reassuring us
that wherever we wander
this spinning globe, in the heart
of things we are at home,
part of the family of man.

We relax into our meal while
Señor Martinni tosses and spins
the circles of dough. Later we walk
up Santa Cruz Street to our apartment.
Above the traffic lights and neon
signs, glitter the invisible
ever-present stars.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Meet our team

We are now on the final stretch of our latest Bolivian adventure, trying to bring the Bolivian Friends history project to a good conclusion. None of this would be possible without our team. We’ve been together five years now, investigating, writing, filming. It will take most of 2018 (and possibly beyond) to come up with the final products of two books (in English for a North American and European audience and in Spanish for Latin America) and one documentary film.
Right now we’re in the tropical city of Santa Cruz, staying with the Tintaya family. David and Arminda are also part of our team. The family has consented to let me tell the story of their family, back four generations, as a summary chapter for the history book. So this last week I’ve been interviewing and writing. It’s inspiring to see the faithfulness of God through the generations.

We’ll head “home” to La Paz on Sunday afternoon and try to wind up this phase of the project. We’ll be spending that time with our team. Let me introduce you.

We celebrated together at Christmas.

Reynaldo Mamani, here with his wife Basilia and daughter Abigail, coordinates the Bolivian team. (Hal is over all coordinator.)

Humberto Gutierrez is chief investigator/writer for the book in Spanish. With him is his wife Petrona and myself (chief investigator/writer for the book in English).

Felix Huarina is our film producer, here with wife Clementina.

David Mamani, here with wife and son, is our technician. He set up the office and keeps the computers running.

Marcos Mamani, here with Elizabeth, is our treasurer and accountant.

Vicki Tazola is our archivist and has done a wonderful job putting the years of national church archives in order. Her daughter, Naomi, sometimes comes to the office to help her.

This is the La Paz team at our apartment, still celebrating.

We're with David and Arminda Tintaya in Santa Cruz, celebrating their 34th anniversary and our 50th.  Our team eats together a lot.

We thank God for these men and women. Together we just might get this task completed!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Still good at 50 years

Hal and I celebrate our 50th anniversary this year. I never really thought I’d be old enough for this event, but here we are. We’ve decided to celebrate all year long, especially on the 23rd of each month. The real date is August 23.
When we became engaged we decided that we’d celebrate each anniversary with a poem. I’d write one for him and he’d write one for me. I still think that’s a wonderful idea. Very romantic. But real life is not always romantic, and if you want to know the truth, Hal owes me 49 poems.
Here’s one I wrote for him, years ago.


Long a connoisseur of the commonplace,
I flick cathedrals like lint from my sleeve.
Scholarly tomes slip-slide through the cracks
in my mind, leaving no trace.
Monuments (cheap, plentiful, easy to construct)
I erase from memory without compunction.

But the way you look at me
burrows deep, sequoia thick.
Your slightest touch leaves an indelible mark.

The lights in your voice are forever.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reflections on the Bolivian Friends yearly meeting sessions

The Bolivian Friends Church (INELA) held its annual yearly meeting sessions in La Paz on January 10-14. There were 277 registered representatives and leaders from the 15 districts of the church. Reynaldo Mamani clerked the sessions and his continual admonition, “Seamos puntuales,” (Let’s be punctual!) went out at the beginning and end of each session. At the conclusion of the four days of yearly meeting, Reynaldo observed that punctuality was greater in this yearly meeting than any other in his memory. He took this as a sign of spiritual maturity and congratulated the brethren. (For some reason, that made me smile.)
The days were a marathon of meetings, starting with the 6:00 am early service (optional), then morning meetings from 8:00 to 12:00 (usually extending longer), afternoon meetings from 2:00 to 5:00 (always extending longer), and evening service from 7:00 to whenever it ended (usually around 10:00, although one night we stayed until 11:30). I admit to skipping some sessions and sleeping or reading a novel.
Fourteen of the 15 districts sent representatives; the Lago Norte District did not show up and the Pacajes District sent only one man, our old friend Osvaldo Cutipa. It’s obvious that these districts are in trouble. They are far from the city, isolated on the altiplano. One of the problems is that most, if not all, of the youth are migrating to the cities, and individual congregations are being closed as the old people die. It’s sad to us personally because we served in those districts, to open Lago Norte and to teach in the extension Bible school center in Pacajes.
The sessions contained the usual amount of conflicts and controversy, but I need to point out that all of this is in the context of a nation in conflict. Ever since we arrived (mid-October) the city has been rocked with strikes and protest marches, due to a new penal code that Evo Morales’ government has passed. One of the most serious protests is the ongoing strike of the medical profession. One aspect of the new code lets the family of any patient who has died or not improved under treatment sue the doctor, with assurance of winning. The doctors would lose their licenses and be imprisoned until payment could be made to the family. Also at risk are pastors and priests who pray for the sick; if the person prayed for does not get well (or worse, if he dies), the pastor or priest can be sued and the church property confiscated. This is just scratching the surface of the implications of the new penal code. Morales is currently on a campaign to be made president for life, and people sense the beginning of a dictatorship.
The yearly meeting sessions included a presentation of the penal code given by an Aymara lawyer and former Friends pastor, Ramiro Carrillo. Among other things, Carrillo stressed that if any organization does not fulfill its own government-approved constitution, it can be disbanded and all property confiscated. This caused a spirit of fear to arise in many of the representatives.
One unfortunate result was the action of the assembly to fire the current treasurer on the basis on some confusion in her annual report. This young woman is a professional accountant and an honest, hard-working Friend. (Furthermore, she was the only woman at the national level of leadership.) While the criticism and shaming heaped on her was typical of Aymara Quakers in yearly meeting, I cringed and prayed for mercy. Indeed, some voices asking for mercy, justice and grace did rise up, but they were discounted in the end.
Reports of the growth (or non-growth) of the church were typically contradictory, with the president reporting 184 churches in the 15 districts, and the districts themselves reporting 192 churches. This contrasts with the 202 churches reported last year. Statistics always have to be taken with a grain of salt as standards and categories vary from district to district and from year to year. But taken over a 25-year period, we see a national church pretty much plateaued, with new churches constantly rising up, balanced by churches being lost. We are analyzing this in our history team.
Each district and each working commission (task force or committee) gave their annual report, along with the national women’s and youth organizations. A highlight for me was the report of the women’s organization, UFINELA. Actually, it was one of the more boring reports of the sessions. The out-going president didn’t know how to read well and she stumbled through the report (obviously written by someone else on her board). It was basically a list of activities plus the financial report. Most of the activities were visits to quarterly meetings and conferences. At the end, the clerk scolded her for not including a ministry plan for the coming year.
But what I heard filled me with appreciation and hope. Basically, the women engage in three ministries: they visit, they give offerings, and they pray. Their constant visitation of other Friends gatherings in the country follows the old tradition of the Quaker traveling ministry (although the women don’t know this and they don’t use those terms). It’s a gentle ministry of encouragement, teaching and unity. They work to raise money to cover, not only their own costs, but offerings that go mostly to the mission work of the national church. The financial report of the secretary of missions showed that the women gave more money than any other group or church in the country. And they pray. People here acknowledge that the Friends women are the prayer force behind the whole church. I see the Spirit at work in these feminine Quakers.
By the time Saturday night rolled around, I admit I was discouraged with all the controversy and in-fighting. I found myself asking, “Where is Jesus in all of this?” I decided I would not even attend the closing celebration on Sunday morning.
I’m so glad I changed my mind. Sunday’s service is always dedicated to celebration and to the consecration of new leaders on all levels. I knew it would be long (people here not being oriented to the clock), and I was right. We started at 8:00 am (more or less) and ended just after 1:00 pm. A good deal of that time was given to singing. Loud and heartfelt singing, accompanied by drums, guitars and an electronic keyboard. Because most of the visiting representative were from rural churches, we sang in the Aymara language. I loved that; it’s such an expressive, complex and beautiful language, and many of the songs were original compositions using Aymara musical styles, not translations through Spanish from English or German.
I made some observations about the ministry of women during the service. The first group of leaders to be consecrated were the members of the executive council of the church (the mesa directiva). The clerk asked that their wives accompany them to the altar, recognizing the importance of the couple and the role wives play. (Unfortunately, none of the mesa members this year is a woman.) Later, when the new leaders of the women’s organization were asked to come forward for consecration, their husbands were not asked to accompany them. I wondered why. For the valuable leadership and ministry these women offer, surely the support of their husbands counts for something. A delightful exception was the positioning of the new youth officers; half of them were men and half women. And in the past, young women have served as president.
Of all the district officers consecrated (a group of about 90 people), six were women, three of these representing the more progressive Santa Cruz District. And of the group of around 140 pastors gathered at the altar, three were women. We still have a way to go.
Before the end of the service, national president Hector Castro challenged the church to plant a new congregation in each of the 15 districts this year. And in his closing remarks, clerk Reynaldo Mamani remarked that, “We always have conflicts, but God always shows up and somehow we manage to do his will.”
Ukhamaw. Amen. So be it.

Hal with INELA president Hector Castro

Sending greetings to Northwest Yearly Meeting

Consecration of women and youth officers

INELA pastors for 2018

Bolivian Friends at prayer