Archive for March 2009

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #3

Dear Friends of Jesus,

My ministry of intervisitation and prayerful listening is continuing here in Wichita, Kansas, as I prepare to reach out to Friends communities in Oklahoma, Northern Kansas, Texas and Nebraska. These past two weeks have been a time of great blessing and hope for me, as I have felt and seen the work of the Lord prospering in the Body here in Wichita.

Among Friends in Wichita

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first in-person meeting with my yearly meeting oversight committee. I met with representatives from Heartland and University Friends meetings in Wichita and Hominy Friends Meeting in Hominy, Oklahoma. We had a rich time of worship and prayerful sharing on the state our local meetings and our personal walks with Christ. Following the meeting, David Nagle of Hominy Friends Meeting and I lingered to share more time together and discuss how we might work together in Oklahoma. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am looking forward to meeting with Friends in Hominy soon and seeing how I can be of service.

These past couple of weeks I have begun attending University Friends’ youth group on Sunday evenings. The youth group is very lively, with about thirty or forty middle school and high school aged youth present, depending on the night. They gather together around six o’clock; many of them are picked up by the church van. Once they are assembled, they participate in worship and religious education, followed by basketball in the gym or board games, and finally there are snacks before the youth are taken back home. I am thankful for the work that close to a dozen volunteers are putting in to keep this youth program going, which is in large part an outreach effort to the wider community – many of the participants are not from families of church members. I pray that God will guide me as I seek to be of service in this context.

I am excited by my opportunities to serve with Friends at University Meeting, and I am equally upbeat about the work that we are doing together at Heartland Meeting. This past Sunday was monthly meeting for business, and I was pleased at the discussions we had about how to move forward together in this ministry. We continue to discern how God wants to use me in my ministry to Heartland Friends. My care and support committee has been very proactive in supporting me and helping ground me, and the meeting as a whole, in this process. I felt very positive about our most recent meeting this past week; I feel like I am receiving a fair amount of counsel and constructive eldering from the committee, and it feels good to know that these Friends care about my welfare and about our faithfulness in caring for this ministry.

While I hope that Friends at Heartland Meeting are coming to know me better as we deepen our relationship, I feel that I am growing in appreciation and understanding for Heartland as a body. Since I have only been a member since late 2004, I have had a very limited view of Heartland’s character. Meeting with all of the active membership has helped me gain a greater appreciation for the history of the meeting and the human relationships that go back decades. The personal connections that undergird this meeting have been largely unknown to me as a relative newcomer, but with Friends’ help I am gaining a greater sense of the history of the meeting.

Beyond the Religious Society of Friends

As rich and valuable as my experiences have been with Friends in the last weeks, I have been increasingly sensing that God is calling me to engage not only with Quakers, but also with all seekers of God’s truth. In particular, I feel that God has been drawing me into relationship with the wider Christian Church here in Wichita. It began last month when Faith and I met with a group of young Methodists who were led to live together in a house that they had renovated in their neighborhood in downtown Wichita. We saw how God was moving not just among Friends, but throughout the Church, and we knew that we wanted to be a part of that larger movement of the Spirit. We have been drawn deeper into relationship with the wider Church in the past few weeks through encounters with fellow laborers from the Protestant tradition. First of all, Shane Claiborne came to Wichita. Then, I was able to meet with Jerry Truex, pastor of Mennonite Church of the Servant here in Wichita.

Jerry really impressed me with the story of his church and their work for peace and justice in Wichita. The church meets in a very marginalized part of Wichita, and many of their members are homeless, drug and alcohol addicts, and/or living in dire poverty. As I understand it, the church began in the 1970s as a collection of house churches that came together for Sunday morning worship. This legacy continues today, with most of the church members living in the neighborhood and being involved in ministries that seek to embody Christ’s love and justice among the poor of Wichita. I am interested in seeing how I and others might partner with Church of the Servant in walking in the Way of Christ among the poor in Wichita. I met recently with the young Methodist community to see if they would be interested in connecting with Jerry and the Church of the Servant to see how they might collaborate. God willing, a number of us should be meeting together to talk about the possibilities later this month.

Beyond Wichita

While things may soon be heating up here in Wichita, my schedule for visitation outside of the city is becoming more densely packed. I will be traveling to Hominy Friends Meeting in Osage Country, Oklahoma, March 20-22. I will be helping out with their annual Wild Onion Dinner, bringing a message that Sunday, and leading a workshop on Friends history and heritage. The following weekend, March 27-29, I will be traveling to Manhattan, Kansas, to visit the Friends meeting there. I have been so looking forward to this visit since the last time I visited there about a year ago. Friends in Manhattan are a precious meeting, and I am excited to be among them again. The weekend after that, April 3-5, I will be traveling to Lubbock, Texas, to visit Lubbock Friends Meeting (South Central Yearly Meeting) and Caprock Christian Fellowship.

Furthermore, I have received word from Eric Jones of Central City Monthly Meeting that the worship group in Kearney, Nebraska, will continue meeting on the first and third Sundays of the month, and that a new worship group will probably be formed in Grand Island, meeting every fourth Sunday. April 17-19, I will be in Kearney to meet with Friends there, followed by a trip to Grand Island April 24-26. It is my hope that my visits might be a sign to Friends in central Nebraska of Great Plains Yearly Meeting’s continuing love and concern for them. I also hope that God might in some way use me to lend energy and momentum to these two fledgling worship groups, that they may grow in God’s care into strong and deeply rooted meetings.

Right Now

I am very encouraged by the work that God is doing in the Church in the Great Plains region. I feel deep personal gratitude for how God has upheld me in my personal life and public ministry. The Good Shepherd really does feed his sheep, though I doubt. Thank you for your prayers, support, counsel and hospitality. Please know that God is working through us as we seek to be obedient together. Christ is walking beside us, among us.

For the coming weeks, I would ask that you:

* Continue praying – for me, for the meetings I will be visiting, for Great Plains Yearly Meeting, and for the entire Church in the Heartland of the United States. Your prayers are making a difference!

* Consider whether you feel led to accompany me on any of the visits I have mentioned.

* Write me and let me know how God is working in your life and what ministry God is calling you to.

Blessings on you and your ministry as we walk together in the Way of Jesus,

Micah Bales

Shane Claiborne comes to Wichita

The Church in Wichita was honored to receive Shane Claiborne, a fellow laborer from Philadelphia, who is a prominent voice in the New Monastic movement and an inspiration for many people – especially young Evangelical Christians – who are tired of “business as usual” in the Church and who long for a more radical call to discipleship in the Way of Jesus. Claiborne came to Wichita as a part of a larger speaking tour, during which he visited several Kansas communities. In Wichita, he spoke at Eastminster Presbyterian Church to a largely Evangelical audience. Claiborne preaches a message of unity within the church and between Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, and other branches of Christianity. He says that he and those in his community seek a renewal in the Church, not a continuation of the centuries of divisions that created the modern face of the Western church.

Claiborne especially highlighted the obligation of Christians (or “Christ-followers”) to work for social justice. He says that, “one of the signs of the early Church was ending poverty” (see Acts 4:34). Claiborne’s inclusive message stresses the importance of working with those whom we do not fully agree with – theologically or otherwise – so that together we might be about the work of the Kingdom of God. Hospitality to our brothers and sisters is critical to Claiborne’s understanding of the gospel. In particular, Claiborne preaches a Christ-like solidarity with those who are most shunned and despised by our society, such as the homeless, the addict, the physically and mentally infirm, and the poor. It is not enough to give charity, we must be an incarnational community; we are called to live and work among the poor. Flowing naturally from this loving concern for all of God’s children, Claiborne was explicit that the Way of Jesus is the way of nonviolence: War and oppression are incompatible with the Christian life.

I was impressed with Claiborne’s message, especially in that he combined a fidelity to orthodoxy (right belief) with a commitment to orthopraxy (right practice). Claiborne affirms the creeds of Roman and Protestant Christianity, but he insists that mere belief in Christ is not sufficient – we must strive to be like Christ in our lives. Love, mercy and humility are the key ingredients of our walk in the Way of Jesus; if our way of living does not give testimony to our belief in the person of Jesus, our intellectual assent to church doctrine is meaningless. As Claiborne put it: “You can have all the right answers and still be mean.”

One disappointment that I had with Claiborne’s presentation that day was that he did not explicitly direct his hearers to the Inward Teacher, Christ in us. During the question-and-answer session, several individuals stood and asked questions of Claiborne: they wanted to know how they were to live this radical life of discipleship that Claiborne had been talking about. It felt like they were looking for a technique, a set of steps to follow, a rule to walk by. Claiborne did well in that he did not claim to have the answers; he made it clear that he was living out of his own experience and in his own context and that each of us must determine what is right in our own situation. But I wish that he had taken it a step further, directing his audience to seek guidance from the immediate presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst and in our hearts. I wish he had said, “I can’t tell you what the next step is for you – but Jesus Christ can, and he’s ready to lead you if you get still and listen within your heart for his voice.” It is clear to me that Claiborne himself practices this inward listening; it was implicit in everything he said. I just wish he had made it explicit for his audience, many of whom may never have heard of such a concept.