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Christ’s Call to Mission: The Journey Outward

By Dorlan Bales

Most people who seek a faith community do so in hopes of satisfying three deep and persistent hungers. The first hunger is for the Bread of Life to be experienced inwardly. Secondly, seekers search to be a part of a group of people who love God, who love and accept one another and who encourage each another to become ever more aware of and obedient to the will of God. Finally, seekers desire to have a modest role as bearers of God’s mercy and justice, so that one small corner of the world is left more whole than when it was found. Three simultaneous Christian journeys satisfy these life hungers, each strengthening and completing the others. Two of these life odysseys were addressed in the most recent issues of Quaker Life. This scripture study explores a third crucial pilgrimage: learning to manifest God’s love through charitable actions and by works that bring release to those who are captive.

The Prophets Proclaimed God’s Love for the Defenseless and Needy

The scriptures are far from neutral on economic questions. Income disparity between the top 1% and others was as great in ancient times as it is in today’s world. Prophets admonished the powerful not to just practice superficial piety; but, to deal justly and show mercy. Faithfulness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob requires justice that rolls down like waters. The prophet Amos warned Israel that the nation would be carried into exile because merchants trample on the needy by rigging the marketplace with false weights and measures, driving up prices and selling low quality products (Amos 8:4-6).

Isaiah responded by stating to those who complained, that God was not paying attention to their ritual humility and failed to reward them: “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day and oppress all your workers… Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house and clothe the naked? … Your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God… Truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter (Isaiah 58:3, 6-7; 59:2, 14).” He further reminded them that the Almighty is not moved by empty human rituals, but by heartfelt actions that are just and loving.

Prophets like Isaiah who announced judgment and called people to repentance also reminded their hearers of God’s faithfulness. “This is my covenant with them, says the Lord: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children’s children, says the Lord from now on and forever (Isaiah 59:21).” Centuries later, Jesus claimed this promise as he read Isaiah 61:1-2a in his hometown: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… (Luke 4:18-19).”

Discussion Questions

1. Whose prophetic voices do you hear today that call on elected officials, CEOs and unions to defend the rights of laboring people?

2. When were you last part of a congregation-wide conversation about God’s love for everyone and biblical teaching about mercy and justice? Has your congregation taken prophetic action together to demonstrate God’s love for those who are oppressed in some way: for those who are trapped in a dysfunctional prison system, struggling to feed their families, hesitant to raise children because of crushing college debt and jobs with low wages or struggling to live on an inadequate retirement income?

The Outward Journey Taught and Lived by Jesus and the Jerusalem Church

Luke’s gospel describes John the Baptist as one who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry, calling people to repentance and baptizing them in the Jordan River (Luke 3:3, 9). John warned his hearers that “every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” When working class people asked him what they should do to demonstrate their change of heart, John told them to do what was in their power: share their clothing and food with those needier than themselves. He told tax collectors and soldiers who were the face of Roman power not to enrich themselves by abusing their authority (Luke 3:10-14).

Jesus demonstrated the all-encompassing love of God by performing acts of mercy and justice and by blessing the poor. Working class people, the sick, women and the outcast were amazed that a rabbi would reach out to them. In addition to blessing and healing the crowds of peasant people who flocked to him, Jesus called the powerful temple leaders who worked closely with the Roman occupiers and were estranged from the common people to repentance. Jesus criticized their pride, hypocrisy and penchant for “devouring widows’ houses” and otherwise enriching themselves at the expense of those who tended sheep, cared for children and labored in fields and vineyards (See Matthew 5:1-14; 23:1-7, 23-26; Luke 20:45-47).

Neither the Original Testament’s prophetic writings nor the New Testament proclaim or defend the rights of the affluent. Rather the landowners and temple authorities are told to care for peasant laborers and respect their rights. Riches are seen as a spiritual danger at best or at worst a sign of sinful disobedience. You cannot serve God and wealth, according to Jesus (Matthew 6:24). “Woe to you who are rich,” Jesus said, “for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). The prevailing message of scripture is that the earth is created for the benefit of all its creatures (See Jim Wallis, Agenda for Biblical People, 1984, especially pp. 56-72).

The apostles, who had often been slow to grasp what Jesus taught and demonstrated, were filled with the Spirit of the living Christ on the day of Pentecost. In that moment, Peter called the gathered crowd to reorient their lives and live in the kingdom of God rather than the violent order imposed by the Roman occupiers and their Jerusalem Temple collaborators (Acts 2:22-24, 32-42). Many in that crowd did have a change of heart, becoming “of one heart and soul” with the followers of Jesus. A new order of social and economic change began.

Discussion Questions

1. What are some similarities between Hebrew prophets’ words on behalf of those barely making a living and the first-century messages of John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostle Peter?

2. What was it about Jesus’ message and works that drew approving crowds and created powerful enemies who sought to silence him?

3. Why do you think the number of Quakers has grown slowly, if at all, in North America while increasing rapidly in Africa?

4. Do people who are not well-educated professionals attend and join your local congregation? If not, does it matter? If it matters, what would it take to attract and include a more diverse group of people?

Quakers and the Outward Journey

Social and economic equality was a strong theme from the beginning of the Quaker movement. According to Hugh Barbour (The Quakers in Puritan England, p. 163), the most prominent testimonies of early Friends included:

• Saying thee and thou, plain speech used then among equals, to everyone;
• Refusing to flatter the higher classes by removing one’s hat in their presence or use titles or courteous greetings when addressing them;
• Keeping to simple dress and household furnishings as a witness against pride that needs to be broken if those who prize luxuries are to surrender to the Spirit of Jesus.

Quaker simplicity was a visible protest against the chronic poverty endured by many in northwest England. James Nayler considered it sinful to have more food and clothing than necessary when others don’t have enough. William Penn in his book No Cross No Crown said it is unjust that the hard work of “nineteen parts” of the labor force served the pleasure and appetites of “the twentieth century (Barbour, p. 170).” Quakers also spoke out against the abusive prison system, having experienced it first-hand. They defended the rights of women and servants, refused to take up weapons for God or country and set up schools for both boys and girls as early as 1668 (Quaker Faith and Practice in Britain, 1994: 23.71).

The importance for Quakers of the outward journey did not end with the 17th century. John Woolman is well known for his Journal and his successful 18th century work to abolish slave holding among American Friends. A sensitive soul who thought it wrong that the masses work too hard so that a few can live in luxury, he concluded his Plea for the Poor with these words: “To labour for a perfect redemption from this spirit of oppression is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in this world.” Woolman is also remembered for his dangerous journey to visit Native Americans when tensions with colonists were high.

Joseph Rowntree, a 19th-century English cocoa manufacturer, studied the social problems of intoxicating beverages and poverty. “Charity as ordinarily practiced,” he wrote, “which takes the place of justice, creates much of the misery which it relieves, but does not relieve all the misery it creates.” He also noted that, “Much of current philanthropic effort is directed to remedying the more superficial manifestations of weakness and evil, while little thought or effort is directed to search out their underlying causes. The soup kitchen in York never has difficulty in obtaining financial aid, but an enquiry into the extent and causes of poverty would enlist little support (Quaker Faith and Practice in Britain, 23.17-18).”

Discussion Questions

1. What are some of the contemporary ways that people speak and act in ways that inflate their own pride or the pride of others in unhealthy ways?

2. How do you respond to the concerns of Nayler, Penn, Woolman and Rowntree about the way wealth is created and distributed?

3. Do you agree with Rowntree’s observation that charity is sometimes put forward in place of justice?

The Outward Journey Today

Jesus told his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount that they were the salt of the earth and warned them not to lose their saltiness. He also called them the light of the world and urged them to let their light shine before others (Matthew 5:13-16). These teachings about the outward journey help us understand the impact that Jesus’ disciples are meant to have on the world. Christ’s followers are called to love God more and more with heart, soul, mind and strength: at the same time have charitable and just relationships with their neighbors.

Charity asks how those unable to care for their own basic needs can be helped to overcome immediate challenges such as homelessness, hunger and sickness. Justice asks why so many people are homeless, hungry, sick and poorly educated. It seeks structural change so that fewer people are marginalized and lack the means to care for themselves and others. Acts of charity and work for justice are both needed, but people of faith have often found it more comfortable to offer short term assistance than to address systemic causes of human need.

In many instances, the reluctance of good people to practice justice is rooted in both fear of conflict within their faith communities and the inevitable tension between the teaching of Jesus and prevailing social systems. Jim Wallis has written these challenging words: “We may measure our obedience to the gospel by the degree of tension and conflict with the world that is present in our lives (Agenda, p. 69).” Fear of the outward journey is real, but fear need not be the last word as Christians are empowered by Christ’s spirit and support one another in being the world’s salt and light. The July issue of Quaker Life will invite readers to explore a more fearless faith, a willingness to speak and act in ways that may be unsettling.

As we respond to Christ’s call, which includes the journey outward, how may we discern the path ahead? Attending to the needs of those nearest to us and supporting one another’s leadings to minister to needy people is foundational and part of an authentic journey together. Acts of service (both charity and justice) are evidence that love is genuine. See James’ letter where he cautions against offering good wishes that have no practical caring attached (James 2:14-17). For many Friends another outward journey practice is giving time and money to one or more of the many Quaker organizations created to practice charity and increase justice, such as Friends United Meeting, Friends Committee on National Legislation, American Friends Service Committee, Right Sharing of World Resources and Quaker Peace and Social Witness (UK).

The concern for the world laid upon a congregation’s heart by the Holy Spirit may be related to the way society’s offenders are dealt with, or the deep estrangements among racial and cultural groups, or injustice experienced by immigrants and other low-wage workers or another concern. Not everyone may be drawn powerfully to a concern embraced by others in their congregation, but there may be a significant number of Friends willing to give energy regularly to the spiritual discipline of an outward journey together. Though challenging, a congregation’s shared charity and justice-making is an opportunity for spiritual growth, mutual discipleship and awareness of Jesus in prisoners, the hungry and others who are oppressed.

As individual disciples of Jesus, and as local churches and meetings, we would do well to ask ourselves questions like these:

Discussion Questions

1. What is the difference between charity and justice? Is one of these words more comfortable than the other for me?

2. How well does my congregation care for one another?

3. Do members of my congregation, and the congregation as a whole, support organizations that do charity and justice work? If so, how?

4. Is there a sense of shared outward journey by some of my congregation’s members? If not, do you think that such sharing has the potential to strengthen individuals and the common life? Does fear of social and economic consequences make this subject difficult to talk about?

5. What are possible first steps for my congregation in a journey outward together or renewal of that journey?

Dorlan Bales grew up in Northwest Yearly Meeting, the eldest child of pastor/teachers George and Elenita. Between ministry studies at George Fox University and Earlham School of Religion, he completed two years of alternative service at a children’s hospital in Vietnam. After studying theology in Chicago, he was led to Wichita, Kansas where he lives with his wife Kathryn Damiano, stays in touch with sons Micah and Andrew and writes grant proposals for Sunflower Community Action, which he helped found. He is a member of Heartland Friends Meeting, works for peace and justice, and enjoys playing and making violins.

Equipping to Serve: Through Education

By Robert J. Wafula

I became a committed Christian and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior at age 10. My parents recognized and respected this spiritual change in my life and allowed me to go to Sunday school. I remember I became curious as to why we closed our eyes whenever we prayed. I asked my father, “Papa, why do we have to close our eyes when we pray?” With his 4th grade level of formal education, my father was upfront with me: “Whenever we close our eyes in prayer,” he said, “God comes down and stands in our midst.” So, I became quite curious to see the face of God! I made several attempts to catch a glimpse of God standing in our midst through my spread fingers as I pretended to have my eyes closed. As I grew older, I was able to reflect on my father’s understanding of God’s immanence. My theological framework may have become more sophisticated, but my dad’s confidence in the presence of God became the central theme of my spiritual life as a seeker after God’s face.

In 1978, when I was 16 years of age, I recognized my calling into ministry. I was a sophomore in high school, and during the holidays I preached my first sermon. It was in a Kenyan rural Friends meeting in what is now Bungoma County in Kenya. When we got home my mother looked at me and said, “You did a good job son. I never knew you could preach. Keep it up. God is going to use you in a much bigger way.”

My dreams were dashed when I couldn’t go back to school after Christmas recess. My father had sold the last of our cattle and exhausted his resources. I borrowed books from my friends and continued studying privately. My father got some money to register me for the Kenya Junior Secondary Examination (KJSE), which I completed and passed in 1979. That certificate turned out to be the key that would unlock many doors into my academic world.

In 1982, I participated in Theological Education by Extension (TEE) that was facilitated by two FTC students and was launched in my local meeting. My performance impressed one of the facilitators who asked me if I would consider applying to FTC. I said, “I would love to, but I don’t know how.” She brought me application forms the following weekend, and I applied.

I entered FTC two weeks late. My local meeting did not have enough money to facilitate my admission because they were already paying for one student who was in his final year. Luckily enough, my father’s one acre sugar cane plantation had just been harvested and sold to Nzoia Sugar Company. My father invested the whole check into my FTC education, and in turn, I invested my whole life into my studies. I knew FTC was my lifeline. During my second year, 1984, I was sent home to obtain fees. The previous year my father had given all he had. My local meeting gave me a whole year’s collection from the treasury, but still it was not enough. Had it not been for the John Sarrin scholarship, I would not have completed my program of study at FTC. I graduated in 1985 and proceeded to St. Paul’s United Theological College for further theological studies on the same scholarship.

I graduated from St. Paul’s in 1989, and went back to teach at FTC for one year before going to Friends International Centre in Nairobi for the next six great years as pastoral minister and warden. I gained admission into Earlham School of Religion (ESR) on the Cooper and John Sarrin scholarships.

FTC was a major point of reference throughout my studies at ESR. While at ESR, two deans on separate occasions asked me similar questions. First, in September 1996, Andy Grannell posed a question to me “What are you going to do with the ESR degree after you graduate?” I looked at him and without hesitation I said, “I will go back to teach at FTC.” After taking over from Andy, Jay Marshall, current Dean, congratulated me for completing the program and asked me the same question at the baccalaureate on May 8, 1999: “Wafula . . . what are your plans after ESR?” My response to him was somewhat similar to Andy’s, “I’m going to Ohio University for further graduate study and then go back to Kenya to teach at FTC.” Yes, that may have just been a routine question, but to me, it was fundamental. Many years have passed but the dream and my love for FTC lives on.

When I think of FTC, I think of my 75-year-old mother. She was widowed in 1988 and has never had a stable income. I love her dearly. She relies on me, my wife Nancy, and my siblings and their families for support. She gave us so much, over so many years. It brings me joy to be able to give something back to her now that she depends on us for her survival. Like my mother, FTC gave me a strong foundation for a lifetime of ministry. But, unlike my mother, FTC is neither widowed nor orphaned. FTC has produced many sons and daughters. It has fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts in the name of yearly meetings and other Quaker organizations that come together under the umbrella of Friends United Meeting (FUM). In essence, we are the relatives this college looks to for support. We, who have gained so much, can now take joy and pride in giving back to our college.

Friends, now that I am going back to FTC please join me in celebrating my recent appointment as principal. I feel honored to represent global Quakers in this position.

I humbly invite you to make a commitment to pray for me and to support my ministry with your finances. With the gracious fulfillment of all pledges, my ministry account will be maintained and fully funded.

Thank you.

Robert J. Wafula

Click here to learn more about the ongoing campaign to support Robert Wafula to serve as Principal of Friends Theological College!

Equipping to Serve: Through Caring

Lindi and Amari — Equipping Disadvantaged Children to Hope for a Positive Future

Two ministries located in different parts of the world: one in the Kibera Slum in Nairobi and the other in the Amari Refugee Camp in Palestine, serve the children of the poorest of the poor. Both ministries, Lindi Friends Nursery and Primary School in Nairobi and the Amari Play Center in Palestine, create an environment of love and safety that provides a place for healthy childhood play and learning in the midst of extreme urban challenges. Out of the despair of poverty and oppression, children in both places are rising up with hope for their future and with an experience of deep self-worth gained through the ministries of Friends’ education.

Amari Refugee Camp, on the outskirts of El Bireh in the Palestinian Territories, is grossly overcrowded with third and fourth generation Palestinian refugees who have no property rights and little opportunity to earn a living. They continue to be completely dependent on the United Nations for their daily needs, 66 years after they fled their homes. The seeming hopelessness of the refugees’ situation fuels violence and political radicalism. Yet each day, several dozen 5-year-old refugees arrive at the tiny Play Center (analogous to a preschool) and greet their teachers with a hug. Each day, these children receive a nutritious meal, thanks to the United Society of Friends Women International. Each day, they sing and play and learn and laugh. Each day, they are touched by God’s grace and filled with hope for themselves and their community. Each year, a new group of five-year-olds joins the school while a group of six-year-old graduates proceed to primary school emboldened with the life-changing knowledge of God’s love for them individually and as a vital member of the community.

In Nairobi, Kibera Slum is notorious for its crime, squalor, poverty, raw sewage, unhealthy living conditions and, surprisingly, for its creativity and vibrancy. Within the slum, communities assert the dignity of their humanity even under such inhumane living conditions. Lindi Friends Nursery and Primary School is staffed and administered by slum dwellers, for the sake of their children and their community. Lindi Friends believe in the persistence of life and hope, and instill those values in the students every day. Lindi graduates go on to strong academic achievement in high school, and to vocations that will allow them to raise their families out of poverty. Lindi is known as an oasis of hope within the Kibera Slum.

Each ministry provides a daily dose of God’s love and peace to thousands of the poorest of children. As the children are embraced by the very testimonies of love and peace, they are strengthened to reach toward a better future and are equipped to know they are beloved by God.

Equipping to Serve: Through the Work of a Missionary

Editorial note: The following article is a transcript of an interview with an FTC graduate who is a teacher and a missionary in Congo. His is one of many stories of people who are equipped and energized by the ministry of Friends United Meeting to equip others to know Jesus Christ.

“I’m Henry Sabatia from Vokoli Yearly Meeting in Kenya. When I finished my training at Friends Theological College in 2010, I got an opportunity to go to Congo as a teacher and also as a missionary. While in the Congo, I had to learn a new culture, how they do things and how they worship. Since I’m an African and an evangelical, it was easier for me to get in tune with them. My first mission work had been in Uganda. I had learned then that God had given me the gift of adjusting to any environment. So I told the people in Congo, “I’m no longer a Kenyan, I’m a Congolese. I’ve come into you. I’ve acquired your identity. We do things the same. What you eat, I’ll eat. Whatever you do, we’ll do together.” They rejoiced that I was the first African missionary they had seen. They had white missionaries, yes, but I was the first African missionary to reach them. I felt somehow proud, knowing it was all for the glory of God.

While in Congo I taught eight courses, while continually giving devotions, preaching and counseling. I remember when I first arrived somebody telling me, “Now that you have come, nobody else is going to preach. You’re the one preaching for the two months that you’ll be here.” They used to have a morning devotion every morning from Monday to Saturday and I was to do them all. I thought of Proverbs 25:25 which says, “Like cold water to a thirsty person, so is good news from a distant land.” It touched my heart that this is what the Congolese wanted from me. I prayed for God to give me what to tell these people. I thank God because through that prayer, through the Holy Spirit, He gave me a message of building up. Even me, I felt I had been built up. I would pray to God, “Give me what to share with them. We need a message today and also again tomorrow.” At times I would be given a message that lasted for four days. Throughout my stay with them, I was given many messages of building one another up.

Their actual church building was almost falling down. Compared to here in Kenya, we don’t have churches in such condition. I had a heart of sympathy but I had no ability to assist financially. I prayed to God, and asked God, “How can I help these people?” Through the morning devotional services, God inspired me. The people had made some bricks, but because of lack of finance the bricks got destroyed. They had prepared some soil to make more bricks, but the roof was going to be a problem. Time was running short, the rainy season was about to begin and they were afraid. Suppose the rains may come before we finish the project? Through prayer, God had shown me that He is faithful. He will never leave the work to be destroyed. So, I kept on encouraging them, but they said to me, “Missionary, do you really know the rains of Congo?” I said, “I don’t know about them, but I know God. What He promises will come to pass. So, if He says a project will come to fulfillment before it rains, it will.” Yes, we saw God.

The first time I went to help them prepare bricks, they said. “No, you are a visitor!” They brought a seat for me to sit. I told them “in my Kenyan culture, you cannot sit as other people are working. Either I stand, or I join you in working.” So, the second day I joined them, because I have that heart of working. I’m not used to just sitting idle. So, I joined them in making the mud and preparing the bricks. When they were dry, we transferred them to the church. Each member was given a certain number to carry to the church, but me, I transferred countlessly because I wanted to motivate them. They told me, “We’re amazed because even our yearly meeting leaders, whenever they come, they just have a seat and watch as we work. But you, from far, you’re here! You’re joining us. You’re like a part of us. You have even challenged other members who are just idlers. These other ones say ‘if a foreigner, a visitor, is working then who are we? Let us join him.’” Therefore even members of the other churches in other denominations joined us in preparing bricks. When the mason came and started making the foundation, I joined him. The people looked at me and said, “Wow! Come make bricks and you are there. Come make a foundation and you are there. Come to class you are there, you’re all round.” It is a gift of God. I like being active all around.

I want to thank God because on the last day when I was leaving, they were just roofing. God did a miracle because the moment they finished roofing, it rained heavily. It touched my heart to see how faithful God is. While we were building the church, the rains would fall on all sides. You could see it coming but God would drive the rain aside and the wind would blow it in a different direction, therefore you could see how faithful God is.

I enjoyed being in Congo, despite the challenges of war and tension. God protected me. You know here in Kenya, it is rare to hear a gunshot, but there it is more common. The first time I heard it, I asked if it was action between robbers and the police. Because in Kenya when you hear continuous gunfire, it is normally the police. But they said no, they don’t have police. So, I prayed to God. There were some rebels coming. I was praying and fasting for Congo. The presiding clerk wanted to move me from the interior to the town for my safety, but God assured me of what was to come. I told him. “I’m here. Whether I’m alive or dead, I’ll be with you.”

My students also motivated me, they encouraged me and yet, they could pose challenges. Before going to Congo, I didn’t feel I could teach. I wanted to be a preacher, maybe offer some guidance and counseling. But I learned I could also be a teacher. In 2012, I taught a course at Friends Theological College on mission and evangelism and my class did very well. I taught out of my own experience. I remember when the students realized that a mission is different from a church. The mission field holds so many challenges. When you reach the mission, people look to you as a provider. You have to teach them that God is the provider. There are so many expectations when they see you. You need to know how to present yourself to them, to give them hope. Some are desperate because of what they are going through, because of poverty and they need a word of hope. You have to show them the way to depend on God.

I am yearning to reach other people with the gospel. I’ve been in Uganda; I’ve been in Congo; and I’ve seen the need. Sometimes we say we are handicapped — we lack the manpower, our pockets are empty — and it’s true you can not go for mission without finance. But with the little we have, we do what we can. And as we pray, God will add us more so that we can reach more.”

Click here to view a video of this interview with Henry Sabatia.

Equipping To Serve: Through Work Teams

Belize Work Teams

By Nancy McCormick

My husband Mike and I have served on several work teams, Friends Disaster projects, hosting work camp experiences for youth, traveling with young and old to Belize City, Belize and while working as Friends Pastors for almost 35 years. It has been our desire to see living water stir within the hearts of those with whom we travel as they begin to look outside of themselves as a way to serve God.

When we serve others, we have the opportunity to listen and learn from those who come from another walk of life. This helps us to learn about God in a different arena. These experiences also offer opportunities to be challenged to a deeper spiritual walk because many times it stirs deep questions within us.

Christ calls us to service, but some feel they have nothing to offer, only to find out it was their gift and their call that was needed at a very special time in their life. Some feel they know everything, only to experience they don’t know much at all, as they see tragic circumstances that surround them. It becomes a humbling experience, which can help them listen better as they pour a cup of water for the one they are serving.

These trips are not always easy, but I can say they challenge me physically, spiritually and emotionally. Our trips to Belize become a way to get to know and love our field staff there. The Barbers open their home to us, take care of us and help us to understand the importance of the children they serve at the Friends School there. We sing, laugh, eat, pray, play games and build a loving community while we are there — another way of serving one another. Although hosting a work team is a lot of work for them, I hope we bring them some hope, joy and a reminder that what they are doing is important.

In order for our yearly meetings to support work teams, we need to believe in them. We need to support them financially and we need to support them spiritually. On our last work team experience in March of 2014 to Belize, Mike and I had 10 travelers, 6 of whom were Wilmington College students who served our Belize mission on your behalf. What a wonderful experience it was.

And last, but not least, it is just plain fun to serve in community; working out kinks and growing in God’s grace.

Cuba Work Team Missions

An Interview with Linda Garrison

QL: How do work teams equip others to serve?

LG: Work team participants can always think of someone who ought to come with them to Cuba — generally, it is someone who our participants think will appreciate the spirit of worship, camaraderie and ingenuity. I don’t think anyone has ever considered it to have been a waste of their time and money.

QL: You have participated in many Cuba work teams. How have the experiences equipped you to serve?

LG: I appreciate the manner in which churches discover the needs of their particular community and fill it. Sometimes it’s as likely to be the giftedness of someone in leadership. For example, Holguin, Cuba, has a recovering alcoholic who is recognized by city dwellers. They’ve begun their own program to encourage those overcoming addictions. The city also has the school for physically-challenged people, so they host a meeting for them and help address needs such as mending clothing, etc. These are needs unique to Holguin, not necessarily the needs of every community. What areas need to be addressed in my community? How can those with whom I minister begin to see the difficulties of others as our needs, as well?

QL: How does this experience equip teams to serve?

LG: We generally have to realize that our own skills may not be what’s needed, but we can still fill a need. An engineer, librarian or general contractor are trained in the United States and manage well. We’re not called to manage in Cuba; we’re called to simply do what our hosts ask us to do, and in the manner they wish, be it in visitation, mixing cement, or painting. We must be prepared to humble ourselves, or realize that it isn’t humbling at all — there is no “lesser work.”

QL: How does a work team equip the mission site you visit to serve?

LG: This year, the team made plenty of visits to church programs, meetings and homes. They moved materials so cement could be mixed and learned the manner in which the job of mixing and moving cement was done in Cuba. The team appreciated those who took time away from their jobs to complete a task that was time-sensitive: One certain day, to beat a weather front, a roof needed to be poured bucket by bucket. As well, they moved approximately 26,000 lbs of materials, one single small bucket at a time, from the ground level to the second story of the building in Holguin that will house retired pastors, the YM office and the Peace Institute. This meant the skilled mason could spend his time doing masonry work and not lifting the materials that he would need.

We also painted several rooms and dozens and dozens of chairs at the camp facility adjacent to the Gibara meeting house. The chairs were finished to have a uniform appearance, though they’d been purchased at different times over the years.

Amazing Grace – May/June 2014

By Eden Grace, Global Ministries Director

In 2005, I happened to meet a fellow-traveler at the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi, and that meeting changed my life. The Mennonite Guest House is that kind of place: you meet a stranger, God causes a shift in your heart and you never turn back.

The woman I met, Leigh, was on her way to Kakuma Refugee Camp where she and her friend were going to work tracing the personal histories of Sudanese “lost boys” (child refugees) in order to help reunite them with their families. It sounded like exciting work, and we exchanged contact information, as one often does with new acquaintances at the Mennonite Guest House.

Months later, I got an email from Leigh. She and her friend had managed to reach Kakuma (not an easy thing to do, since the UN maintains tight control over access to the camp), but they were not particularly successful in carrying out their project. She didn’t say why, but she did say that she came away from that experience feeling that the most important thing she could do was to help children attend school and she asked for my advice in how to set up a scholarship program.

My email back to her listed a number of questions she should consider: one of which was, “girls vs boys?” I outlined in five sentences why I felt it was important to consider prioritizing girl-child education. Her response was an enthusiastic, “Yes, girls, girls, girls!!!!” She went on to suggest that if Turkana Friends Mission and FUM would administer it, she wanted to raise money for girls.

The rest, as they say, is history. She recruited her friends and family and that first year sponsored four girls in secondary school. Also, I became educated about the challenges facing girls in the developing world, particularly among the pastoralist (nomadic) communities. I learned that pastoralist girls typically marry at puberty, begin having children immediately and that the health of both the girl and her children are severely compromised. I learned that a girl who completes secondary school not only delays marriage and childbearing, she also has a much better chance of being able to feed, clothe, house and educate her children and will have fewer children overall than her uneducated peer. I learned that I had a passion for these girls.

This year, FUM has chosen girl-child education as our summer mission project. In the materials for the project, one can read about Esther, a 7th grade girl at Lokoyo Friends school in Turkana, and how I realized that we were losing the girls long before they reach high school. You can read about how individuals, families and communities are changed when a girl gets an education.

As you read through this issue of Quaker Life, with its theme of “Equipping to Serve,” pray with me for the girls of Samburu and Turkana. As Friends, we believe that God has uniquely gifted each and every one of them. God has a plan for each girl and woman to serve Him and to serve their communities. What more basic equipping is there than an education?

Out Of My Mind – May/June 2014

By Colin Saxton, General Secretary

Before making my home among Friends, I sojourned with churches from two other denominations. The first one took me in as I was emerging from my lowest point and loved me back to life. It was a community of healing, insufficient for the long-term, but just what I needed to begin to know and follow Christ.

The next congregation was just forming and eager to latch on to anyone who ventured their way. Though I was still very much of novice disciple, they liked my enthusiasm and willingness. Before long they asked me, though I had no training, guidance or accountability, to begin a youth program and become an elder in the church.

I am told that babies, when let go in a pool of water, have a reflex action causing them to hold their breath, open their eyes and propel forward with a motion that looks like swimming. This instinct, of course, is something very different than actually knowing how to swim. Everything may look just fine for those first few moments, but it would be disastrous to think the infant could survive very long on her own in the water.

My church, so eager to make me a leader, dropped me like a newborn into the deep end of the pool. I am sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Give the kid a chance! He’ll figure it out! This is how we learned?! Blub, blub, blub…

Maybe there is something to be said for this all-too-common leadership development “strategy.” In some sense it forced me to rely on God’s strength and wisdom rather than experience or pre-conceived notions about what works. It gave me the opportunity to become immediately and deeply involved in the life of the church, as opposed to than remaining, just because I was new to the community, a spectator or outsider. As it turned out, I neither drowned nor caused anyone else to drown, though some of the youth under my care and elders I worked alongside spat water on more than one occasion because of things I said or did.

I did learn something about ministry and leadership, but the experience left me a bit bewildered and disappointed. How important is the shared life of the church and our work in the world if you make a leader of someone who knows almost nothing of the history, polity, purpose and vision? Because I was more willing than wise, I naively agreed to serve as an elder thinking I would be instructed along the way. When I wasn’t and wondered aloud about why, the general response suggested that I shouldn’t worry because none of this really mattered all that much.

It was here that bewilderment turned to disappointment. The work of the church was intensely important to me. When I encountered Christ, the invitation I heard was not only to know and follow Him, but to join in the mission and life of His people. The notion of belonging to God and belonging to God’s people changed the whole trajectory and content of my life. Self-seeking, it was my understanding, was to give way to seeking first the Kingdom of God together. Not that important??? I didn’t and don’t think so.

One of the things I love about Friends is our radical assertion that we’re all called to ministry and all given access to God’s wisdom and power. The Spirit empowers us to move gracefully in the water of life even when we are in way over our heads. I believe and rely on this because I experience it regularly.

Learning to live in that Life and Power, then, as well as teaching and training others to do the same ought to take our best time and energy. Though we may have some natural instincts that incline us to know and follow Christ, most of us need to learn how. This is what discipleship is all about — being a student of Christ. It is essential that we share with one another what we know about how to listen attentively, walk wisely and minister gracefully. Expecting each of us to figure it out on our own, an unfortunate tendency among Friends, hinders us and undermines the central place of this in our life together.

Along with nurturing our spiritual depth, however, comes the opportunity and responsibility to train one another in the work of service and leadership. Instead of expecting our clerks, our pastors, our treasurers, our elders, our youth workers, our committee and board members to learn by trial and error — what if we resolved to mentor, teach and equip them to serve faithfully and effectively? What if we intentionally invested in their training for their sake and the importance of the work?

The thought of a spiritually energized and thoroughly equipped cadre of servant leaders and empowered ministers, ones who knew what on earth they were supposed to be doing and how best to do it, is not beyond the realm of possibility. It is, in fact, part of FUM’s hope for the future of Friends. A renewed commitment to this might just cause us to experience something akin to a baptism — a new and deeper immersion into God’s will and ways in our time.

Think Outside the Bus

By Diane Raflo-Andrews

Rosa whispered from the depths of silence,
I am standing with you, all of you,
Who wait to rest your weary bones,
Who long to sit and close your eyes.

On a day that changed the course of history,
Her seat was not surrendered.
With quiet determination, she refused
To obey the established rules,
Defining new ones to make things right.

A gentle woman, tired from a long day of work,
Pushed the limits,
Embraced the possibility,
Defied the status quo,
Rosa Parks said, “No!”

No more shutting the door in my face,
No more making me pay and driving away,
No more leaving me standing there in the dust,
No more moving to the back of the bus.

If she had taken that back seat,
If she had missed the bus that day,
If she had stayed inside herself on that fifth row,
The pathway to freedom would have been longer still.

Today her dream awakens the hope
That one day when the noise of this world subsides,
Any of us, not just one of us, but all of us
Could be courageous, empowered, and free.
Complete in that heartfelt knowing —
We stand outside the bus.

Speaking About Christ Among Friends

By Rita Willett

Richmond (Virginia) Friends Meeting is part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, dually affiliated with Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference. Once an orthodox meeting, Richmond’s practice shifted toward liberal Quakerism in the 1960’s following the death of its last recorded minister. Changes in Richmond occurred during the same period in which the separate “Orthodox” and “Hicksite” yearly meetings were consolidated into a single Baltimore Yearly Meeting. In a number of communities, historically separated monthly meetings were reunited. Thus, by the mid-20th century, theological diversity was common in Baltimore’s monthly meetings. A 1964 yearly meeting statement on Spiritual Unity says that “in every local Meeting we struggle, usually patiently, with the problems that arise from our divergent convictions; and we usually find ourselves richer for our differences.”

By the early 21st century, members and attenders in Richmond Friends Meeting held a striking diversity of beliefs. Some were Christian, some Universalist theists, some non-theists. We began to struggle with the diversity, not always patiently. Messages that used “God language” and Christ language in meeting for worship became divisive. Non-theists wondered if they were welcome. Christians wondered why a non-theist would join the “Religious Society” of Friends. People felt offended or misunderstood — often both.

Our community remained largely intact, despite tension over our theological differences. Only a few people — Christian and non-theist — left the meeting because of the differences in belief. But some of the ways in which we managed our diversity left us poorer. The language of messages in meeting for worship narrowed. People spoke of Spirit and the Light, but felt reluctant to speak of God or Christ. We became a faith community in which personal faith was often quite private or shared primarily in small likeminded groups. The meeting spoke openly about shared concerns for peace and social justice, responding to the numerous death penalty executions in Virginia, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and local homelessness. But we avoided open conversations about our personal spiritual lives.

In his ministry, George Fox spoke of Christ, of the Spirit, the Seed and the Light of Christ. Early Friends shared that rich Christian language in talking about their spiritual lives. But contemporary Friends in the liberal tradition have diverse beliefs about God; we don’t all use a similar vocabulary of faith. This diversity of belief and language is challenging for meetings. How can the spiritual life of a theologically diverse, unprogrammed meeting be nurtured and deepened? This article is about the struggle and the growth that my meeting has experienced with such a challenge.

One First Day, after meeting for worship, I was approached by Don, a member and former clerk of the meeting, well respected for his integrity and his contributions to the meeting community. “Rita,” he inquired, “from what I’ve heard you say, it seems you’re a theist. You seem to believe in God. Is that right?” I knew that Don considered himself non-theist, but I had never discussed spirituality with him. I was surprised by his curiosity about my faith. After I confirmed his impressions about my belief in God,
he asked, “Could we have dinner sometime? I would like to talk more about that.”

So Don and I met to talk about faith over dinner. He listened with genuine interest and respect as I described my own relationship with the sacred. “When I try to express what I have experienced of the divine, the language of God and Christ feels true for me,” I explained. “I have sensed God’s presence in a personal way.” It had taken a dinner invitation from a non-theist Friend for me to be less private about my faith.

Don shared the spiritual dimension of his life, his experience of reality beyond the concrete everyday material world. Don explained his non-theist spirituality with descriptions of experiences both in the natural world and during meeting for worship. As the conversation progressed, Don and I noted our shared hope that our meeting community could talk about our spiritual lives more deeply, freely and authentically, with respect for one another’s language and beliefs.

Prior to our dinner discussion, the meeting had asked both Don and me to serve on a newly established Adult Spiritual Education committee. Don had initially wondered what role a non-theist could play in the committee’s work — but he respected the discernment of the nominating committee and the approval of meeting for his service. After our dinner together, Don and I brought to the committee our shared hope for meeting-wide conversations about spirituality. We thought that addressing discomfort and misunderstandings about language was the best place to begin. Together, he and I planned and led an adult religious education session called “Language, Meaning, and Spirituality.”

Don and I opened the program with the story of our dinner conversation and what we had learned about each other’s theist and non-theist perspectives. We shared our understanding that spirituality can never be fully captured in words — but also expressed our hope that the meeting community could enjoy deeper and more authentic conversations about our spiritual lives. We acknowledged the difficulty that Friends sometimes had with one another’s language. Next, participants were given index cards and invited to submit any faith-related words that had been, for them, a source of hurt, misunderstanding, or confusion. Then, Friends split into small discussion groups of three or four people. We asked everyone to consider the word “God”. Each person was invited to share a response, using one of three suggested prompts:

• “When I use the word “God,” what I really mean is . . .”
• “When I hear the word “God,” what I think someone else means is . . .”
• “When I hear the word “God,” how I feel is . . .”

After pausing briefly for reflection, groups engaged in animated conversations, people leaning in to hear one another’s ideas, feelings and stories. The session went by quickly and groups were reluctant to stop talking. What emerged was not interpersonal conflict, but awareness that people had been wounded in the past by assumptions and judgments about language.

This session on Language and Meaning was one of a series of Adult Spiritual Education programs. As the series unfolded, Friends from the meeting shared their own spiritual stories and practices, and they facilitated conversation among the participants. I found myself anxious about leading a session on the Psalms, unsure how people would receive traditional Biblical language. Interspersing my own faith story with psalms, I talked about the struggles and joys of my own relationship with God. I was humbled and grateful for the deep listening with which this was received.

Over time, our meeting has become more open to spiritual conversation, more receptive to the language that each person uses to describe their experience of the sacred. We are learning to listen with more love, to search for what we have in common, and to appreciate the richness of our diversity. I have come to believe that a Christian Friend like myself and a non-theist Friend like Don can both live faithfully in one Quaker meeting. I have realized the importance of our Adult Spiritual Education ministry for the life of our community. Especially for a theologically diverse meeting, it is important to have an environment conducive to spiritual conversation, an environment in which Friends can speak authentically and listen generously with one another. There, Friends can come to “know one another in that which is eternal” (George Fox, 1698).

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, they spoke authentically with one another, and he offered her living water. God knows our thirst for deeper spiritual connections and invites us to open spaces in which we can share deeply about what is sacred.
 
Rita WillettRita Willett is a member of Richmond (Virginia) Friends Meeting. She is a graduate of the Spiritual Nurturer Program in the School of the Spirit (2009–2011) and serves on the School of the Spirit Board. Rita is currently a student at Earlham School of Religion, pursuing the MDiv through the Access Program.

A Hidden Gift

By Sarah Katreen Hoggatt

For many months I’ve been wanting to try meditation or contemplative prayer as a way to spend time with God. However, as this has never been a regular practice of mine I didn’t know how to go about it. Instead of going out and researching how to pray in this way, I decided to simply curl up in my favorite chair and sit with God. In my imagination I pictured us on a porch swing of a cabin looking out toward a beautiful mountain lake. I started including a short reading to focus on and then let our time together go wherever it will. As our relationship has always included a physical aspect, it didn’t take God long to circle arms around me and hold me close.

Out of this assuredness of God loving me, of having created me and of always being there, I have found the freedom to explore who I am and to start learning to use the gifts within me to help and support others. Exploring these gifts, however, hasn’t been an easy path. Until I found out what some of these gifts were, there were parts of me I hid away from the world in fear of being vulnerable and getting hurt. But there came a day when I was reading on Facebook a friend’s post titled, ”30 Traits of an Empath.” Of the 30 seemingly random traits, 27 described alarmingly well those parts of me I had hidden away. I was intrigued, began research into these traits and what they mean for me. I knew I was walking in a territory outside of traditional orthodoxy. Could God give someone a gift that is outside the bounds of acceptability?

The best way I can describe being an empath is this: when an empath sees someone eat a food, let’s say pumpkin pie, rather than remembering what pumpkin pie tastes like, they will actually have the sensation of a pumpkin pie in his or her own mouth, though someone else is eating it. Empaths pick up on the emotions of others, whether the people are visibly or verbally expressing them or not, and feel that emotion as their own. Often without realizing what’s going on, I can be upset and for no apparent reason. Understanding this gift of being empathic has helped me identify from where those emotions are coming. Since learning of this gift, I’ve been paying more attention to which emotions are mine and which I’m picking up from my environment so I can let them go.

For some empaths, it also works the other way around. In addition to picking up on other people’s emotions, they also send them out. The truth of this I personally experienced one night in a meeting when I was angry and my friend next to me became quite argumentative over a small matter that she normally would have let pass. Fortunately, we were able to talk about the experience later, made easier by her own previous knowledge of where the emotion was coming from, and I learned what damage can be done if I don’t learn to treasure and train this gift.

Half a year after my discovery, I am learning how to tell which emotions are those of others and which are my own so I know for what I’m responsible. It does make things interesting at times to be near someone and sense a much deeper current of emotion than what they’re showing and yet not ask about it. I have also come to a peace about being empathic. If God gave this gift to me, then God also meant for me to use it, to find a way to train me in this work. This journey of my soul has taught me that there is far more to the world than we see with our eyes and understanding and that we are free to journey there.

The more I learn and explore this gift through the Divine light, the more mystery I find in who I am and who God is. The rules with which I grew up fall away one after another to the place where all that is left is this most mysterious Being teaching me in equally mysterious ways. Through this, I have learned to trust and to love God more deeply. Now in the mornings I follow my instincts and longings to curl up beside God on that swing near the lake. Though empath is the label I put to this gift, it is also a part of a larger tapestry God is weaving. Right now, I do not understand the pattern or even my part in it, but I trust the weaver and that is enough.

It’s because of those times spent with God, centering down into God’s presence, feeling Love embrace me, that I’m able to sit with others in their time of need. Being able to discern the emotions of the people around me enables me to speak to their deeper condition. It lets me see beyond face value and into their need — not to take away their pain, but to be present with them in it and simply love them and to send out peace and grace. Perhaps this way of love, though still new to me, is my own reflection of God’s love into the lives of those around me. It is my way of hearing the heart of God wherever I go and sing to its rhythm. This gift, first given me, is the one I give to the world.
 
Sarah Katreen Hoggatt has authored several books, including the recently released, In the Wild Places. A freelance writer, international speaker, editor and spiritual director with a passion for ministering to fellow souls, she holds a Master’s degree from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Sarah lives in Salem, Oregon and is a member of Riversway Friends Church of Northwest Yearly Meeting.