Tuesday, January 8, 2019

How many Quakers does it take?

Actually, this is not a joke about changing a light bulb. (If it were, I imagine the answer would have to do with how hard it is to come to consensus on weighty issues.)
Rather, this is a story about how many different yearly meetings contributed to the beginnings of the Bolivian Friends Church (INELA).
In previous blogs we’ve seen how a Native American who was converted and discipled under California Yearly Meeting gave his life as a missionary to Bolivia after a few months preaching on the streets of La Paz. We’ve seen how this man, William Abel, partnered with Quaker missionaries from yearly meetings in Kansas (Florence Smith) and Indiana (Emma Morrow and Mattie Blount) in 1919, a year of beginnings.
Our attention now turns to a young Bolivia mestizo, Juan Ayllón, who was drawn to the witness of these early Quaker missionaries and became a convinced Friend, also in 1919. Ayllón was particularly attracted by William Abel, having encountered him one evening praying publicly in a street meeting. Ayllón found himself moved by the power and sincerity of Abel’s prayer, and he determined to get to know him. Ayllón joined Abel and the others in their street ministry, attended Abel in his bout with small pox, and helped bury him in the public cemetery in La Paz. It had been a brief but highly impactful relationship. At that point Juan Ayllón seemed to take on the mantle of William Abel, including Abel’s convictions about adequate preparation for Christian service.
Through Emma Morrow’s contacts with the fledgling mission work in Central America, Juan Ayllón received an invitation to study in the new “Berea Training School for Christian Workers” in Guatemala. Missionary to Guatemala, R. Esther Smith (California Yearly Meeting) was especially interested in this young Bolivian and offered him a full scholarship in the new training school. So, in the fall of 1920, Juan Ayllón began a four-month journey (via trains, boats, and a donkey) from La Paz, Bolivia to Chiquimula, Guatemala.
The journey itself was a series of misadventures (which you can read about when the book is published). Juan earned his passage through manual labor. Legal problems prevented his disembarking in Central America, and he ended up in New York City, knowing no one and speaking little English.
Arriving on February 14, the ship’s captain let Ayllón occupy his room on board for five days while the ship reloaded. After that time, on a Sunday morning, Ayllón gathered his belongings to leave at a police station in New York City while he attempted to arrange for his passage to Guatemala. A policeman at the station, upon learning that Ayllón was a Quaker, “just happened” to know of a Friends meeting house nearby and gave him directions.
Ayllón was the first to arrive at the meeting house and he prayed in silence for someone to help him. After the meeting, people were interested in his story. Paul Furnas of New York and Frederick Swan of New Jersey hosted him for the next few weeks. Between them they arranged for his trip by train to New Orleans, and then by ship to the east coast of Guatemala. Thanks to the grace and generosity of these Quakers, Juan Ayllón finally arrived in Chiquimula on the evening of March 9, 1921, late for the beginning of classes, but much welcomed.
Ayllón spent the next three years in the Berea Training School. In January of 1924, he married Honduran classmate, Tomasa Valle, and in the Central American Friends Yearly Meeting sessions, Juan and Tomasa were commissioned as their first missionaries to Bolivia. They sailed in April, arriving in La Paz in May of 1924, thus beginning a new phase in the development of the Bolivia Friends Church. In the years between 1924 and 1930, years which saw the first official Friends Churches (INELA) planted in Bolivia, the mission work was supported by the Central American Friends Church and Mission, through the service of Juan and Tomasa Ayllón.
Getting to this place in the story required the contributions of Friends from California, Kansas, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Honduras, and Guatemala. Oregon Yearly Meeting would not become involved until 1930. But that’s another chapter.
I should also add that Ayllón’s fascinating conversion story involved a Methodist missionary, a Salvation Army evangelistic service, and a small Baptist church, after which Ayllón met William Abel and became a convinced Friend. (Read the book for the details.)
This particular light bulb required many Christians, as well as many Quakers, to finally reach the light-giving point!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Favorite books of 2018

Of the many books I read last year, these impacted me the most. As usual, this is not a list of books written in 2018, but of the ones I read last year. For some reason, I concentrated more on non-fiction, especially memoir.

Michael O’Brien, Sophia House (2005): Set in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation, a bookseller risks all to give refuge to a Jewish boy who proves to be a precocious seeker after truth. Through their long conversations in the dangerous setting, Pawel, the bookseller comes back to his own faith. A moving story.
Jane Kirkpatrick, Emma of Aurora: A Clearing in the Wild (2006), A Tendering in the Storm (2007), A Mending at the Edge (2008): Trilogy based on the real history of a Christian colony from Michigan (on the verge of becoming a sect) moving to Washington and finally to Aurora, Oregon. The story of one woman’s growth into maturity and compassion. Promotes the values and rights of women without being stridently feminist.
Ursula Hegi, Stones from the River (1994): Story of Trudi, a dwarf, in Germany during the rise of Hitler. Small town life of a marginal person, while larger issues surround the village, making many people (a whole race) marginal. As an adolescent, Trudi was molested by some boys her own age (including one who had been her friend), and in anger she throws stones into the river. Later, she uses stones from the river to name people and events in her life and to build an altar. Gradually as she matures, she learns tolerance and forgiveness.

Nadia Hashimi, The Pearl that Broke its Shell (2014): By an Afghani author about the sufferings of women under Islam. The stories of two girls, separated by a century, one the great-great grandmother of the other, interweave. Both suffered under the rule of the men in their lives, both lived for a time disguised as boys, and both found ways of escape. Good writing, important themes, cultural insights.

Clodaugh Finn, A Time To Risk All (2017): The sub-title reads, “The incredible untold story of MARY ELMES, the Irish woman who saved children from Nazi concentration camps.” This is a good academic biography that focuses on Elmes’ time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and in southern France during World War II. It’s an incredible story, but doesn’t go much into Elmes’ personal life, probably because she was such a private person and no personal records remain. She worked for Quakers, but her own commitment to Quakerism is unclear.
Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (2018): Amazing memoir about what it means to be poor in the context of a right-wing cult in America. About the role of education in breaking free and coming to live an expanded and full life. Powerful.
Kathleen Norris, The Virgin of Bennington (2001): One of my favorite books this year, this is Norris’ memoir of her college years at Bennington (where she finally lost her virginity as well as her faith, but discovered poetry), and her years in New York working at the Poetry Academy and learning more about the life of a poet, struggling, and finally deciding to leave New York for her grandmother’s ancestral home in North Dakota. Good insights about poetry and poets and mentoring.
Jamie Wright, The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever (2018): Wright’s typical rant against Christian missions, based on her very limited experience as a missionary for two or three years in Costa Rica. She seems to be trying to shock. She’s a skillful writer and an intelligent person, but arrogance may be her downfall. She makes some good points but needs to broaden her experience and read some history. Even so, I enjoyed the book.
J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016): Excellent and insightful on the situation of the poor white working class in Kentucky, Ohio, etc. Vance reflects on the factors that provided a way out for him, mostly people like his grandparents who genuinely loved him and others who provided a positive example. He talks about his ongoing battles to resist his learned responses to conflict (shouting or escaping). The book illustrates the power of the environment of poverty, but shows that it is not necessarily destiny.

Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Discoveries from a Secret World (2016): One of my favorites this year, this is an excellent non-fiction study by a German tree scientist about the complex underground connections (fungi) between trees in an old growth forest. It deals with the differences between and old growth and planted forests, the slowness of healthy growth, how trees handle disasters—storms, fires, beasts, humans (the worse), how they feed each other, how they share—or don’t share—light, how they migrate when necessary. Much more complex than I ever dreamed.
Bob Woodward, Fear: Trump in the White House (2018): A hard and terrible book to read, but an important one. Woodward carefully documents details of Trump’s behavior, confirming the suspicions I’ve had of a childish, stupid and very dangerous and controlling man. It’s important that this is documented. God have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Douglas Preston, The Lost City of the Monkey God (2017): Non-fiction, story of the discovery of two large pre-Columbian cities in the Honduran rain forests. The difficulties of working in the snake and bug infested atmosphere, the importance of the discoveries (still happening), etc. The book shifted emphasis to the disease of Leishmania braziliensis caused by sand flies, which the author and others on the expedition contracted, with life-threatening and life-long consequences. Discussion as to what caused the sudden demise of the cities, and the effects of diseases, both from the Old and New worlds.
Lisa Ohlen Harris, The Fifth Season (2013): The subtitle is, “A Daughter-in Law’s Memoir of Caregiving.” The events happened in Texas but the author has since moved to Newberg where I live. An excellent book and a compassionate story that doesn’t withhold or gloss over the hard stuff. Well written.

Jane Kenyon, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems (1996): I love her poetry and find it accessible, much of it based on the ordinary stuff of life.
James Wright, The Branch Will Not Break (2011) : I love the title and the poem it’s based on, about waking up after a hangover (and more). Others I love include “Trying to Pray,” “Beginning,” and “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.”
Scott Cairn, Endless Life: Poems of the Mystics (2014): Cairns takes the writings of some of the church Fathers and Mothers (many of them Orthodox, as he is) and turns passages into contemporary poems. Good devotional material.