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