Thursday, February 26, 2009

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #2

Greetings to you in the Spirit of Christ,

I write to you once again to report on the state of my ministry in Great Plains Yearly Meeting and the wider region of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. I arrived in Wichita in late January, and since that time I have been hard at work meeting with Friends, seeking how I might be of service to them, and encouraging us to listen to the still, small voice of Christ that desires to lead us into all truth, love and justice. Over the past few weeks I have learned a great deal about Friends, about myself, and about the call that I have been given. I have been humbled at many times, but in God’s mercy I have been lifted up again and placed on the path I am to walk. I have seen how limited my own wisdom is and how much I must lean on my Rock and my Foundation in all that I do. I have been reminded time and again that I am nothing, Christ is all – to him be the glory!

My work begins at Heartland Friends

A great blessing came Sunday before last at Heartland’s monthly meeting for business when I learned that an anonymous donor had given a generous contribution to my ministry fund. Thanks to this caring individual, I have just this week been able to take out a health insurance policy, and I plan to get my teeth examined for the first time in quite a while. I am very grateful for the generosity of this Friend, and for all those who support me in this ministry with their encouragement, counsel, financial support, prayers and assistance.

I have been particularly grateful to members of Heartland Meeting who have been willing to serve on a care and support committee for me. Three members of Heartland are coming together with me on a monthly basis to help ensure that I have the emotional, spiritual, financial and social resources that I need to be true to the work that God has called me to. The clerk of this committee, Aaron Fowler, has been especially diligent helping me deepen my understanding of my call and to facilitate prayerful listening and discernment among members of Heartland Meeting. We at Heartland are learning that we must come to unity among ourselves before we can hope to have any corporate witness to offer the wider community. It is my prayer that we will continue to deepen our attentiveness to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our midst and thus be drawn closer together in the love of Christ.

Friends United Meeting General Board

Just a few weeks after my return to Wichita, I was called away to duties far from home. During the second weekend in February, Cliff Loesch of University Friends and I traveled to Richmond, Indiana for Friends United Meeting (FUM) General Board meetings. We gathered together with representatives from yearly meetings and associations from across the United States and Canada to do the business of FUM and to share in fellowship and deep listening to the voice of our Teacher, Jesus Christ. FUM is facing many difficulties right now – financially, theologically, culturally, and spiritually – but I am confident that God’s Spirit is at work in FUM and that God has a plan for us, if we will humble ourselves and be receptive to Christ’s leading.

(For a more in-depth report on my experience at the General Board Meeting, please see my blog post on The Lamb’s War.)

Back in Wichita

While the North American and global connections represented by Friends United Meeting are deeply important to me, I was glad to return to Wichita following the board meetings. There is so much to do here in Wichita, and in the wider region; I feel that I must focus my energy here.

In particular, I have been excited by my meetings with other young adults here in Wichita. Faith and I recently met with a group of young United Methodists who have felt called by God to come together in a neighborhood near mine in Wichita. Based in a house that they have renovated, they are beginning to volunteer in the community and to seek ways to be of service as Christ leads them. It was inspiring to see how God is working in their lives and to think about how many other young people in this country must be also hearing and heeding God’s call. I was also blessed to meet with Paul Fowler, a young man who I grew up with in the Friends of Jesus community. I am impressed at his obvious leadership ability and his heart for seeking truth. I look forward to seeing how he and I can collaborate in deepening the spiritual lives of young people in Wichita and finding ways to reach out to our community in love. Finally, Faith and I recently got the opportunity to spend some time with Adam Monaghan, the youth ministries staff-person for Mid-America Yearly Meeting. Adam is a very sharp young leader and I’m enthusiastic about seeking ways that we can work together in furthering God’s kingdom here in Wichita. The human and spiritual resources in Wichita are immense, and I know that God has great plans for this city. God is already at work here and I only pray that my life can be a small addition to the ongoing action of the Creator.

The Region

Of course, God is at work in places besides Wichita, as well. This Wednesday, Faith and I traveled to Great Bend, Kansas, to visit Jim and Jeanne Pitts in their home. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and sharing about how God is working in our lives. I was happy to hear about how much God has been using Jim and Jeanne in Great Bend, though I was sad to hear their feelings of isolation, being so far from like-minded Friends. We talked about ways they might come to feel more connected to other Friends in the region, including the idea of holding a regular quarterly meeting in Wichita for Friends from the wider region to come together for fellowship, worship, and mutual support. On our way out of town, Faith and I stopped by the Golden Belt bicycle shop to see Doug Chambers, another local Friend. It was good to touch base with him, and we hope to meet together with the Pitts and the Chambers again in the near future. I am praying that God will open the way for me and other Friends to provide support to Friends in Great Bend in whatever way might be most beneficial in building them up and supporting them in their ministry.

Faith and I are looking forward to traveling to Hominy Friends Meeting, in Osage country in Northern Oklahoma on March 20th-22nd. Friends there have invited us to come and help them with their Wild Onion Dinner that Saturday, and they have asked me to lead worship on Sunday. I feel very privileged to be invited to serve Friends in Hominy. I pray that I be open to how God wants to use me, and to how I am to be taught by Friends in Hominy. I am still looking for a traveling companion for this trip; if you feel a leading to accompany me in this ministry, please let me know.

I also have intentions to visit Friends in Manhattan, Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City, as well as in Lubbock, Texas, in the near future. I feel such love for Friends in these meetings, and I cannot wait to be with them. Dates are not yet nailed down for these visits, but it is likely that I will be traveling during the weekend of the 27-29 of March, and the weekend of the 3-5 of April. I am seeking traveling companions for these weekends, as well.

I had intended to visit Friends in Central City, Nebraska this past Sunday. However, Eric Jones, my contact person for that meeting, informed me that the meeting had recently come to clearness that the meeting would indeed be laid down in the near future. Given the present uncertainty in central Nebraska, it was suggested that now would not be a particularly good time for me to visit. I am standing by for more details from Friends in Nebraska to determine how I should proceed and how I could be of most service to Friends there. Please pray for Friends in Central City, Grand Island, and Kearney, Nebraska: that God may show them how they are to walk and empower them to move forward in the grace and power of the Spirit.

Right now

This Sunday, Faith and I will be visiting University Friends. We’ll be going out for breakfast with a number of Friends, and then leading a Sunday school class before worship. I am excited to worship with University Friends again and to listening with them to how God is leading us as a church.

Listening: That’s really at the core of my concern, my ministry. I have been doing a lot of reflecting in the past month, and it is clear to me that in the past I have attempted to give too many details about my ministry. People have wanted specifics, for me to flesh out what I intended to do in the coming months. But the more I sit with it, and the more I open myself to the Truth, the more I realize that I don’t know much of anything. I don’t have a plan.

Here’s what I do know:

*I feel great love for Friends in the Great Plains region of the United States, love that is not mine, but God’s.
*I feel that God has called me to be in this region and wants to use me here for the time being.
*I feel a deep concern for listening: That we be attentive to God’s Word in our hearts and discern together how God is teaching us and leading us as the Church. I believe that God wants me to keep listening, and that God wants to use me to encourage those around me to listen, too.

That’s my ministry. The details are flexible, and God is letting me in on the plan one step at a time – I’ve not been given a big picture, or any sense of what the ultimate result of this ministry might be. If I’m honest, I must say that I know virtually nothing, except these three points that I’ve listed.

This past month, Faith and I have been working part-time doing house-cleaning and renovation work. However, that job will soon be finished. I am presently looking for part-time employment that will be flexible enough that it will not interfere with the ministry I am called to. I have already applied at a coffee shop and at a homeless shelter, and I am investigating other possibilities. Please pray that God will guide me to an employer who understands my need for “tent-making” that will not interfere with the ministry that God has laid on my heart.

I pray that God will continue to humble me so that it may be clear that this ministry is of Jesus Christ, not my own. To him be all glory, honor and praise! Amen.

In love,

Micah Bales

Fear Revealed in the Light of Christ - Friends United Meeting General Board, February, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, Cliff Loesch of University Friends and I traveled together to Richmond, Indiana for the Friends United Meeting (FUM) General Board meetings. We gathered together with representatives from yearly meetings and associations from across the United States and Canada to do the business of FUM and to share in fellowship and deep listening to the voice of our Teacher, Jesus Christ. The present situation of FUM is not an easy one. There are forces on all sides that seek to divide the body based on longstanding cultural, theological and historical differences and disagreements.

Despite our divisions and suspicions, the Spirit of Christ was present with us; God brought our doubts and fears into the light of day and held them before us to be examined. As we waited on God together in open worship, it was clear how deep the hurts and fears were among many of us. Judging by human standards, it would be easy to believe that our wounds could never be healed. But the mind of Christ in me knew better. As we un-bandaged our wounded hearts in the light of Christ and were held in the revealing, healing and purifying light of God, I saw that God could redeem even us. God wants to use us in ways that we have yet to imagine. But we must let go of our fear.

Early on in the long weekend, I had the privilege of talking with John Smallwood of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. John is a passionate evangelist for Jesus Christ; he is also a man who has a lot to teach me about how fear and judgment of others separate us from God. At one point, John asked me what I thought the cause of sin was. I gave him some sort of seminary answer, but he told me I was making it too complicated. Fear, he said. Fear is the cause of sin. The instinct to self-preservation, he told me, brings us to “defend” ourselves from God. In seeking to preserve ourselves, our own will, our own way, we cut ourselves off from God’s self, God’s will, God’s way.

This really convicted me. I saw more clearly how my own fear of truth caused me to judge others. While I like to believe that I judge others out of a sense of truth and righteousness, I see more clearly now that when I judge others I am in fact setting up barriers between myself and that person, because I am afraid that I might be overcome by that person – I am afraid that person will undermine the things that I hold to be true. But this betrays the fact that I do not really trust God as sovereign; I do not really believe that the power of the Lord is over all. If I did, I would fear no man or woman, because the Truth stands on its own. I don’t need to defend it. Anything that I must defend is probably from me, not from God. I must surrender everything I have, laying all at Jesus’ feet – including my beliefs, my way of life, my most cherished dreams. If all I seek is to serve Christ and his kingdom, I need not fear anyone, ever. And I need not judge others: God is the one and only Judge. Judging isn’t my job. My job is to focus on nothing but being loving and truthful with every single person who enters my life.

In the book of Matthew, when Jesus is depicted as returning to judge the world, the men and women of the world are not judged based on whether they were members of the right church or associated with the right kind of people. On the contrary, the world is judged based on whether we display loving-kindness towards the hungry, the foreigner and the prisoner, towards the disadvantaged, towards those whom our society frequently judges and excludes (Matthew 25:31-46). Thanks to John Smallwood’s ministry to me, I was reminded of my own fear and defensiveness towards others, and of my need for forgiveness and God’s grace in helping me love others, not condemning them. And in seeing my own need for letting go of fear and judgment, I felt also the need for Friends in FUM to open ourselves to those whom we fear. We must risk being hurt. We must risk being changed. We must risk these things knowing that God will not lead us astray, no matter how much we open ourselves to those who we consider to have wrong ways of believing and behaving. On the contrary, we will only be led astray if we wall ourselves off from the Seed of Christ that is present in all people, crying out for liberation.

We must be about our Father’s work: the work of life-giving, joy-inspiring liberation. This is the God who sets the captives free! This is the Savior who lays his life down for his friends! Can we still be so concerned about keeping those we disagree with at a distance when we remember that the tomb is empty, that our Savior lives, that we are reconciled to God and to one another if only we will heed the oft-repeated angelic instruction: “be not afraid”? If all of us can trust the Truth to defend itself - knowing that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever - we can be liberated from the self-imposed burden of judgment. We can be freed to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to share in communion with our brothers and sisters in faith. Will we dare to lay down all our defenses at Jesus’ feet? Will we risk reckless engagement with our brothers and sisters? This is my prayer for Friends United Meeting, for the entire Church, and for the whole of creation.

This, I believe, is the only way forward for Friends United Meeting. So long as we shout at each other, issuing statements from our high walls and fortifications, seeking to defend ourselves from others, we shout down God; we wall ourselves off from Christ. Only by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, trusting in God to be our only Fortress and Pillar, can we find the Truth together. That is where unity is. That is where love is. That is where the future of Friends United Meeting lies. Do we have the courage to take up the cross?

As a final note, I should mention the more mundane – but very serious - details of life in community: Friends United Meeting is not only a fellowship of Friends across the world, but also an organization that oversees Friends programs around the globe. Just as the fellowship of Friends in FUM is struggling, FUM as an organization is also in dire shape. At our meetings this month, the General Board approved to cut another $18,000 from the last five months of this fiscal year; we don’t know where the money will be cut from yet, but it’s simply not there to spend! At this point FUM is hard-pressed to keep up the skeleton crew in Richmond and the programs that Friends oversee in Kenya, Palestine, Jamaica, and Belize. This is a time of financial constriction for virtually everyone, but FUM had been experiencing severe financial problems before the economy fell through. This present global economic predicament comes at an especially bad time for Friends United Meeting. Please pray for FUM, and consider a donation to FUM’s General Fund.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #1

This is a copy of the first edition of my ministry newsletter, which was sent out today. I will post my newsletter to this blog in the future. If you would like to receive the newsletter by email, please let me know by email at micahbales at gmail dot com.

Greetings, Friends!

Grace to you, and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.

You are receiving this message because I believe that you would like to be kept informed about my traveling ministry in Great Plains Yearly Meeting, which has begun this month in Wichita, Kansas. In the coming weeks and months, I will be producing a regular newsletter to keep Friends informed of the work of God in our community. For this first edition, let me explain the nature of my ministry and how you can personally get involved:

For the next six months, I will be carrying out a ministry of intervisitation among Friends in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas - primarily within Great Plains Yearly Meeting, but also reaching out to other Friends in the region. I intend to spend time with each monthly meeting in Great Plains Yearly Meeting, deepening my relationship with Friends and seeking to be of service in building up the Body of Christ in our local meetings and communities. Additionally, I will aim to be of service to our neighbors in Manhattan, Lawrence, Topeka, and Lubbock, encouraging them in their journey and seeking increased fellowship and cooperation between these meetings and Great Plains Yearly Meeting. Finally, as way opens, I will look for ways to lend encouragement and support to isolated Friends, helping them to find the material, human and spiritual resources they need to thrive.

The needs of Friends will vary from place to place, but I hope that some of the fruits of my ministry might be: the strengthening of the existing meetings of GPYM; a greater focus on intervisitation within GPYM; encouragement for our pastoral leadership; increased outreach in local communities; a focus on encouraging youth and a new generation of leadership; encouraging the growth of new meetings where there have not been any before; and outreach to other meetings in the region.

I plan to meet with as many individuals and households as I can, visiting families in their homes and seeking opportunities to share fellowship and worship. I hope for a time of intentional listening – praying with individuals and families, meeting with Friends for worship, and participating in the community life. I plan to be engaging in this ministry full-time in Wichita from now until early April. During this time, I hope to be in ongoing conversation with Heartland and University Friends, listening together for how God is guiding us as a body and seeking to be faithful to God’s plan for this ministry, now and in the future.

I hope that Friends throughout the yearly meeting will take on this ministry as their own, and I was pleased when Great Plains Yearly Meeting endorsed my ministry at yearly meeting sessions this past June and took this work under its care. I pray that we can foster a culture of regular intervisitation throughout our yearly meeting, and I invite Friends to join with me in visiting other meetings.

Ways you can get involved:

*Pray for your meeting and for Great Plains Yearly Meeting.

*Pray for me and my ministry of encouraging Friends to be attentive to God’s call for us.

*Let me know that you’re praying for me, and let me pray for you, too.

*Invite me to meet with you and your family and tell me about how God is working in your life and how you feel God is leading us as Friends.

*Tell me about specific ways I can be of service to you and your meeting. This could be anything: from helping you move or helping your child with his or her Spanish homework to helping with Sunday school or bringing a message at your meeting.

*Prayerfully consider whether God might be calling you to visit another Friends congregation. You might visit on your own, accompany me as I travel, or ask another Friend from your meeting to travel with you. I would welcome anyone who wishes to join me in visiting another Friends meeting.

I look forward to serving Christ together with you as we seek to live God’s justice and love.

Your fellow servant in Christ,

Micah Bales