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Something Is Shaking Loose – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #65

Dear friends,

I’ve been getting around this summer. I’ve done almost as much traveling in the last few months as I had in the whole year before that. So far this summer, I’ve taken multiple trips to Detroit, Indiana and Philadelphia. Reconnecting with my friends and fellow workers throughout the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, I’ve felt more plugged into the life of the whole body. As I grow in my role as a released minister with our geographically dispersed fellowship, I am both blessed and challenged by the work of nurturing our fledgling communities and ministries.

Friends of Jesus Fellowship is in a state of flux right now. It feels like all of our workers in all of our local and virtual sites are feeling something similar. Something is shaking loose. There is a new direction emerging, but it’s still not clear exactly where we’re headed. This can feel scary; we’ve invested so much work into the communities as we know them today. But we are also feeling a sense of divine accompaniment, trusting that Christ Jesus is walking with us, guiding us even when we can’t see the way in front of us. We would invite your prayers for our collective sense of clarity as a fellowship, and for the Holy Spirit to enliven and guide each of our local communities.

Here in Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area, we’re experimenting with a variety of ways of being community together. Through cookouts, worship, service projects and spiritual exploration through art, we’ve tried a lot of different ways of engaging with God together. It’s still not totally clear what things will look like for us in the fall, but we have a sense of being scattered across our urban region. Christ is inviting us to re-focus on the simple, patient work of making disciples. Beyond all strategies and programs, this work of transformation and growth is our primary calling.

Even as Friends of Jesus is experiencing a sense of creative mystery, I’ve personally been experiencing a lot of growth in my understanding of the work I’m called to. A part of that has been in my professional life as Web & Communications Specialist for Friends United Meeting. This summer, I’ve been spending a lot more time out at the North American FUM office in Indiana, which has helped to deepen my sense of purpose and connection with this international association of Quakers.

I’m growing in my understanding that there is vitally important work for me to do as part of the FUM communications team, and I’m looking forward to the months ahead as we undertake a comprehensive campaign to strengthen the organization. Together, I believe that we can energize, equip and connect Friends across the planet, and – near and dear to my heart – here in our North American context.

Here are some ways that you can be praying in the coming month:

  • That God would energize and inspire Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area to take risks and find companions in the way as we seek to make disciples in our local context.
  • That the Friends of Jesus Fellowship as a whole would feel Christ’s power and seek his guidance in becoming the beautiful bride that he is calling us to be. Let the Holy Spirit raise up new disciple-makers in each of our communities, teaching us to embody and share the good news.
  • That Friends United Meeting would be strengthened, both as an organization and as a worldwide body of dozens of yearly meetings from California to Cuba, Nairobi to New York. May God provide the funds, the staff, and above all the spiritual grounding that Friends United Meeting needs to fulfill its mission: energizing, equipping and connecting fellowships in the name of Jesus Christ.
  • That I would find the support and encouragement I need to sustain the work that God has called me to. May my family of prayer supporters, financial backers and ministry partners continue to grow through the unmistakable power of Jesus.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers, encouragement and love.

Grace and peace in the Lord Jesus,

Micah

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Growing the Body of Christ – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #61

Dear friends,

The transition from the holiday season into a new year of work is both exciting and a little overwhelming! In this past month, I’ve been catching up on all the work that got set aside over the holidays, tackling a new home renovation project, and working with local leaders to launch our small groups into our first cycle of 2014. I’m trying to make sure that I stay busy with the right things, in the right way. I’m want to be attentive to how I can make myself available to other people, prioritizing togetherness in a community on mission with Jesus.

My job with Friends United Meeting is going well as we seek to make more resources available to equip Friends across the world. We on the communications team are examining everything we do and asking: Does this aspect of our work energize and equip Friends to gather communities that live out the gospel? If not, what should we be doing differently?

This is a time of great hope for us as staff members. 2014 is the year that we are putting everything on the table and evaluating how we can be most faithful in supporting the Christian ministry of Friends throughout North America, the Caribbean, Palestine and East Africa. We have a real opportunity to transform the organization into a vital resource for the worldwide body of Christ in this new century.

Please pray for the staff and board of FUM:

  • That we be given wisdom and discernment to embrace creativity and adaptability in new cultural, economic and historical conditions.
  • That we be filled with courage to try new things, take risks, and be willing to fail in order to succeed.
  • That we see past all controversies and human contention, keeping our eyes on Jesus and living in the reconciliation and unity he brings.

Here in DC, the Friends of Jesus community is experiencing a similar kind of opening as we begin our first small group cycle of the new year. We are blessed with a solid core of leadership for each of our groups, and we are feeling energized as we begin to spend six weeks reading Acts 2 together. We hope that this exploration of the beginning of the Christian community will inspire us in becoming a similarly Spirit-led, loving and guided community here in our own day.

Our small groups in Maryland and DC are now meeting on different days of the week, which should allow some interchange and mutual support between them. It also lets folks to pick the day, time and location that works best for them. As our community continues to gain strength, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we dream of becoming a multiplying fellowship of small groups that demonstrates the gospel in word and deed throughout our region.

Please pray for Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area:

  • That God would continue to raise up leaders and core members who are inspired by the vision that God has given us.
  • That we would be equipped as a Spirit-led community that heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, announces freedom to the captive, and shares good news with all who are hungering for it.
  • That the living presence of Jesus would fill us with boldness and power to push beyond our comfort zone and love like he does.

The Friend of Jesus Fellowship as a whole continues to move forward. The weekend before last we had our first ever East Coast Gathering. This convergence in Philadelphia drew together folks from across the eastern seaboard – DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the New York City region. We even had folks come out from our community in Detroit! It was a real blessing to have so many of our core members together in one place, and it was great to make new connections and hear about what’s happening in each of our local groups. We’re looking forward to the next such opportunity at our Spring Gathering, April 4-6, in Barnesville, Ohio.

Please pray for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship:

  • That God would continue to guide and nurture our new communities throughout the United States and beyond.
  • That the bonds between us would be strengthened, despite geographical distance.
  • That we would serve as a resource for one another, equipping new leaders & groups, and blessing the wider body of Christ.

As time goes on, I am becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the connection that we have to one another in prayer. Thank you for your faithfulness in the last months and years, holding me and our communities up in the light of God’s love. Please continue to pray for us, and let us know how our community can be praying for you.

In joy,

Micah Bales

A Change of Pace – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #58

Dear friends,

This last month has been a change of pace. During the past year, I’ve felt myself called to get much more local, to travel far less, and to focus almost exclusively on developing community in the DC area. That work has borne a lot of fruit, and we have grown substantially in both depth and numbers as compared with where we were at a year ago. But while I still sense that most of my focus still needs to be on nurturing and equipping our local community and leaders, this month I’ve felt an opening to forms of ministry that go beyond the local Meeting.

It started with a trip to the Midwest. In late September, I spent about a week in Richmond, Indiana, at the FUM Bridging the Gaps conference for youth and young adult workers. After that, I stayed in town for a few more days to participate in an FUM staff retreat. My time out in Richmond was invigorating. I was reminded that I am a part of a broader movement, and that we as Friends of Jesus are just one little cell in the worldwide Body of Christ.

Not long after getting back from a week away in Indiana, the Friends of Jesus Fellowship had its annual Fall Gathering right here in Washington, DC. Coming so close on the heels of my visit to Indiana, this was yet another reminder of the work that remains to be done in our wider network. I am feeling drawn to renew my commitment to encouraging the many groups and individuals who are either part of FOJF or who share a similar mission and focus. I don’t know exactly what this will look like yet, but I am trusting that God will reveal the ways in which I can be most faithful in the months ahead.

Believe it or not, I actually ended up taking another trip out to Indiana this month. The second one came immediately after the FOJF Fall Gathering, when I hitched a ride with Hoot Williams – an organizer for Friends of Jesus in Philadelphia. We attended the annual Pastors’ Conference held at Earlham School of Religion, and visited among Friends in Richmond. Despite the insanity of driving nine hours each way to spend a day and a half in Indiana, the trip was deeply refreshing and encouraging for me. The Pastors’ Conference inspired me to consider how to make the practice of Sabbath a bigger part of my life, and I was grateful to be able to spend time connecting with Hoot and Friends in Richmond.

As I continue to do discernment about my widening sense of spiritual concern, I am finding my conception of ministry broadened in ways beyond the geographical. For the first time in more than a year, I feel that God is once again inviting me into more proactive work for economic and social justice. While I’m not quite sure what this will entail, I sense it will be important for me to become active in gathering with a wide range of communities – variously secular and spiritual – to prepare ourselves for the many challenges that lie ahead. No great social change ever occurs without years or decades of groundwork, and I want to be part of a movement that advances the cause of justice and reveals the beauty of God’s kingdom for everyone to see.

As I explore these bubbling changes in my life and sense of calling, I hope that you will continue to unite with me in prayer. Here are a few specific ways that you might consider praying this month:

  • For God to guide me in being faithful to the specific work that he is calling me to. Let me be given wisdom to know what is mine to do, and humility to leave the rest to others.
  • That the Friends of Jesus communities have a deep awareness of the Spirit’s presence. May God raise up new leaders to equip us for the work that God is giving us.
  • For us to make the connections and strengthen the relationships that we need to share God’s love and open up new life in the kingdom.

In love and friendship,

Micah

Working Together for Good

This weekend, I was out in Indiana for Friends United Meeting‘s Briding the Gaps conference for those who work with youth and young adults. It was an opportunity for Friends from a wide range of Yearly Meetings to gather and explore our shared work as friends and nurturers of the youth and young adults in our communities.

The conference went deeper than I had expected. During our workshops and sessions, we were able to really share out of our own experience of ministry to the younger generations of our communities. We learned that much of the work we do is the same, regardless of what Yearly Meeting we come from, and that we have a lot to learn from one another. By sharing stories, statistics, best practices and insights from years in the field, we strengthened each other as fellow workers in Christ’s ministry.

Probably the greatest lesson I received from this weekend was the reminder that we can find profound and unexpected unity in our shared mission. As Friends United Meeting, we are not a community merely because we like one another, nor are we simply a club for people who are fans of God. Instead, this weekend we rediscovered that our deepest unity is found in being doers the word. As we learn to follow Jesus together – by caring for our youth, energizing young adults, and encouraging the development of truly intergenerational community – we discover that the same Spirit working in us is at work across our whole worldwide community.

At our best, this is what Friends United Meeting is all about. We are a people gathered in Christ, in community and for mission. As we move forward together, I pray that we will continue to discover our common mission – not just in words, but in the very practical details of shared ministry. We are being invited into a life of power, peace and unity with God and with one another. How can we look for ways to embrace this calling?

A Deeper Unity – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #45

Dear friends,

Every year, I imagine that this time around my summer will be a little less crazy. And every year, Yearly Meeting season makes that an impossibility. This month, I spent most of my days out of town, attending Quaker gatherings in New York, Maryland and Ohio. These Yearly Meeting sessions have taken most of my time and attention, leaving me feeling a bit disconnected from my community in DC. The balance between local work and the wider fellowship is delicate, and I anticipate that the coming month will be a time for me to pivot and refocus on local concerns and more sedentary work. Though it has been enriching to dive deeply into the wider world of Friends, I am looking forward to being home for a while.

My first trip out of town was to New York Yearly Meeting, at the Silver Bay YMCA camp on Lake George in upstate New York. Gathering on Lake George meant that when we were not engaged in Yearly Meeting business, we were free to go kayaking or sailing, or to go hiking in the surrounding woods. Though I had attended Yearly Meeting sessions in a variety of beautiful locations, this resort atmosphere was something new!

I felt particularly blessed that Faith and I were able to be present with a number of other visiting Friends, including Jon Watts and Maggie Harrision, who are engaged in a sustained ministry of calling Friends to spiritual nakedness. Jon and Maggie really challenged New York Yearly Meeting during an evening plenary session, urging Friends to set aside the suffocating comfort of respectability and to dive boldly into God’s love. In one particularly intense moment, Maggie asked Friends why the reports from New York Yearly Meeting’s local congregations rarely mentioned God. Isn’t that what this is all about? You could have heard a pin drop as Friends took in what Maggie was saying. And then, someone yelled Amen!

After New York Yearly Meeting, Faith and I drove down to Virginia for a wedding. I had a day back in DC before I was on the road again, this time to Baltimore Yearly Meeting – a fellowship of Quakers in Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC and Maryland. BYM holds it annual gatherings at Frostburg State University, out in the western panhandle of Maryland. Getting there was easy, though, since I routinely travel out that way en route to Ohio and points further west.
Baltimore Yearly Meeting felt familiar. Because I live within the geographical territory of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I run into BYM Friends a lot – whether visiting their local Meetings, attending their events, or welcoming them at Capitol Hill Friends. Though I am not a member of BYM, visiting their annual sessions did feel like something of a homecoming to me.
The theme of BYM’s gathering this year was “Spirit-led Social Action,” and I had the opportunity to speak with Friends about my experience of God’s leading me to participate in the Occupy movement when it first erupted in the fall of 2011. I spoke as part of a two-person panel during BYM’s Tuesday-night plenary session, sharing what it felt like to be led by the Holy Spirit into social witness that is outside my comfort zone. I would never have chosen to become an organizer for the Occupy movement on my own, but I am so grateful that I was obedient to the promptings of Christ within!

Because I yielded to the quiet but persistent nudges of God in my heart, I am now connected to a broader community of those who are working for economic justice. I have met so many amazing people who have changed my life for the better, and I am hopeful that my presence has a positive influence. During the plenary, I shared how God opens opportunities for me to bear witness to Christ’s love and power within the economic justice community. Most crucially, I spoke about the spiritual dynamics of activism and community organizing, and about the need to stay rooted in the Spirit of God. There are so many other forces that would shake us from our Foundation; if we do not take great care, it is easy to get caught up in a spirit of chaos rather than the Spirit of love, order and peace that Christ sends.

I hope that I was faithful in communicating to Friends that our social witness must be, first and foremost, a testimony to the love, life and power that we experience in the Spirit of Jesus. Specific outcomes are important – sometimes we are called to “win” – but the highest objective must always be to remain faithful to the witness that God desires to bear through our lives. This takes great discernment, a practice that we as Friends of Jesus can bring to these movements.

Following my visit to Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I was only home for a few days before Faith and I were back on the road. Once again, we drove out through western Maryland, but this time our destination was Barnesville, Ohio – the gathering place of Ohio Yearly Meeting. After visiting so many gatherings this summer, it was a blessing to finally come home to the Yearly Meeting where we are members. Visiting among other bodies of Friends is wonderful, but there is a particular joy that comes when we gather with our particular covenanted community. Our care and responsibility for one another guides and sustains me in a special way.

I was really struck this year by the way in which my Yearly Meeting handles disagreement. We had several opportunities to engage in prayerful discernment around hard issues this year, and I felt like we were generally able to keep our conversation grounded in prayer and loving concern for one another. There is a sense in Ohio Yearly Meeting that our unity runs deeper than opinions about particular issues. While outward agreement is ultimately important, I am grateful to experience an inward, spiritual unity that allows us to wrestle with disagreements in a manner that ultimately draws us closer to God in Jesus Christ.

I envision Ohio Yearly Meeting as a circle with Jesus Christ standing at the center. Individuals in our Yearly Meeting stand at various points around the circle; we emphasize different things, and there are places where we are not in full agreement. There were several explicit points of tension this year – including our relationship with Olney Friends School; our testimony against the consumption of alcoholic beverages; and our shared understanding of human sexuality. Each of these are places where we could fall into destructive division and mistrust. But God is teaching us a better way.

As we gather around Jesus and draw nearer to him, we come closer to one another. Submitting ourselves to Christ’s light, we find our individual perspectives relativized (though not invalidated), and we are able to see how God is speaking through those with whom we strongly disagree. There is a deep faith present in Ohio Yearly Meeting that, if we wait together in the light of the Holy Spirit, we will be shown the way forward together.

It is probably safe to assume that all of us will be surprised by what “way forward” looks like. I am learning that having a variety of perspectives in my community can be a sign of good health, despite the fact that, at first glance, it may seem like chaos and disunity. We read in Scripture that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Yet, we know that we ourselves do change, and that our individual human viewpoints are often too limited to embrace the truth that Christ desires to reveal to us.
When we come together as a community in prayer, seeking after the Lord’s will, I experience the Spirit guiding us into greater understanding and unity as a body. We continue to have our own individual perspectives, but they are tempered and refined in the fire of Christ’s light. When we hold our disagreements in loving prayer, the Spirit intercedes within us and binds us together in a deeper unity that surpasses opinions.

At the conclusion of our time together in Barnesville, I felt hopeful for the future of Ohio Yearly Meeting. I had a strong sense that Christ is at work in our midst, and that we are being invited into the new (yet ancient) way of Jesus. God is giving us an opportunity to embrace Jesus’ example, laying down our lives for one another and surrendering our need to be correct. I am learning that the true meaning of strength is to bear the burdens of others – not only physically, but spiritually.

I pray that my life will serve to lighten the burden of those around me, that I may lay aside my own need to be vindicated, remembering that Jesus lay aside every honor and privilege that were rightfully his, bearing the cross for his friends. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave him the name that is above every name. I pray that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting will find this scripture fulfilled in our hearing, that through our shared submission to Jesus we be brought into the fullness of his truth, unity and love.

I anticipate that the next few weeks will allow me to stay closer to home. After so much time away, it will be good to re-connect with my community here in DC. I am also looking forward to making progress on the new Friends United Meeting website, which we plan to roll out around the end of the summer. I must say that although there are many benefits to travel in the service of the gospel, it is not particularly conducive to web development!

One last item before I close: You may recall that this June I was arrested by the US Capitol Police for accompanying my friend Deborah Harris to speak to Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, during his visit to the Senate Banking Committee. I did not expect to be arrested, much less to be jailed for most of the day and accused of falsifying my identity! It also came as a surprise when I learned that my arrest could theoretically be punished by up to six months in prison. But I give praise to God that my co-defendents and I accepted a deal on Monday which will allow the charges against us to be dropped, assuming we do not get re-arrested in the next six months!

I have no idea how prayer works, but it is my experience that there is nothing more powerful than the prayerful petitions of God’s faithful people. I know for a fact that I have a small army of prayer warriors who are interceding on my behalf. Thank you so, so much. Your prayers are making a huge impact on my life. Please do not stop!

In the month ahead, please pray that I be grounded more deeply in the Holy Spirit as I seek to be a faithful worker in my roles with Friends United Meeting, Capitol Hill Friends and Occupy Our Homes DC. I would also ask for you to pray specifically that our community at Capitol Hill Friends be built up in Christ’s power this month. In recent weeks, several active members of our fellowship have moved away to pursue educational opportunities; we need God’s strength and guidance as we continue to serve as a spiritual sanctuary in the midst of our city.
May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all.
In his light and love,
Micah Bales

My New Job At Friends United Meeting

This month I begin work with Friends United Meeting (FUM), an international association of Quakers with member churches in North America, the Middle East, East Africa and Latin America. My official title is Interim Communications and Web Specialist. The “interim” part of this means that the job will last from July until December, and we will evaluate at the end of that time whether the position should continue in its present form. This job is in many ways experimental, which excites me; I am a starter, an entrepreneur and an innovator, and I am looking forward to pioneering a new chapter in FUM’s role as a communicator on behalf of and among Friends.

The “communications” part of my job title means that I will be focusing on FUM’s strategic outreach, especially online and social media communications. In addition, I will be collaborating on Quaker Life, one of the most prominent print publications in the Religious Society of Friends.As FUM’s magazine for more than 50 years, Quaker Lifeis probably our most important tool for communicating across the entire association at the present time. This is especially true considering the limitations of internet access in East Africa, where the majority of Friends reside.
The “web” part of my job will be especially prominent in this interim period. I will be working closely with other members of the FUM staff as we roll out an entirely new and re-designed website.The current website was originally set up in 1997, and although the site has had an amazing 15-year run, it is clearly time for an upgrade! I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this work.
It is an honor to be on staff with Friends United Meeting. My faith is deeply rooted in traditional Quaker faith and practice – including waiting worship, orthodox Christian belief, and Quaker business practice – and, for me, Friends United Meeting represents the beautiful diversity that is possible when we are gathered together in Jesus Christ. Like so many established Christian organizations today, FUM faces huge challenges. As a diverse and multicultural association of Friends, we are stretched almost the breaking point around questions of authority, our understandings of Scripture, our different levels of access to wealth and mobility, and our vision for what the Body of Christ looks like when we are faithful.

Despite these challenges, I hold out hope for Friends United Meeting. At its best, FUM symbolizes what a broad, diverse, flexible and generously orthodox association of Friends could look like. As a member of FUM’s staff, I will be looking for ways to empower Yearly Meetings, local churches and individual members to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. As we are gathered together in the living power of God’s Spirit – spanning nations, cultures, races and languages – I am hopeful that FUM can play a vital role in building up the Body of Christ.

In the months ahead, I want to hear from Friends about how FUM can be more vital and relevant, particularly among Friends in North America. For generations, the primary focus of Friends United Meeting has been on foreign mission fields, and we can see the rich fruits of these efforts among Friends in East Africa, Palestine, and the Carribean. Yet there is a growing sense that North America itself needs to be the recipient of a new missionary effort. What might that look like? 

How might the growing strength of Friends in the developing world contribute to a spiritual rebirth in North America? What role do we have to play in this time of great transition for the North American Church? How might Friends United Meeting be an instrument of Christ’s work of renewal and transformation?

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
-Isaiah 43:19

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