10 May 2007

Three modest goals

Last Sunday we enjoyed a wonderful visit to a lively and very hospitable Friends meeting--North Valley Friends Church on the edge of Newberg, Oregon. We had been invited to a Sunday school class to describe our proposed service in Elektrostal, Russia, and to answer questions.

When I was asked, "Why Russia?", I had to say that in some ways, I feel that God set me up. I began studying Russian language and culture in my teen years in Chicago, and continued in college, with no wider perspective on what I might do with this preparation--other than a vague idea of possible government service. Becoming a Christian and joining Ottawa Friends, in 1974-75, while at Carleton University, closed more options than it opened. But when Janet Chapin introduced me to the town of Elektrostal and its tiny Quaker community, it was as if (as I told North Valley Friends), "God had set me up."

(Another Friend in the room who had, like me, been an immigrant, said: "I understand what you mean. God played a trick on me, too: I asked God for the gift of tongues, and God gave me English.")

During the meeting for worship, we had ten minutes to summarize our vision. We outlined three goals, which I described as both modest and important--in fact, their very modesty is important.
  • To become genuine neighbors--building and strengthening relationships.
  • To offer our neighbors a worshipping Quaker community at which they are welcome--where together we speak and listen and pray.
  • To develop sustainable ministries embodying the love of Christ.
For me, there are a lot of reasons to emphasize modesty in planning cross-cultural service, and in raising funds for it:
  • We don't go in as false messiahs, assuming and projecting that we are God's answer to all (perhaps to any) of our new location's problems. We go as people to people, respectful and courteous but based in a perspective that people ought to have the freedom to meet and relate to each other irrespective of human-made boundaries.
  • A related concern: We will not bear false witness to the realities of Russia. Sometimes the problems that seem dramatically evident in Russia are actually remarkably similar to problems we have in our communities and even in our own meetings and churches. We're just more inured to them here. We will avoid exaggerating or oversimplifying complex realities in describing the spiritual landscape of our new home, or pretend to know more than we do.
  • The occasion of our relocating to Elektrostal--an invitation to serve on the faculty of a school--is not a false front, a Trojan horse for hidden evangelistic agendas. That educational service has integrity, is the result of thirteen years of relationship with that school, and deserves full devotion. Our spiritual motivations infuse that service rather than hiding behind it.
  • Listening, speaking, and praying are primary; "doing" emerges from those priorities rather than supplanting them.
  • We want donors to support our service because they want to see us being ourselves in that new location, not because they are going to measure our success by goals that, at this point, we have no way of assessing for feasibility or appropriateness.
If you'd like to know more about how to support our service, or would like Judy and me to visit your meeting, write to me (johanpdx at gmail dot com).

Happy 10th birthday to Northwest Yearly Meeting's Web presence (www.nwfriends.org)! Northwest Yearly Meeting is in the process of remodeling its Web site; take a look.

The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization is announcing plans for the Third Congress on World Evangelization in Capetown, South Africa, in October 2010. I hope we Friends will have significant involvement. This committee and the congresses have been very fertile arenas for discussing evangelism and related issues of cross-cultural communication and social justice. The Lausanne Committee Web site gives access to much of these resources.

Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens debate God and atheism--see the New York Times blog post about the debate, and look for an audio link here. I was impressed by the civility of the debate. I wish I'd been there--although both Hitchens and Sharpton mostly traded off-center cliches. Unlike A-list musical concerts where we rightly expect distinguished performances, sometimes celebrity debaters impress us simply by not making utter fools of themselves.

Four blues guitarists, side by side: Buddy Guy, Jimmy Vaughan, B.B. King, and Eric Clapton, performing an old standby, "Rock Me Baby." Watch B.B. enjoying one of Buddy Guy's showoff moments (3:37).


Anonymous said...

I would like a little clarification. You're not the first Friend I've seen going abroad with concern for the gospel who is taking a full-time secular job at the location. I would like a little more on how this works.

Specifically, I assume you will be receiving a full-time salary from the university. You are also raising support funds. What are these funds used for?

Johan Maurer said...

According to Northwest Yearly Meeting guidelines, money received locally offsets the yearly meeting's budgeted amounts. (I can send you or anyone a copy of the budget, BTW.)

It's not a university, and it's not a full-time job. I do have a university-faculty friend there, whose credentials far exceed mine; she works two other jobs and does private tutoring to make ends meet...barely.