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!