Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #5

Dear Friends of Truth,

Things have kept moving along in the past weeks as I have continued to visit Friends in the Great Plains region. I have covered a lot of ground since my last newsletter, traveling well over a thousand miles and visiting Friends in Manhattan, Topeka and Lawerence, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; and Kearney, Central City, and Grand Island, Nebraska. In addition, I have continued my work in Wichita. I have met with individuals, as well as being invited to speak to the youth of Crossroads Friends Church. I have also continued to assist the Mennonite Church of the Servant's addiction recovery program.

In Wichita

In the past weeks I have had a number of opportunities to meet with individuals here in Wichita. I have met with a variety of folks, both from the various Friends meetings and churches in the city, as well as with friends from other traditions. I have felt enriched by every encounter, and I pray that I have been a blessing to those I have met with. It has been especially encouraging to meet with ministers from Heartland, University and Crossroads Friends meetings. I am impressed with their sincerity, drive and vision, and I am eager to see how I might be of service to each of their congregations. I continue to meet with Mennonite and Methodist ministers, seeking to be receptive to how God may be calling us to work together for the incarnation of Christ's Presence and Reign with us.

I felt particularly blessed to be invited to visit Crossroad Friends Church's youth group. I spent an evening playing soccer with the youth, out in the country to the Northwest of Wichita. Later, we sat together eating cinnamon rolls and drinking pink limonade; and, after a time of prayer, I spent perhaps fifteen minutes sharing about my spiritual journey and how Christ has led me in my life. I then took questions from the youth, and asked them some, as well. I was grateful for the chance to get to know these young people, and to share with them about what God has done in my life.

I continue attending weekly at the Mennonite Church of the Servant's meetinghouse, assisting as best I can with their addiction recovery program, using materials from Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered adaptation of the twelve steps program. The group has thus far not grown very much in number, but those of us who do attend are a solid, increasingly tight-knit group; each of us hopes to work to draw in new attenders to increase the impact of our little group, which we feel has much to offer to our friends and neighbors.

Visiting Friends in Northeastern Kansas

The weekend before last, I experienced a rapid change of plans, which ultimately worked out very well. I had planned to visit the Kearney worship group on the weekend of April 19-21, and then to visit the new worship group in Grand Island the weekend following. However, as I spoke with John and Marianna Damon in Kearney, I realized that visiting central Nebraska twice in two weeks would probably be overkill; I would do better to visit Kearney and Grand Island in the same weekend. The Damons and I agreed that I should wait until the next weekend, when I would visit both worship groups. All of a sudden, I had no plans for the weekend.

Now, I had been feeling a distinct leading towards visiting Friends in Northeastern Kansas since my trip to West Texas, and with my weekend free, I realized immediately that this was the time to make those visits. But would Friends be able to meet with me on only a day's notice? I made a lot of phone calls very quickly. To my great joy, way opened for Friends in Northeastern Kansas to meet with me, even on such short notice. Each meeting that I felt led to visit was able to receive me! I felt deep gratitude for God's touch in opening the way for these unexpected visits.

The next day, Friday, I arrived in Manhattan, Kansas. I met with Friends from Manhattan Friends Meeting for dinner. There were about eight of us, and it was wonderful to see these Friends again after having been away for more than a year. The big news in Manhattan is that there are three new attenders; two are seeking marriage under the care of the meeting, and one is currently seeking membership in the meeting. Also big news, though less encouraging, is that Stephen and Debbie Long, vibrant and valued members of the meeting, are moving very soon to Virginia. This is a great loss for the meeting, being so small. Nevertheless, Friends remain upbeat: "We're up three and down two - that's still good," one Friend said. One of the things that I love about Friends in Manhattan is their determination and optimism about what God can do through them. I trust that God will continue to bless them and use them as an instrument of love and reconciliation in Manhattan. I look forward to seeing how I might be of service to these Friends as they serve their community.

I spent Friday night in Manhattan, graciously hosted by the Conrow family, and in the morning I was off to visit Friends in Topeka. I had lunch with Sue Wine and David Ozaki, and then we made our way over to the meetinghouse, where the Sergeants joined us and we had a time of fellowship and worship. Friends in Topeka are feeling small and discouraged right now, struggling in the wake of the loss of a key family last year, who moved to New Zealand. Friends in Topeka want God to breathe new life into their meeting, to build them up and make them what they were meant to be; but it's hard, and the way forward is not clear right now. I am sure that Friends in Topeka would appreciate your prayers for God's felt presence and power in their meeting. I will be praying for them as they wait on God's guidance and strength. Saturday evening I stayed with Sue and John Wine at their home in the country. The Wines have a small farm, which I found a refreshing place to be, and I am grateful for their hospitality.

On Sunday morning, I made my way over to Lawrence to worship with Oread Friends. I enjoyed being with them for Sunday morning worship, and I got the chance to visit with some of them after worship, during tea time. As I talked with a few Friends about my travels, I mentioned that my original plan for this ministry had involved staying with each meeting for a couple of weeks, but that I had determined that most meetings would be better served by shorter, weekend visits. I was surprised and pleased to have these Friends express their interest in having me visit Friends in Lawrence for a longer period. They suggested that I might stay for a couple of weeks, visiting with Friends in their homes, holding called meetings for worship, and deepening my relationship with the local community. I am excited by this suggestion, and Friends in Lawrence and I will be in conversation in the upcoming weeks and months as to when might be the best time for me to visit them for an extended period.

After tea time at Oread and a brief stop to a Lawrence coffeeshop, I headed to Kansas City. I made several looping tours of the downtown area, trying to figure out where I was. Finally, in the early evening, I found my way to the home of Shane Rowse, clerk of Penn Valley Friends Meeting. He and his family hosted me and several other local Friends very warmly that evening. They prepared a delicious Southern-style meal, and we talked together for hours into the evening. I appreciated the lively and curious spirit of these Friends, and I look forward to visiting them again soon.

In fact, I hope to visit all four of these meetings again this May. I look forward to continuing to deepen our friendship and to encourage the strengthening of their lives as individuals and meetings. Each of these local meetings is special and important, and I want to support them in any way that I am able.

On to Central Nebraska

Just as I was beginning to recover from this whirlwind tour of Northeastern Kansas, I made my way to central Nebraska this past weekend (24-26 April) to visit Friends there. On Friday and Saturday, I visited John and Marianna Damon, the core of the Kearney worship group. These Friends were very gracious to me, inviting me into their home and taking good care of me. I had wonderful conversations with both John and Marianna, and got a sense for their lives, including their struggles to establish a meeting in Kearney. I was glad to be able to visit them and encourage them in their walk as Friends, and hope that way will open for me to be of further service to them as they continue to seek God's will in their lives.

On Sunday, I worshipped with Friends at Central City. We sang hymns and shared a time of open worship, sitting around tables in the anteroom of their meetinghouse. After the service, I spoke with Friends about the ministry I am carrying out. They, in turn, explained the present situation with their local meeting, especially their plans for raising funds to provide a substantial endowment for their meetinghouse. The meeting no longer feels able to maintain the meetinghouse themselves, and they hope to raise $50,000 in order to ensure that the meetinghouse can be used by the local historical society for the next decade.

Don Reeves took me out to lunch at a local waffle restaurant after meeting, and then I headed over to the monthly gathering for worship in Grand Island. We met in the basement of the United Methodist meetinghouse, and a Methodist minister gave a message about how impressed he was with Shane Claiborne. Following his presentation, we had a period of open worship. I was sad that there was not much time for fellowship following the service. The meeting for worship occurs immediately before the meeting of Nebraskans for Peace in the same space, and attenders of that group began arriving as our meeting for worship ended. As most of the Friends in attendence also take part in Nebraskans for Peace, the worship gathering transformed into a peace meeting almost immediately. I wished that I had more time to visit with Friends. I hope that on a subsequent visit I might get to know them better.

Big news: In the discussion following worship at Central City, I was informed that Central City Monthly Meeting did not, in fact, have plans to lay down. Instead, it looks increasingly likely that Friends will continue to meet in Central City on a monthly basis for the forseeable future. The model that Friends in central Nebraska increasingly seem to be drawn to is that of a single monthly meeting composed of several preparative meetings (worship groups). Friends in Kearney will continue to meet twice a month, and Friends in Grand Island and Central City will meet once a month. This is exciting news for everyone: Central City Monthly Meeting is not laying down - it is re-organizing. Nevertheless, it is clear that Friends in central Nebraska are struggling at this time, and they could use the support of Friends in the region. Please be praying for Friends in central Nebraska; may they feel God's presence and be open to God's guidance for how they are to move forward.

Looking Ahead

This coming weekend, Heartland Friends Meeting is hosting a regional gathering of Friends. We hope to have guests from as far North as central Nebraska, as far West as Great Bend, as far South as Texas and as far East as Arkansas. The gathering will be from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm, Saturday, 2 May, at Heartland meetinghouse. We will be gathering for a time of fellowship, worship, hymn singing, and a time of worship sharing and discussion about how God is calling us to service in our local communities. Together, we will seek strength and guidance from the Present Teacher, praying for the wisdom and the courage to be a blessing to our local communities and to build up our local meetings.

On the weekend of 9-10 May, I have been invited to attend a retreat for Mennonite Church of the Servant. I look forward to learning from these brothers and sisters as they gather together to rededicate themselves to the work of the Church in Wichita. On 17 May, I have been asked to speak to youth group at University Friends. On 24 May, I hope to visit Friends in Saint Louis, and the following weekend I hope to visit Friends in Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City. And the weekend after that, 4-7 June, Great Plains Yearly Meeting will be having its annual gathering, hosted this year by University Friends Meeting, in Wichita. I hope that many of you are able to make this gathering.

Please continue to pray for my ministry in the Great Plains region, and for all of the Friends meetings in this part of the country. May we seek God's will alone, setting aside our fear and pride as we take up the cross of Christ and embrace God's mission for us as Friends.

Yours in service,

Micah Bales

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #4

Greetings to you in the Life of Christ,

The past few weeks have been eventful. I have made two major trips to visit Friends in the Great Plains region. I traveled to Hominy, Oklahoma, to visit the Friends meeting there on the Osage Nation reservation; and this past weekend I journeyed to West Texas to be among Friends of Lubbock Monthly Meeting and Caprock Friends Christian Fellowship. Here in Wichita, I have continued to gather with local Friends and listen for how God is guiding us as meetings, as well as exploring other avenues of ministry in the city, beyond the Friends community. The coming month looks to be similarly eventful, with trips planned to central Nebraska and with Heartland Friends hosting the first of what is hoped to be a quarterly gathering of Friends from throughout the region.

Ministry continues and branches out in Wichita

Here in the city of Wichita, I have continued to meet with Friends and I have heard both how God has worked in our lives, as well as the hunger that we feel for God's presence and unity in our lives. Friends have a desire to reclaim the sense of spiritual bondedness and intimacy that we have experienced in the past and which we believe is God's intention for us.

As I work among Wichita's Quaker community, I have continued to put some energy into reaching out to the wider Christian church in the city. Last week, I helped to arrange a meeting during which members of the Mennonite Church of the Servant came together with a group of young Methodists who have been called to live together in intentional community and serve their local neighborhood in downtown Wichita. The meeting was very good, and I was pleased to see these two groups connect with each other. The Mennonite Church of the Servant represents a group of people that have worked for decades to be the Body of Christ in Wichita, living out an incarnational ministry of love and social justice in their work among some of the most marginalized people in the city. On the other hand, this small group of young Methodists represents a new generation of Christians in Wichita who are concerned to live "in the abandoned places of Empire" and get their hands dirty in the everyday work of Christ's Kingdom. Both groups have a lot to offer each other in terms of experience, energy, and mutual support; I feel blessed to have been part of their meeting.

As I have been in contact with the Church of the Servant, their pastor, Jerry Truex, invited me to take part in an addiction recovery program that they are beginning. The program we are using - Celebrate Recovery - is an explictly Christian adaptation of the Twelve Steps Program, developed under the auspices of Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven" brand. The group is being facilitated by a member of Derby Friends Church (Mid-America Yearly Meeting), and Jerry Truex and I are there as support people. The first meeting was last Tuesday, and I was impressed by our first session. I was very moved by the presence of the Kingdom among our small group of six people. The spiritual humility of this group, its acknowledgement of need and openness to receiving God's grace, was palpable, and God was very present with us as we met. I am looking forward to continuing to meet with this group in the coming weeks and months.

On the road

March 22nd through 25th, Faith and I visited Hominy Friends Meeting on the Osage Nation reservation, in Osage county, Oklahoma. I stayed with Jack Core, a member of the meeting, and had opportunities for worship and fellowship with many members of the meeting and of the wider community. On Saturday, Faith and I helped Hominy Meeting put on its annual Wild Onion dinner, which was an enormous success. We served around 140 people from Hominy and surrounding towns a delicious meal of scrambled eggs with wild onions, fry bread, beans and hominy, ham, grape dumplings and dessert. We were sold out at least two hours before we had intended to finish and had to turn many away without food - next year, we'll have to make more!
On Sunday morning, I had been asked to bring the message during meeting for worship, and I spoke on 1 Corinthians 3:16. I reminded us that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is one in which God refuses to be contained in boxes or tents or buildings crafted by human hands. The dwelling place of the Living God has become the Church - not a building, but the very lives of we who serve Christ. We are the Temple of God, and God will build us up and make us a worthy House for God's Presence if we will submit ourselves to Christ's purifying and redeeming Light.
That afternoon, some of us reconvened at the Hominy meetinghouse and I gave a presentation on Friends history and heritage. I walked us through the history of Friends from the 1650s through the twentieth century, and I explained the divisions of Friends in North America and where Great Plains Yearly Meeting comes from. Friends were impressed at the breadth of the Quaker spectrum that exists within our little yearly meeting, including the Liberal, Orthodox and Evangelical perspectives, as well as, on an individual level, the Conservative tradition.
The following weekend, I had planned to be among Friends in Manhattan, Kansas. However, the region experienced an intense ice and snow storm that prevented me from arriving. This was very disappointing for me; I had been looking forward to this visit for many months. I hope to be able to visit Friends there in the near future, and we are in conversation as to when that might happen.

This past weekend, however, I was able to visit Friends in Lubbock, Texas. I drove the roughly 500 miles one-way to Lubbock on Friday morning and afternoon and made it in time to catch up a bit with Friend Michael Hatfield at his home near Plainfield before heading in to Lubbock to meet with Lubbock Monthly Meeting. The meeting was coming together for a called gathering to discuss their answer to the question, "what is Quakerism?" in preparation for an upcoming visit from a local interfaith group, which they expected would ask many questions of them. I was very impressed with the ability of this group to articulate their understanding of Quakerism, putting their explanations in terms of what Quakerism is - not what it isn't.

The Hatfields provided me with hospitality at their home near Plainfield, and on Saturday we stuck mostly around the house, enjoying a visit from a Mennonite family and later sharing worship with the Hatfields, another member of Caprock Christian Fellowship, and a Friend from Amarillo Meeting. It was good to get a sense of Michael and Lisa Hatfield's existence, living with their three children in rural West Texas among plain-dressed Mennonites and Mormon polygamists. I liked it there. The landscape is even flatter than Kansas - a moonscape - and I often felt like I was on a sea or in space, moving between islands or space stations in the form of homes, towns, and cities. The expansiveness of the landscape was both terrifying and refreshing. Though the land is ranched and farmed, it felt more like a desert to me than farmland.

Sunday was busy. I attended Bible study, meeting for worship and meeting for business with Lubbock Meeting; then, I went to Friend Sara Scribner's house (who attends both Lubbock MM and Caprock Christian Fellowship), where we enjoyed a meal and meeting for worship. We were blessed to have a Friend from Amarillo Monthly Meeting with us for all of this, giving me the chance to connect with three groups of Friends this weekend. I left the Hatfields early Monday morning, grateful for the warmth and hospitality I received from all of the Friends in the area, and especially from the Hatfield family.

Coming up

In the coming weeks there is a great deal of travel ahead for me, and a number of exciting ways that I will be engaged in ministry. First of all, I will soon be making trips to the worship groups in Kearney and Grand Island, Nebraska (April 17-19 and 24-26, respectively). I am looking forward to touching base with Friends in central Nebraska and being present with them as they listen for how God is calling them to move forward as the monthly meeting in Central City is laid down.

A very exciting event that is coming up soon is a quarterly gathering of Friends from around the region to be hosted by Heartland Meeting in Wichita. From 10am until 4pm, on Saturday, May 2nd, Friends from Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas (and beyond, if way opens!) are invited to come together at Heartland meetinghouse for a time of worship, a meal and fellowship, and a presentation or activity. We will be coming together for mutual support and to focus on how we can be Christ in our local communities. Please mark your calendars and save the date if you are within any sort of driving distance to make this event; those traveling from a very great distance will certainly receive hospitality if there is notice.

At present I am still traveling without a companion, and if you are feeling a motion towards accompanying me on any of my trips, I would invite you to get in touch with me. Thank you all for your prayers and support, and thank you in particular to those who have written me and shared how God is working in your life. I am always encouraged to hear of God's work among you, and I am grateful for the opportunity to receive your witness to God's love and grace.

Your friend in Christ's love,