Blog Banner

Archive for Conservative – Page 2

Gardening the Church – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #34

Dear Friends,
After a long and very eventful summer, things have finally begun to slow down a bit. This season, I have been away from home at least as often as I have been present. Now, with fall approaching, it is my hope that I might spend more of my time focusing on the local mission of the Church here in Washington. As worthwhile and – I do hope – Spirit-led as my summer travels have been, I feel God’s hand on me to continue to slow down the pace of my life, leaving more room for personal relationships and community-building here in the city where I live.
The longest trip I took this past month was to Barnesville, Ohio, for the annual gathering of Ohio Yearly Meeting. These were the first yearly meeting sessions that Faith and I had attended as members, though the gathering felt very familiar, in large part due to our regular involvement in Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, which inludes most of OYM’s Meetings and membership.
This year was an especially intense gathering, as we had a lot of discernment to do together around weighty questions such as the revision of the Yearly Meeting’s queries, as well our understanding of human sexuality. Over all, I was pleased with the spirit in which our sessions were conducted. Especially in our consideration of human sexuality – including homosexuality – I was thankful to see that Friends were careful to maintain a humble and teachable spirit. We did have a sense that the Holy Spirit was present in our midst, teaching us. Though we have not arrived at any conclusions as a body, there was a sense in the body that we were seeking for the Holy Spirit to gather us together and lead us into the fullness of the Truth.
In the context of the Religious Society of Friends and the broader Christian Church, where so many bodies are splitting over these questions, it seems nothing less than a gift of the Holy Spirit that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting are able to refrain from the need to purge those of different opinions. May God grant us the grace to continue to struggle together, and ultimately to be brought into a deeper understanding of God’s Word(1) with us and among us.
We also had the opportunity this month to gather with our Monthly Meeting – Rockingham Friends – at the home of Faye Chapman, one of our members, who lives in Blue Grass, Virginia. It was a blessing to gather with Friends for worship, fellowship and business. I particularly enjoyed helping Faye get ready for winter, splitting and stacking firewood. I was reminded during this trip how much we benefit from the support we receive from Friends at Rockingham Meeting. They are a great source of strength and wisdom as we live into the mission that God has for us in the city.
The work in Washington does feel like it is being blessed. Despite the challenges that most churches experience in maintaining participation during the summer, our numbers have held relatively steady. If anything, this summer has been a time of general strengthening in the relationships among those in our community. In addition, we have also welcomed a number of new folks who have begun to take part in our community.
I have been learning during my time here in DC that nurturing a new church is more like gardening than it is like building a house. With construction, the speed of development depends primarily upon the skill of the builder, the number and dedication of the workers, and the availability of raw materials. Church-planting is more like gardening, in the sense that while we are called to prepare the soil, plant seeds and water the field, we cannot ultimately control what growth, if any, will emerge. Those kind of results depend upon the God’s grace and the response of others. Ultimately, we gardeners cannot dictate the growth – spiritual or numerical – of the new church.
This is really humbling. I was raised in a society that stresses the importance of demonstrable, quantifiable results; results that can be expressed on a graph or a pie chart. Rather than placing its focus on faithfulness to God’s guidance, our culture demands that we justify our lives by how well we live up to human standards of success.
This is one reason that the church community is so important. The Church helps remind us not to judge our success or failure by consumeristic human standards. This community creates an environment that encourages us to set our sights on God. The Church reminds us of who we really are – children of the living God – and what our true priorities should be.
I am grateful that we have the support of the local church at Rockingham, as well as the prayer support and connections that we have with brothers and sisters around the country and even overseas. We could not do the work that God is calling us to without the counsel, prayers and nurture that we receive from you. I give thanks to the Lord for the way that he provides for our needs through his Body, the Church.
This Body is developing here in Washington. It continues to amaze me how long it takes for deep, rooted community to take shape. Indeed, in many ways the process of shared growth never ends. Yet I do feel like we have taken real steps forward in recent months. I pray that God will continue to be present with us here in DC, so that Capitol Hill Friends might become a church that can itself provide care and support, inviting others to become living members of the Body of Christ.
Thank you for your faithfulness in praying for us here on Capitol Hill. Your prayers are effective. We feel them here. Please continue to ask God to send the Holy Spirit and build up Christ’s Body in Washington, DC. Ask God to strengthen Capitol Hill Friends as we seek to share and embody the good news and love of Jesus Christ.
In Christ’s Light,
Micah Bales
1. That is, Jesus Christ

Seeking God’s Word Together – Ohio Yearly Meeting 2011

The past few days here in Barnesville have been eye-opening and challenging. We have begun the process of wrestling together with our understandings of human sexuality including homosexuality. There are clearly a variety of perspectives within Ohio Yearly Meeting regarding the rightness of same-sex relationships and human sexuality in general.  

All of our perspectives are rooted in our desire to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, and our understanding of how he is speaking to us through the Scriptures. We are united in the faith that it is Jesus who can bring us into unity, and that only his Holy Spirit can guide us to a proper understanding of the Scriptures. While we have differences of opinion, we recognize who our Authority is. This is a reason for hope. Though we struggle to find unity on this matter, we acknowledge that there is one, even Christ Jesus, who can lead us into the Truth.
Our shared commitment to Jesus and his Light keeps us in spiritual unity, even when we strongly disagree. Probably the most remarkable thing about this process of corporate discernment has been the spirit in which it has proceeded. It would be easy for Friends to retreat into camps and begin to question one another’s motives, faith and relationship with the Lord. So far, that has not happened. Despite our differences, we have been gentle with one another, trusting that everyone here is seeking to be obedient to our risen Lord and takes seriously the witness of Scripture.
On Thursday, the gathered body of Ohio Yearly Meeting was able to come to unity on a minute regarding our present condition in regards to questions of human sexuality, including homosexuality. It was not an easy process to express our present condition as a body. We labored with this during three of our business sessions before we came to unity on the following minute:
Stillwater Quarterly Meeting reported on its deliberations regarding the “Salem Statement” on the topic of human sexuality(1), considered during our 2010 sessions. Their seven Monthly Meetings went through the important exercise of considering what God desires of His children, rather than simply airing personal opinions. Each Monthly Meeting forwarded responses to Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, which summarized them as reported below.
Friends of various perspectives are equally committed to the Lord, and we recognize that we need additional enlightenment, understanding of the underlying issues, and an openness to learning more in whatever way presents itself. The question was raised how further dialogue might take place so we can be drawn into unity. We ask the Friends Center Committee to consider planning one or more events during the coming year; additional considerations should take place locally or Friend-to-Friend. If we are faithful, it is worth the exercise.
We have struggled with questions about human sexuality for years, and we hope that waiting and listening to God, laying down our own agendas, will open a way for us to be rightly guided. We want to approach the Lord in worship with these deep concerns and hear His word for the way forward. Real Truth spoken lovingly comes with strength to bear it.
Despite the challenge of facing head-on our varied understandings of human sexuality, we were able to not only confess our disagreements in the matter, but also to agree to continue the work of corporate wrestling with what Christ is asking of us as his Church. This is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. May we have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
Thank you so much for your prayers. It is only through the power of prayer and obedience to the Word of God(2) in our hearts that we can be brought out of confusion and into the light of God’s Truth. As we are gathered together in him, Jesus gives us peace – not the human peace that comes through domination of one party over another, but the peace of his heavenly Kingdom where all contention and rancor are set aside as we humble ourselves before our Lord and our God.
Please continue to pray for us in Ohio Yearly Meeting. May we be led into all truth, trusting Jesus to show us the way that we are to walk. Our life, our faith, our unity is in him.
1. A minute from Salem Quarterly Meeting, forwarded to Ohio Yearly Meeting in 2010, which suggested the revision of the OYM discipline to – among other things – define marriage as being between “one man and one woman.”

2. That is, Christ Jesus.

Slowing Down and Listening – Ohio Yearly Meeting 2011

I am in Barnesville this week for the annual sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting. I have been looking forward to being at OYM sessions for about a year and a half. I was unable to attend last year, because I was serving as one of the leaders of the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. This is my first time attending OYM as a member, and it feels very good to be here.

Since first coming to Barnesville, Ohio for the first QuakerSpring in the summer of 2007, I have returned frequently to the reassuring grounds of Stillwater Meeting House and Olney Friends School. Barnesville has become a place of comfort for me, a spiritual haven in a world where I often feel the need to keep my guard up. Somehow, among Friends in Barnesville I have always felt able to be myself, while at the same time being called into a deeper commitment to Jesus and the work of his Kingdom.
I need the peace I find in Barnesville now more than ever. Life in DC is accelerated, and I have been noticing lately that when I leave the city that I take this harried pace with me. I have allowed the busyness and stress of urban life seep into my bones. Returning to Barnesville is a good reminder to slow down. More than a reminder, being here provides me with a tangible opportunity to be re-baptized into the more deliberate pace of the discerning Body of Christ. Here, busyness is a vice, not a virtue. Listening, yieldedness and obedience – these things are valued more highly that any particular set of results that we might seek. The community of Friends gathered here in Barnesville embodies in our life-patterns and tradition a distinct sense of time and priorities.
While I do feel great joy to be here with my brothers and sisters at Ohio Yearly Meeting, I am also burdened by an unexpected spiritual heaviness. In the last year, long-standing differences within my Yearly Meeting have begun to come to the surface. I know that these wrestlings have been present for a long time, but for the first time over a decade, we are beginning to talk about it as a community.
As with many Christian bodies – Quaker or otherwise – Friends in Ohio are struggling over the question of how to understand God’s work in the lives of gay folks. Is homosexual orientation to be understood as a temptation to be overcome? Does it represent a call to celibacy? Or is it, in fact, a gift from God that the Church is called to affirm? These are some of the questions that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting are wrestling with right now.
At last year’s annual gathering, one of our Quarterly Meetings brought forward a proposal to amend our Book of Discipline (Faith and Practice). The suggested amendment would define marriage as being “between one man and one woman.” There was clear disunity on the floor of the Yearly Meeting regarding this potential change, and so the question was forwarded to my Quarterly Meeting. Each Monthly Meeting in Stillwater Quarter was asked to consider the suggested change to the discipline and respond at our Quarterly Meeting in July.
The response at Quarterly Meeting was striking. Almost none of our Monthly Meetings had unity one way or another on this question. As a Quarterly Meeting, we drafted a minute to the Yearly Meeting encouraging Friends to wait in patience, holding this question in prayer and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. We expressed our trust that, if we open ourselves to his guidance, the Lord Jesus will show us how we are to walk together. He will bring us into unity in the truth.
Tomorrow, during our morning business session, we will be considering the response from my Quarterly Meeting. I do not know what the results of that discussion will be, but I would invite your prayers for us. Please pray for the intercession of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, that we may be opened up to the Truth and be brought into unity. We all acknowledge that we cannot be brought into true unity unless we are prepared to change our hearts and minds. It is a great barrier to Christ’s work in our midst if we dig in our heels, resolutely asserting the rightness of our own opinions.
Yet, many of us do feel very strongly about this matter. Some of us feel very clear that homosexuality is a sinful pattern of relationship which should not be affirmed. Others of us are equally clear that God has created gay folks as they are, that this creation is good, and that our queer brothers and sisters should be treated just the same as those of us who are heterosexual. How are we to be united in the mind of Christ when our own minds are already so made up?
As many Christian bodies can attest, this is a very hard conversation to have. Many groups have already split over it, and there are others that will probably split over it in the future. I have been grateful that so far we in Ohio Yearly Meeting have been able to begin this conversation in a less contentious spirit. But we are still at the beginning, and there are more challenging days ahead. Please pray for us, that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting might meet this challenge with humility, compassion and submission to the will of God as revealed to us through the Holy Spirit.

Called to be God’s Temple – Visit to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

This past week, I visited Friends at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), held this year at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. This gathering was a blessed time to share worship and fellowship with Friends from across the South and experience the active movement and teaching of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

I had originally planned to attend the Friends United Meeting Triennial (which, interestingly enough, will be held in Wilmington, Ohio next week!). However, as I began to solidify my summer travel plans, it became clear that God was not calling me to attend the Triennial. As much as I personally thought I should be there, there Friends at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)was a heaviness in the idea of making the trip. My sense that God was calling me to lay that trip aside was confirmed by the lightness and peace I felt when I gave up and cancelled my plans.

At first, I thought that the Lord had simply asked me to cancel the trip to the FUM Triennial. Soon, however, I felt clear that I was being asked to undertake another trip instead. I experienced the Lord drawing my heart to Friends in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Though I had not previously considered a visit to North Carolina, the call felt clear and grounded in the love of Christ.

I approached my Monthly Meeting and requested release to travel on this concern. This was granted, as well as being endorsed by my Quarterly Meeting. With the blessing of these Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting, I undertook the journey as a labor of gospel love.

I am so glad that I yielded to the Lord’s guidance in this matter. My time among Friends in North Carolina was blessed with a deep sense of Christ’s presence in ourFriends Singing at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) midst. Jesus was present, teaching his people, and I was blessed to take part in the labor.

I also learned a great deal about our spiritual cousins in NCYMc. I saw that we hold many things in common. While we do our business in slightly different ways and have developed slightly different structures, Friends in Ohio and North Carolina are strikingly similar in the way we operate. In both bodies, there is a strong emphasis on expectant waiting and reliance on the present-moment guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Historically speaking, it makes sense that Friends in North Carolina would share many similarities with Friends in my Yearly Meeting. Ohio Yearly Meeting has a long history of relationship with Iowa and North Carolina Yearly Meetings (Conservative). In 1912, the Conservative Yearly Meetings issued a joint statement of faith, and during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was a rich culture of intervisitation and exchange of ministers between the bodies of Conservative Clerk's Table - North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)Friends in North America. However, in recent decades, there has been a marked decline in the traveling ministry between the Conservative Yearly Meetings.

In many ways, the living connections between our Yearly Meetings are in danger of being lost. Ever since the emergence of the Conservative Friends tradition, the primary way that we have recognized one another is through the formal exchange of epistles. In continuance of this tradition, the Yearly Meetings in Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio all exchange personalized epistles with one another. Yet, the organic and relational connections between our bodies have become so tenuous that it is no longer clear to many Friends why these epistles are exchanged. One well-meaning Friend in North Carolina last week posed the question of whether NCYMc should adopt the practice of composing only one epistle – “to all Friends everywhere.”

This Friend was not trying to make a negative statement about Friends in Iowa and Ohio. She simply did not understand the deep historical connection between our Yearly Meetings. There were plenty of Friends present, of course, who had more background knowledge, and it was soon explained why the personalized epistles are important. The three Conservative Yearly Meetings will, I suspect, continue to formally correspond for the foreseeable future. But the fact that this question could even be asked speaks to the lack of spiritual and relational unity among Friends in the Conservative tradition.

This trip convinced me that, if we continue down the course we are on as Conservative Friends, our exchange of epistles will soon be a formality – a fiction that masks a lack of real community. I do notChildren at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) believe it is too late to revitalize these relationships, but it will not happen without care and effort on the part of concerned Friends.

Christ calls us into unity with one another, and I pray that Friends in the Conservative tradition will consider how it is the Lord might be calling us to reach out. I believe that Jesus has a purpose for us as a wider body of Conservative Friends. If we are willing to submit ourselves to one another in his Holy Spirit, I do believe that God could use our witness in fresh and powerful ways.

We were reminded in our worship last week that we are the temple of the living God(1). Just as the Temple in Jerusalem was purified by fire from on high(2), we, too, must be purified and made ready for the work that God has for us. If we will open ourselves to this Fire, the Holy Spirit will heal the pain and indifference that divide us, drawing us together to be a light to the world.

1. 1 Corinthians 3:16
2. 2 Chronicles 7:1

Being the Body in the Age of Facebook

This week I am visiting the sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), sister body to my own Ohio Yearly Meeting. During my brief time among Friends here in North Carolina, I have noticed that one area of commonality between our groups is our sense of corporate witness. Friends in both OYM and NCYMc understand our faith as being not merely a matter of individual conscience, but instead a question of corporate commitment, faith and practice.

This was made clear during the business sessions this morning, when Friends here in North Carolina considered the question of their Yearly Meeting’s presence on Facebook. It turned out that an individual, years ago, had created a Facebook group for NCYMc, which most members of the Yearly Meeting had never heard about. This revelation presented an North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) on Facebookopportunity for Friends to consider how they as a Yearly Meeting might relate to this new form of communications technology.

Many Friends wondered whether this Facebook page might be misconstrued as being an official expression of the Yearly Meeting, and they discussed how the page might be brought under the administration of the Yearly Meeting as a body. Friends hoped that NCYMc could find a way to administer the page in a manner that would positively affect the visibility of the Yearly Meeting. At the same time, Friends wanted to ensure that the message presented on Facebook would reflect the sense of the body.

There were also questions about the open commenting feature on the group. How would these comments reflect on the Yearly Meeting? While many Friends felt that it was not in right order to restrict public statements by individual Friends, they wondered how care and oversight might be extended to the Facebook group. In the future, might the elders of the Yearly Meeting be charged with administering the body’s Facebook presence?

I am heartened to see that Conservative Friends in Ohio and North Carolina(1) Yearly Meetings share the conviction that our Christian faith as Friends is not merely a matter of personal experience and expression. As Friends in North Carolina minuted today, “ours is an experience of aWebsite of a Conservative Quaker Worship Group faith community, not an individual.” This is a belief and a way of life that I believe Conservative Friends hold in common.

Customs and technology change, but Friends here in North Carolina seem convinced that discernment and action based in community are worth conserving, despite the pressures of Western individualism. The new power that the internet grants for individuals to express themselves does not mean that we as Friends should abandon our tradition of waiting together as a community to find and act on the will of God. Conservative Friends are embracing new opportunities, but with a cautious eye towards preserving the unity and integrity of Christ’s body. I give thanks to God for this witness.

1. Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) may share this as well, but I do not feel as qualified to speak about them, as I have not visited them in some time.

Encountering the Face of Christ in Africa – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #32

Dear Children of Light,

Air travel is an amazing thing, and it took me only about forty-eight hours to get from Gisenyi, Rwanda back to my home in Washington, DC. The ride from Gisenyi to Kigali, and the flightsKisumu Airport from Kigali to Nairobi to London to Washington were very tiring, however. By the time I arrived home on Sunday afternoon, I was ready to sleep for a week. Nevertheless, in the couple of days since I have been home, I have been trying to maintain a regular schedule so as to re-adjust to the US Eastern time zone.

As I sit down to write this letter, I am still loopy from jetlag. I am also feeling rather intimidated at the prospect of encapsulating this month’s experiences into a brief missive. So much has happened in the last three weeks. I hope you will forgive me for being a little longer than usual.

It started in England. On 10 June, I arrived in London and spent the night with Friends in Greenwich. I stayed with Simon Watson and his family. I was grateful for the generosity of their hospitality, as they were kind enough to host me for several nights during my trip. I sense that my visit was encouraging for Simon, and I was gratefulRipley Friends for the time that we were able to share together.

The next day, I took the train up to Derbyshire (the English pronounce it “darby-sheer”) and visited Friends connected with the Ripley Quaker Meeting, which meets weekly at a local community center. It was a blessing to be with these faithful Friends. I had connected with many of them already through Facebook and Skype, but it was a real gift to spend time in the home of the Lomax family, and to see them face-to-face for the first time. On Sunday morning, we had a favored meeting for worship, with the power of the Lord Jesus being felt clearly in our midst.

This is the way I would describe the whole of my time in England: covered with a profound sense of the presence and power of Jesus Christ. I had many doubts about taking this trip, primarily due to concerns about the ecological damage caused by air travel. Nevertheless, I could not deny the way the Lord’s hand was
QYPers and John Punshon at Friends Library in London present in my visits among Friends in the UK. Where the Lord sends his servants, he makes the rocky paths smooth and the way straight!

While in England, I was able to link up with the two British leaders from last Year’s Quaker Youth Pilgrimage, as well as several of the pilgrims who live in the London area. It was great to catch up with these Friends and see them in their “natural habitat.” I was also able to visit Ben Gosling – another affiliate of Rockingham Meeting – and his wife Libertad at their home in Lavenham (in Suffolk). It was lovely to spend time with these Friends, and to get a tour of the historic village they live in, which preserves many buildings from the medieval period.

Overall, I believe that my travels in the United Kingdom were a blessing, both to me and to those whom I was able to visit. For my own part, I feel better informed about the situation that our affiliates in England are facing at this time. The last years have been very hard for the community of Conservative Friends in the UK, and I feel great sympathy for them as they struggle to be faithful in trying circumstances. More than sympathy, I feel conviction that I must examine how God might be calling me to lend support and encouragement to British Conservative Quakers. I sense that this may be a question that Friends in my Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meeting may wish to continue to consider together.

Feeling very blessed by the opportunities the Lord had opened for me in England, I took my leave of British Friends to continue on to Africa. Earlham School of Religion, where I work as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement, was holding a faculty retreat in Kenya and Rwanda. As member of the administrative faculty, I was invited to participate. In addition to the opportunity to spend more time with my colleagues at ESR, I was grateful for the chance to become acquainted with Friends in East Africa. Kenya is home to the largest population of Friends in the world, and I was excited to learn more Lionabout the breadth and diversity of cultural expressions that exist in the modern-day Friends Church.

The first few days of the trip were not business-like at all. We flew into Nairobi and, after a night at the Mennonite Guest House, rode down to the Masai Mara game reserve to spend a couple of days on safari. The safari was a good way to begin the trip, and it was impressive to observe in their native habitat so many animals that I had only ever seen in zoos. Lions, cheetahs, elephants, hippos, and many other species were present in abundance. I took lots of pictures.

As fun as all this was, my own personal priority was to connect with the people of East Africa – especially Quakers. I was elated when we flew out to Kisumu (Western Kenya) and began to visit Friends there. They were not hard to find. In Western Kenya, Quakers are the largest single denomination and ESR Visits Kaimosi Hospitalhave a larger membership than all the Yearly Meetings in North America put together. It was quite an experience to be in a place where the Quaker Church is normative.

While in the area, we visited several important locations. We were able to see the famous Kaimosi Hospital, which I had been hearing about for years as a member of the Friends United Meeting General Board. We also spent several days at Friends Theological College, which is the single most important center of theological education for Friends in East Africa. I greatly enjoyed my time at the school and would like to return some day, as the Lord permits. I was particularly impacted by a visit the house where the first Friends missionaries to Kenya came and began preaching the gospel in 1902. It was amazing and inspiring to stand in the historical epicenter of African Quakerism.

When we had completed our visits in Western Kenya, we flew to Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda surprised me with how different it felt from Kenya. In Kenya, there were unavoidable signs of intense poverty everywhere; in Rwanda, however, it was a little bit less obvious. The city of Kigali, in particular, felt very developed. Clean, orderly, and apparently relatively prosperous, Rwanda’s capital felt similar in Genocide Memorial, Kigali, Rwandamany ways to what I had experienced in the urban areas of Mexico (which is quite a developed country by world standards).

During the week we spent in Rwanda, however, I began to learn about the dark side of Rwanda’s apparent prosperity. When I started asking prying questions about the government, I learned that all is not as idyllic as is immediately apparent. One citizen informed me that she felt afraid to make any statement about the government that might be considered negative. However, because we were not in the company of other Rwandans, she helped explain why things look so nice in the cities and along the major roads in the countryside.

Apparently, the Rwandan government requires that buildings be made in a certain style using certain materials. Tile roofs, brick and cement walls – solid, high-quality construction. Expensive construction. I learned that apparently the government not only requires this for new construction, but also has an active program that requires homeowners to upgrade their houses to the new code, especially if their homes are along major thoroughfares that might be seen by tourists. I was told that those who are unable to upgrade their houses to meet government criteria are evicted and have their land confiscated (frequently without any compensation). Jay and EmanuelThe properties are re-sold to those who can afford to improve the land.

The strong hand of the Rwandan government is felt in the life of the Church, as well. Rwanda Yearly Meeting is perhaps the only Friends body in the world that requires water baptism for membership. They do this because the central government will not recognize (or, it seems, tolerate) any church that does not meet certain criteria. One of those criteria is performing water baptism. As an outsider, and a very uninformed one at that, it would have felt wrong to criticize the Friends Church in Rwanda for ceding Friends testimony on this point. However, it is clear that religious freedom is limited in Rwanda in ways that I find difficult to accept.

Our time with the brothers and sisters in Rwanda Yearly Meeting was lovely. They are an amazing group of Friends, who in only a couple of decades have developed a network of sixty churches across Rwanda, as well as an impressive system of schools and programs to give relief to widows and orphans. We were blessed and humbled by Friends’ warm hospitality to us. Despite Rwanda’s apparent national wealth in comparison to Kenya, it is clear that the common people of Rwanda still live in extreme poverty by most standards. In spite of this, we were welcomed with open arms and treated to lavish hospitality. It was a humbling Friends Meeting House in Rural Rwanda (near Gisenyi)experience to see Friends in Rwanda minister to us out of their material poverty.

By the end of this trip, I was coming to see that it was I who was impoverished. I have had the luxury of so many material and educational advantages by virtue of my family of birth and country of origin. I live at a standard that would be almost unbelievable to most people in East Africa. And yet, I see that I and the society that I live in are poor in the things that matter most. I see more clearly than ever that my own spiritual condition has been that of the church at Laodicea, of which Jesus said, “…you say ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor blind and naked.”(1)

Guilty as charged. I pray for God’s mercy, knowing that I have lived so long in material comfort and luxury that I have become blinded to the needs of the poor, marginalized and oppressed. Living in urban North America, it is hard to conceive of what material wealth truly is. Material wealth is having running water and electricity. It is having an educational system that is available to all. It is eating protein every day and having access to a variety of foods. Being rich is owning a cookbook and being able to purchase the ingredients forRural Village Meeting Near Gisenyi, Rwanda any recipe. I have often failed to realize what amazing blessings these truly are. These are things that should not be taken for granted.

I have also seen more clearly what spiritual wealth is. Spiritual wealth is cooking up the best food that you have – even if it is just feed corn, casava bread, rice and beans – and serving it to guests who have traveled from far away to see you. It is only the spiritually wealthy who can show true love by giving generously, wrecklessly – not out of their own abundance, but out of poverty. True, spiritual wealth is welcoming guests, caring for orphans and widows, and seeing that the next generation gets a decent education.

On this trip, I saw the face of Jesus Christ in his Church. I saw the way that our brothers and sisters in East Africa love the Lord, not just through words and easy gestures, but through self-sacrifice Etienneand hospitality that costs something. I saw the radiant joy that comes from holding nothing back, from acknowledging that life is a gift from God that we can never own, only hold in trust.

I have seen so much in the past weeks that has convicted me of my own spiritual shallowness and of the failure of the North American Church to take seriously Christ’s call to take up the cross. I am still processing these experiences. I am unsure of where this all leads. One thing is for certain: I am a lot less far along in my walk with the Lord than I would prefer to imagine.

Yet, I also feel a great sense of hope. Among Friends in East Africa, I have seen that the yoke of our Lord Jesus is truly easy, his burden light. If only we here in the North American Church would surrender our own privilege and sense of control, we could share in the easy burden of Jesus. I see more clearly now that I must lay down the burden of control, of self-protection, and of “having David Johns with Childrenenough.” I want to follow Jesus, and now more than ever I see that I cannot serve two masters.

Clearly, though this letter has been much longer than usual, there is a lot left to process. I do suspect that I will do a lot of this processing in the coming weeks on my blog, The Lamb’s War. I encourage you to subscribe to my blog if you have not already, or just check in from time to time. These experiences will definitely take some time to sort through, and I would welcome your accompaniment on this journey.

Thank you so much for all your prayers as I have been traveling. I have felt safe in my journeys, knowing that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ watches over me and has a plan for my life. I am unutterably grateful for the way God has provided for me thus far, and for the way God continues to teach and guide me. I pray that each of you may experience this same blessing.

Blessings and peace to you in the Lord Jesus,

Micah Bales

1. Revelation 3:17

Lone Ranger Culture and Growing the Body of Christ

I recently received an email from an American Quaker who had read my recent post, Freelance Ministry or the Body of Christ? They wrote:


“I am totally in agreement with what you advocate — and my behaviors as minister among Friends are strictly Lone Ranger-mode.  It’s not only my culture, it’s how I survived childhood.  Those habits are deep in my cells and tissues.  From your experience getting re-enculturated among Ohio Conservative Friends, can you suggest how one can change the freelance ministry culture when one is within the culture?”


Here is my response, which I post with my correspondent’s permission:


Dear Friend,

I’m particularly pleased to hear how helpful my post on freelance ministry vs. the Body of Christ was for you. This reality of “body-ness” is really changing the way that I live and grow in Christ, and I am eager to share my experience in this regard with others. It is Friends at Stillwater Quarterly Meeting (Ohio YM)such a treasure, and I want to do everything I can to help others live into this reality.

Unfortunately, as we both know, such a way of life is not something we can achieve on our own. I mean this not only in the sense that this is work that God must do within us, rather than something we do ourselves; this is certainly true, but it is even harder than that. Living in the Body of Christ depends on other people and their response to the call of Christ’s Holy Spirit to live as members of the True Vine. We cannot live in the Body of Christ without other disciples of Jesus who are also willing to take his yoke upon them. We can take first steps in faith, but ultimately we rely on the faithful steps of others.

I have been thinking about your question a lot during this past week: What can you do where you are? How can you become an agent for change within a freelance ministry culture? This is a hard question, and one Friends at Stillwater Quarterly Meeting (Ohio YM)that I have dealt with in the past as a member of another Yearly Meeting before joining Ohio Yearly Meeting.

To provide a direct answer, I must begin by asking more questions. First of all, are there committed, Spirit-led Christians within your Meeting? Your Yearly Meeting? Your wider circle of Christian fellowship? Consider unilaterally submitting yourself to their care and oversight. Allow some disciples of Jesus whom you trust – women and men of spiritual maturity and depth of Christian commitment – to serve as your spiritual elders. Communicate with them regularly, and be open to changing your plans and even beliefs based on their guidance and the inward prompting of Jesus in your heart. These relationships will provide the fundamental support for your ongoing ministry, which will almost certainly be fiercely challenged as time goes on. Make sure that these relationships are strong before venturing out.

Now, more questions: Do you sense that you are being called to the work of nurturing the development of the Body of Christ within your local Meeting? Do you sense that there is an opening for you to begin enfleshing the Body of Christ in your local Meeting? If so, you might consider approaching your Meeting’s Ministry and Oversight (aka Ministry and Counsel or Ministry and Worship). You could lay your concern before them, asking them to consider how they might be called to begin (or deepen) a life of accountability and mutual submission within M&O and in the Meeting as a whole. Be ready to submit yourself to these Friends, too, if Doing Dishes at Food Not Bombs in Capitol Heights, DCthey respond in faith to the Holy Spirit. Be ready to be challenged and changed as the Meeting is challenged and changed. This is a time when you will need to rely heavily on your core of elders who can support you and serve as a check to the feedback you receive from your Meeting.

If you do indeed feel called of the Lord to this work, remember that prophetic engagement with the Meeting is a ministry that may take many years to bear any discernible fruit. And you might never see results. I encourage you to be sure of your leading and your motivations before engaging in this work. I also encourage you to regularly ask yourself what Christ is calling you to now.

Another thing to listen for is whether God is calling you to engage in this kind of ministry in your current Meeting. In my own case, I was called to this work for a season. However, God eventually called me out of my previous Monthly and Yearly Meeting and transplanted me into Ohio Yearly Meeting. While I would by no means insist that it is right for you to leave your Meeting, I encourage you to be open to that possibility. In my own experience,Friends at Ministers and Elders Retreat in Barnesville, Ohio - 2011 I was called out in order to be involved in the development of a new community.

Finally, I would encourage you to seek out opportunities to imbibe the community life of Friends groups that place more emphasis on corporate submission to Jesus Christ. Consider joining us for Ohio Yearly Meeting, which takes place in Barnesville, Ohio, August 8-13. Also, you could attend Stillwater Quarterly Meeting or some of OYM’s Monthly Meetings. And you would of course be a very welcome visitor at Rockingham Meeting and Capitol Hill Friends!

Also, while I do not have much personal experience of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), I have heard that their Yearly Meeting sessions are quite edifying. That might also be another gathering worth attending. I especially encourage you to attend the gatherings of covenanted communities (worship groups, Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings). These are places where you can really experience the mutual submission in Christ that is so essential for a community that seeks to live as Christ’s Body in the world.

And, of course, I would be happy to correspond with you in the months and years to come. I pray that we may support one another as we seek to be disciples of the Master, gathered together in him.

I am your friend in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Micah