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Way Is Opening – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #62

Dear friends,

It’s getting to that point in the winter when it feels like spring will never come. Yet, there is real growth happening amid the cold and ice. The Friends of Jesus community is growing in depth and momentum as we find our way forward as a community rooted in the Spirit. It’s amazing to watch God draw us together as a team, as friends, as companions in the way of Jesus. And I’m growing on a personal level, finding my way towards being more faithful in the ministry that God has called me to. Little by little, I’m finding ways to release my own priorities and open myself to how God wants to use my life.

I experienced this sense of opening just this weekend, during a trip to Philadelphia. On Friday, I was invited to speak to students at Swarthmore College about discernment and Spirit-led decision-making in the Quaker tradition. I shared about the biblical basis for our practice, and how we might apply these principles in groups and organizations that don’t necessarily share the same faith basis.

It seemed that my talk was very well-received, and I felt hopeful that it may have helped to strengthen the Christian and interfaith witness at Swarthmore. I was surprised and inspired to find this door opened to me, and this visit made me more aware of the hunger that the rising generation has for decision-making that is based in truth, rather than egotistical power plays. This may be an area for greater exploration.

Following my visit to Swarthmore, I headed up to Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting House, where the planning group for Quaker Spring gathered for a weekend retreat. We had a deep time of shared listening together, and I felt blessed to be in partnership with these faithful Friends. I am looking forward to the Quaker Spring gathering this June 24-29 in Barnesville, Ohio.

My travels this weekend left me feeling inspired. Something has been broken open inside me, and I am feeling drawn to re-dedicate myself to the core ministry that the Holy Spirit is calling me into. This ministry is both local and universal, involving both a settled witness here in DC as well as traveling to share the good news of Jesus and support the emergence of new leaders and communities in other areas.

At times, it has been a challenge to stay focused on this mission. In the last year, in addition to the rather intensive demands of the ministry, I’ve been working several part-time jobs. Sometimes this has worked well, but on many occasions it has created conditions for a great deal of stress and anxiety in my life. Worst of all, I have the sense that at times my over-busyness has negatively impacted the exercise of the most essential ministry that God is inviting me into.

This weekend, something clicked into place, and I had a clear sense that 2014 is a year for me to be transitioning into more focused ministry, less weighed down by other concerns. There have been times in the past when I have felt a drawing to this kind of focus, but now God seems to be preparing the conditions for me to truly live into that vision. My local community here in DC has shown amazing support in recent months, encouraging me to pursue a more fully released ministry. I am both humbled and emboldened by the ways in which Friends are investing their time, energy, resources and love into creating a space where this ministry can advance unhindered.

In the months ahead, we will be exploring together what it looks like for me to be serving Friends of Jesus as a bi-vocational released minister. With the support of local community members and Friends from across the country, we are hopeful that we can help create space for this exciting ministry to flourish in the ways that God intends.

Thank you for your prayerful support of my ministry, and of the Friends of Jesus community as a whole. This month, please pray for us:

  • That the Spirit would open doors for me to share the good news of Jesus with boldness, in unexpected and exciting ways.
  • That the network of prayer and support for this ministry would continue to grow and create an environment in which ministry can be exercised freely.
  • That we be empowered to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit, gathering people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known in an intimate, personal way; where each of us has the opportunity to become his disciple and demonstrate his love for the world.

In gratitude and friendship,

Micah Bales

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

Balancing and Growing – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #60

Dear friends,

As we welcome the new year, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the shape that my ministry has taken in the last 12 months. For me, 2013 was a time of exploring new models, making new friends and learning new skills. It was a year that radically challenged many of my assumptions about life, ministry and what it means to experiment with the Quaker/Christian tradition in 21st century urban America.

Without a doubt, 2013 has been the year of Friends of Jesus. Though it took us a while to formally change our name, this January we adopted a whole new strategy for developing community here in Washington, DC. This new model focuses around small groups, each one with its own core of leadership. Our small groups focus on equipping ourselves and others to become modern-day disciples of Jesus.

We started with one small group meeting at the William Penn House on Capitol Hill. This allowed us to gather our initial core and invite friends from across the metro area to come and explore what it could mean to share our lives, serve others, and follow Jesus together. We adapted our format to emphasize community-building and engagement with the Bible. We also reduced the length of our meetings significantly, seeking to be more accessible to folks with busy lives, long commutes, and limited energy.

The changes we adopted had an impact. The original small group flourished, and by the fall we had multiplied that small group into two new cells – one gathering in the suburbs of Maryland, and the other based in the eastern part of DC proper. During this time we also multiplied leadership, adding two new core members, both of whom have felt called to provide leadership for the new small group in Maryland.

This has been time of near-constant outreach. As I look back over my calendar for 2013, I see that most weeks I’ve spent afternoons grabbing coffee with folks, and many evenings sharing dinners and participating in social events. At times, just meeting with folks and staying connected has felt like a part-time job by itself!

As I’ve been digging into the work of local outreach and pastoral care, I’ve been learning to balance other areas of responsibility, too. I continue to work part-time for Friends United Meeting, serving as their Web & Communications Specialist. I also do technical writing for a hospice and palliative care newsletter. And, starting this summer, I’ve been apprenticing with a local carpenter, learning some practical skills and seeing DC from a new perspective, as a tradesman.

This combination of digital work, professional writing and manual labor has been good for me. At the same time, it has often been a challenge to balance all of my activities so that my ministry is not disrupted. I continue to seek ways to live more sustainably, finding a path that pairs financial viability with faithfulness to the service that God has called me to.

As I look ahead to this new year, I feel hopeful. In the last few months, there has been a marked growth in energy and enthusiasm across the Friends of Jesus Fellowship as a whole. New communities are emerging across the East Coast, and God is raising up and equipping an amazing team of ministers to provide leadership, teaching and outreach. In many ways, this has been the year when the Friends of Jesus Fellowship has truly begun to take root and grow. In the year to come, I am praying that God will continue to bless us and give us roots that go deeper, branches that go higher, and fruit that blesses the world.

Thank you for all your prayers, encouragement and support this year. God is working through each of us, whether through prayer, outreach, financial giving, leadership, teaching, encouragement, or any of the many other gifts that God provides. May we continue to be instruments that God uses to build up the body of Christ and bless the world with his love!

In gratitude and friendship,

Micah Bales

Taking Our Faith Into The Streets – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #59

Dear friends,

This month has felt like a chance to take a wider view of the work that God is calling me to. It’s easy to get bogged down in tasks and details, but recently I’ve had some great opportunities to break out of my regular routine and engage in ministry that is outside of my comfort zone. At the same time, I’m finding new opportunities to reflect on my service, exploring how my particular call and gifts fit into the life of our community as a whole.

The highlight of November was a visit among friends in Philadelphia. The purpose of my trip was to encourage the Friends of Jesus community that is emerging there, but I think that they encouraged me more! I got to see the Spirit’s power at work again and again, as friends lived into their calling as children of light, sharing their faith with boldness.

I arrived first in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where a group of friends were holding an evening meeting for worship in one family’s home. The hosts and organizers of the meeting were Conservative Quakers, and folks from the West Philly Quaker community at the Friends of Jesus Fellowship added to their numbers. It was a beautiful assembly of God’s people, all united in our desire to draw near to one another in the life we find in Jesus. Both before and after worship, I was able to connect with many different individuals, some of whom I knew well already, and others who I was pleased to get to know on a deeper level. This precious time really gave me the sense of being re-connected with the life of some of God’s faithful workers in the Philadelphia area.

This was good preparation for the following day, when I accompanied Hoot Williams as he led a street outreach event in downtown Philadelphia. If the evening meeting for worship in West Chester provided the spiritual depth and grounding, the outreach event made room for a living expression of that life and power in the world. We spent the day together, holding a public meeting for worship within sight of Independence Hall.

As we worshiped, several of us took an active role in reaching out to the many people who were passing by. We invited folks to take a red diamond as a symbol of the power of love in the face of adversity. For those who were willing to talk longer, we were able to share about our community and the sense of hope and joy that compelled us to stand outside all day on a Saturday and strike up conversations with strangers.

This was a really powerful experience for me. I had not done this kind of street outreach since the Occupy movement, and I had never done street outreach as a way to invite others into conversations about faith. In many ways, this was a scary thing to do, but it was helpful to have the red diamonds as an icebreaker. It also helped to let those we talked to set the terms of the conversation. If they wanted to talk about deep things, learn more about our community, or talk about their own faith, we were ready for that. If they just wanted to take a red diamond and move along, that was OK, too.

It was amazing to see a variety of brothers and sisters from the Philadelphia Quaker community turn out for this outreach event. It blessed me to see spiritual gifts being used, watch individuals wrestle with leadings and explore what God’s call might be for them in the days ahead. In some way that is hard to describe, taking our faith into the streets had the effect of making it more real, immediate and concrete. I experienced in a fresh way the meaning of Jesus’ words: “The Kingdom of God has come near.”

Out of this experience, I am hungry for more opportunities to do both the hidden, spiritual work of deep worship and the concrete, visible labor of incarnational ministry in our city streets. I need both the inward and the outward journey, and I want to be part of a community that is engaged with great passion and joy on both of these levels. I see that our brothers and sisters in Philadelphia are finding ways to do this, and I hope that this gospel fire will spread and ignite the hearts and minds of the rest of us across our many local communities. It is time for us to live and preach the good news of Jesus with boldness!

On a personal level, I am grateful to report that I am receiving some additional assistance in walking this path. This past month, Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area appointed a support team to work with me as I seek to be faithful to the public ministry that God has called me into. This team will provide help in my discernment process, serving as spiritual advisers and encouragers for me.

I’m blessed that FOJ-DC Metro Area is embracing my ministry as being integral to its own. Together, we will continue to tease out how I can best serve as an integrated member of the body, rather than flying solo. I am grateful for friends’ willingness to accompany me in this ministry, seeking to build up the gifts and ministry of whole community.

In other news, our dog, Austin, continues to be sweet and adorable. He’s a wonderful addition to our family, and his presence encourages greater connections between us and our housemates and neighbors. I don’t think I really expected this beforehand, but I am discovering that dogs can be remarkable community-builders. I am grateful for the ways that each of us – including our non-human companions – bring our own special gifts to the life we share together.

I hope that you are beginning to sense the deep joy of the Christmas season. In spite of the dimmer days and longer nights, we are reminded that the living presence of Jesus is coming to birth in our midst. May you experience his awesome, loving presence this Advent.

Your friend,

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

Finding the Balance – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #57

Dear friends,

After what we hope was the last round of sizzling summer weather this week, temperatures and humidity have fallen dramatically here in DC. The crispness in the air and distinctive clarity of daylight tells us that fall has arrived. Faith and I have been excited to put on an extra layer, open the windows and embrace the new season.

This seasonal change is invigorating, and not only in terms of the weather. As we move into fall, the Friends of Jesus community also enters into an exciting new phase of its life. Last week marked the beginning of our first-ever fall cycle. From now until early December, we’re coming together to explore the scriptural focus, “Look, I am making everything new!” We’ll be gathering around good food and deepening friendships, and through Spirit-led worship and exploration of Scripture we’ll seek to open ourselves to the ways that God wants to remake and renew us – and use us as agents of positive change in our city.

This fall cycle is special in many ways. Not only is it our first fall cycle, it is the first time we have organized a cycle around an entire season, rather than just a six-week period. It also marks the first time that we will be holding a cycle in multiple small groups. We have one group meeting out in suburban Maryland, with another gathering in the homes of participants in the District.

Now that we have more than one small group, we’re experimenting with how to be one body with many parts. One way way to accomplish this is having more than one kind of meeting. Starting this month, in addition to our weekly small groups we will also gather monthly to share worship and strengthen connections across our whole community. Our first monthly gathering will be on Sunday, September 29th. Through this rhythm of local weekly small groups and city-wide monthly gatherings, we are developing a model for growing a community that lives out the gospel across the physical geography and human diversity of our city.

Just as this is a time of growth and experimentation for Friends of Jesus as a whole, so it is for me, on a personal level. I have spent a lot of my time this month exploring what it means to be a full-time minister who also raises his own financial support. As a bi-vocational minister, it can be quite a balancing act to feel out how much of my time and energy God is calling me to put into unpaid ministry, and how much focus I should place on work that is paid.

This summer, I have begun apprenticing with a local carpenter named Scott. He’s been doing an amazing job of teaching me the basics of the trade. In the past couple of months, he’s taken me from a state of almost complete ignorance and developed me into a fairly serviceable helper. We’ve done a lot of different projects together, and we are currently in the middle of doing the biggest one so far: gutting and completely remodeling a basement bedroom. Together, we are turning a space that used to be a health hazard into a safe, pleasant living area. And we’re having a blast while we’re at it.

I’ve learned so much working with Scott, and not just about carpentry. He’s helping me to see how much time and effort goes into every room I walk into, every street I drive down, every skyline I observe. As human beings, we are made in the image of God – and I am seeing more clearly than ever that one of those marks is the care and hard work we can put into the world that surrounds us. This new awareness helps me to appreciate how precious our world is, especially when I recognize the work of a craftsman who took the extra time, sweat and energy to make things beautiful.

Working with Scott is also providing a helpful reminder about my own limitations. I have enjoyed this work so much that I have sought out as much of it as I could get. As the summer has gone on, I’ve spent more and more time on the job with Scott, to the point that recently I have effectively been working full time as an apprentice carpenter. This is in addition to my two other paid jobs, unpaid ministry and life with my family and friends. I’ve loved the work – all of it – but it’s been a lot.

I knew it already, but I am experiencing with greater clarity than ever that I am a finite being with very real limits on my time, energy, attention and strength. How can I best steward these resources to strengthen the body of Christ and bless the world? What is the best balance of paid activity, unpaid service, and time spent off the clock with family, friends and neighbors?

I’ve learned one thing for sure this month: It is not sustainable for me to work full time as a carpenter, part time as a web developer, part time as a writer, be responsive to the work God has for me with Friends of Jesus, and be present to my family and friends. As much as I want to do every good thing full time, my human limitations just won’t allow it. Though this can be deeply frustrating for me, I am also learning to see the blessing in it. In my own weakness, I get to witness God’s strength. My frailties and limitations help to focus me on the work that God is most especially calling me to right now.

It takes a lot of humility to let God set my priorities in this way – the kind of humility that is closely related to humiliation! I have to confess, I still find it challenging to trust God to provide for our material needs, but it is absolutely essential if I am to avoid choosing paid work over unpaid work by default. I know that I don’t have this kind of courage or wisdom on my own, but I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me the grounding and guidance I need to live joyfully into whatever labor God has for me.

I am deeply grateful for everyone who holds me, our family and Friends of Jesus up in prayer. I ask that you continue to pray for us, and in particular ask prayers for:

  • The Spirit’s blessing on this new season of Friends of Jesus in the DC Metro Area. May we fully embrace our scriptural focus, finding that God is indeed making everything new – in our lives, and in the life of our city.
  • Courage and guidance for me as I seek a faithful balance of different kinds of work – paid and unpaid.
  • Openings for me, and for all of us in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, to demonstrate the new and abundant life that we have found in Christ Jesus. May God give us strength, wisdom and courage to invite others into the exhilarating and deeply challenging way of Jesus.

Your friend and brother,

Micah Bales

Becoming Friends of Jesus – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #56

Dear friends,

Here in Washington, DC, August is a slow time. Historically, before the advent of air conditioned homes and office buildings, the heat and humidity of DC summers meant that very little business could get done. Rather than sweat it out, Congress took a recess, and most every government agency virtually shut down for the month of August.

These days, we don’t experience the kind of near-complete shutdown that was the norm in the early days of the city. Nevertheless, August definitely still brings a change of pace. Lots of folks are on vacation – and you’d better believe that Congress still takes their recess!

With this seasonal rhythm in mind, our community here in DC is doing our own August slow-down. This past Sunday we had the last meeting of our summer cycle, and we won’t be holding regular small group meetings again until September, when we begin our fall cycle.

This fall is looking to be very exciting for us, as we multiply our original small group into two new groups – one that meets out in Montgomery County, Maryland (serving the northern and western part of the DC metro area), and another that meets in the southern and eastern part of the city.

The multiplication of our first small group is an encouraging development for us on a variety of levels. First, it represents a multiplication of leadership, with a new leader and apprentice leader stepping up to organize the group in Maryland. Second, multiplication encourages us to take a more intentionally local perspective. With two groups instead of one, we will be freer to focus on the specific needs of different regions of our metro area, drawing people together who might not necessarily go for a weekly commute across town.

Finally, our pattern of multiplication positions us to invite more people into the community. Our first small group reached an optimal size almost immediately and stayed relatively stable over the course of the last seven months. By birthing these two new groups, we will be encouraged to look for new ways to reach out to our friends, neighbors and co-workers. We expect to adapt to the needs of our local communities, making us even more welcoming to new people.

As we enter into this new phase of our life together, it feels right to acknowledge our unfolding mission and vision by adopting a new name. For many months now, we have known that the name Capitol Hill Friends was not going to work for us in the long term. We sensed increasingly that our calling is to serve the entire DC metro area, not primarily the Capitol Hill neighborhood. We also realized that having a name that tied us to one neighborhood would be a hindrance as we begin to multiply our small groups across the region.

After months of discernment and prayerful consideration, we have come to unity that we should adopt: Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area. We feel that this name is a good representation of who we aspire to be, and one that gives a nod to our roots in the Quaker tradition without sounding sectarian. Going by Friends of Jesus has the added benefit of connecting us directly to the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, the wider network we are a part of.

I feel so grateful for the way that our community here is unfolding and growing stronger in depth, commitment and numbers as time goes on. There is no doubt in my mind that your prayers are essential to the work that the Lord is doing here in our midst. Please continue to lift us up in the light, love and power of Jesus.

Specifically, please pray:

  • For the Holy Spirit to bless, encourage and prepare the leaders of our two new small groups.
  • That God guide the planning and preparation for the retreat on spiritual gifts that Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area will be holding on September 1st.

In peace and gratitude,

Micah Bales