The 31st Triennial Gathering of Friends United Meeting opened today with a tea in the Edmund Stanley Library at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, USA. Tea was followed by the United Society of Friends Women International Banquet, which highlighted this year’s central Global Missions project: A Big Year for Belize.
Dale Graves, Interim Project Director for Belize Friends Ministries, brought the evening’s plenary address. Dale is a graduate of William Penn College and Purdue University, and retired from teaching math and physics in 2007. He and his wife, Sylvia, will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary this December.
In 2014, Friends United Meeting called Dale for a one-year term as Interim Director of the Belize Friends Mission. That assignment continued for a second year, and in 2016-17 Dale has served as FUM’s Belize Project Manager, supervising renovations to the Belize Friends Center, a building purchased by FUM in November, 2016. The new property will house an expanded Belize Friends School as well as a worship space, community center, and accommodation for staff visitors.
Nancy McCormick, Pastor of Chester and Springfield Friends Meetings in Wilmington Yearly Meeting, and Chaplain at Wilmington College, opened the time with her story of having her heart opened to Friends’ ministry in Belize. She also shared in music, singing There’s a Quiet Understanding and Will You Let Me Be Your Servant, and in prayer.
Pat Shrock, President of the USFWI, introduced Dale to gathered Friends. She compared Dale to the Energizer Bunny, given his energy for Quaker ministry, and then invited Dale and Oscar Mmbali to come forward. Oscar offered prayer for Dale and for gathered Friends, and then Dale began his presentation. A large portion of his presentation was visual, so we’re offering his presentation here for Friends everywhere.
Dale spoke about Belize City as a tale of two cities: the half on the north side of the city, which is stable and flourishing, and the half on the Southside of the city, which is impoverished and has fourteen identified gangs operating in it. While there are many urban areas like the Southside of Belize where Friends could minister, FUM is in Belize because we were invited to grow a Friends school there.
The current FUM plan in Belize is in three parts:
Grow the school: This year, 33 students were enrolled in the school. The goal is to serve 40-45 students per year, and the combination of expanding staff and renovating our new building will allow us to grow sustainably.
Found and nurture worshipping bodies of Friends: FUM’s ministry in Belize began specifically because Friends were invited to do educational outreach work. Now, having built trusting relationships, Friends are discerning ways to engage in more overtly spiritual ways. The fledgling Friends’ congregation currently meeting in the new facility has 8-9 attenders on most Sundays, and Oscar Mmbali is heading to Belize to do church planting work.
The fledgling Friends’ meeting on the Southside of Belize used to meet in a local Presbyterian church. Now, they’re meeting in our new facility! They have 8-9 attenders on most Sundays! FUM is sending Oscar Mmbali to Belize City as a pastor to plant another meeting, and we have a dream of Quaker meetings
Peace efforts: Having a larger building offers us the ability to expand our peace efforts in the neighborhood. Dale asked us to change how we think about this kind of ministry. He said, to applause from gathered Friends:
We are not in Belize to help the ‘least of these.’ We are in Belize as a part of the worldwide body of Christ working togeher, as Quakers, in places where we are needed.
Guided by our faith in the Spirit’s leadership among the body of Christ, we are confident that this work will be brought to completion. Dale reminded Friends (and so we remind you) that FUM is seeking a Director to oversee Belize Friends Ministries, including the new worship group, the growing school, and our new peace efforts. Maybe God is calling you to travel to be part of our Big Year for Belize!
The USFWI collected an offering toward the Acquisition and Renovation of the Belize Friends Center. If you’d like to donate toward this effort, you can do so through our online store. Is God calling you to donate toward this ministry as part of our Big Year for Belize?
Pat Shrock quoted Rosario Concepción Fernández, who reminded Friends gathered for Board Meeting Sessions that “Some people have feet to go, some people have hands to give, and the people that stay can send their prayers.” Please pray for all the staff members of the Belize Friends Ministries, for the students and their families, and for those who will be impacted by God’s work in Belize.