Reader warning: This article is a bit long, contains lots of information, and has no pictures. Sorry.
Beginning July, 2014, I started an appointment with Friends United Meeting in Belize. The stated purpose was to help direct the current Friends School and to gather information for a discernment and planning team. That team was charged with bringing a recommendation on the way forward in Belize to the FUM General Board. The original appointment was for one year but I was not able to complete the assignment in that time frame so the appointment was extended to a second year.
This fall the team brought a recommendation to the October board meetings. A lot of work went into this recommendation and there was a lengthy and healthy discussion at a threshing session on the Friday evening of board meetings. On Saturday morning that recommendation was approved with few changes. I was elated.
It has occurred to me recently that the fact that the recommendation was approved in general session of the General Board of FUM does not in any way guarantee that you are adequately informed of the decision or of its consequences. I’m writing so that you will be informed. I have added some reflections/opinions and have identified them as such.
A good place to start may be the posting of the position for the person who will take my place:
“In October 2015, Friends United Meeting committed itself to pursue a significant expansion of its ministries in Belize. Building on more than 20 years of success in operating a small non-traditional school for at-risk inner-city youth, FUM will now:
- Gather a worshipping body of Friends in Belize through incarnational and relational evangelism in the Southside neighborhood of Belize City
- Grow the Belize Friends School to serve more young people, to offer primary-level education to adults, and to provide pastoral counseling to students and families
- Facilitate the Southside community’s transformation from a place of hopelessness and violence to a place of hope and peace through multiple ministry initiatives, beginning with the re-launch of the Alternatives to Violence Project in Belize
- Identify and develop suitable facilities to house the expanded Friends work in Belize
In order to implement this new ministry plan, FUM seeks to fill the position of Director of Belize Friends Ministries. This full-time, long-term field staff position will have primary management responsibility for coordinating all of FUM’s work in Belize, including supervising the staff, managing the facilities, developing donor relationships and coordinating with the FUM headquarters in Richmond IN USA.”
I would like to reflect on each of the 4 points above but first let me say that there are some unspoken goals as well: 1. To continue having teams visit Belize, 2. To develop Belizean leadership and 3.To find ways to help fund the initiative in addition to traditional fundraising in North America. These additional goals are specified in the job description for the Director which will be available on the new FUM website as soon as it is up and running. If you are reading this and the position raises some interest, please check out the full job description.
Now for some explanation/reflection:
Gather a worshipping body of Friends in Belize through incarnational and relational evangelism in the Southside neighborhood of Belize City.
If you have kept up reading this blog, you know that there is a small Quaker Meeting that has begun in Belize City. We meet a the Presbyterian Church where Sadie Vernon used to attend. This church has been the unofficial home of Friends in Belize for 20 years or more. We meet at 8:30 am and some of us stay for the Presbyterian service following. Judy Lumb, MIke and Kay Cain, the DeShield family, and I are regular attenders. We have visitors with some regularity and when we advertise a special gathering we are joined by the Barber family and on occasion the Stouts. This meeting is just beginning to discuss how we might make our presence more widely known in Belize City. We do run an occasional ad on the community bulletin board of a local TV station but we will be discussing what else we might do.
Reflection/opinion: It may well be that we consider two meetings. This current meeting is on the South Side but is quite close to the river that separates North from South and it is next to the sea. Another meeting further south and/or further west might be a really good idea. The current meeting is semi-programmed and shares the Sunday morning leadership among the attenders. The other meeting may wish to have a different worship style. We’ll see, all options are open.
Grow the Belize Friends School to serve more young people, to offer primary-level education to adults, and to provide pastoral counseling to students and families.
Right now we have an enrollment of 25 students which really stretches us without dividing the class into sections. Ms Candi serves as principal and teacher and Ms Darcel is full time teacher. If we were to divide the class we would need a second full time teacher. In addition, our current facility is stretched to the limit.
This fall we ran a pilot program for an elementary school for adults (see previous blog). We had only three enrollees and one of those was not a regular attender. Ms Florence and Ms Ruby have both made progress with Ms Florence making significant strides. I expect her to take the PSE in the spring, earn her elementary school certificate and enroll in the GED program for a high school diploma. There will be a new enrollment in January. I taught the first term, but we expect to hire an adult ed teacher for 2nd term.
Reflection/opinion: I believe that continued growth in both programs is possible. Ms Candi and Ms Darcell worked hard in June of last year traveling to all ot the elementary schools in Belize city and some schools in Belize district outside the city to tell our story. That effort needs to continue but will be complicated somewhat by the fact that we changed our school year to correspond to the government schedule for high schools.
If Ms Florence begins to tell people about her success, that will help to bring in new adult students. I hope that within a year we will have a full adult class of 15 and have to consider adding classes.
Facilitate the Southside community’s transformation from a place of hopelessness and violence to a place of hope and peace through multiple ministry initiatives, beginning with the re-launch of the Alternatives to Violence Project in Belize.
A few years ago the Barbers facilitated an introduction of the Alternatives to Violence project in Belize City. Shortly after that, the woman who was excited about helping the project continue was killed in an automobile accident and the project waned. I have been in discussion with Becky Barber about getting an active Alternative to Violence Project up and running in Belize City. We have spent several hours in discussion and planning and tried several times to get others involved in the planning. That was unsuccessful.. It is the hope of this initiative that we can re-launch AVP in Belize.
Reflection/opinion: I was talking with a nun at St Catherines who is currently taking the AVP training in Honduras. I was commenting that I didn’t know how to move forward on this project. She said that Belizeans will attend a workshop and get some real good out of it but, “Belizeans do not complete a workshop asking what it will take to make it continue. We just do not think like that.” That comment was instructive for me.
Becky and I had a conversation just a couple weeks ago and she has discovered another woman who is interested. We will continue the conversation. The new director will need to take a very active role for this to be successful.
There may be other peace education initiatives that would also be helpful and those should be investigated.
Identify and develop suitable facilities to house the expanded Friends work in Belize.
I have already discussed the need for additional space for the educational program of Belize Friends School. It would also be great if:
1. it had space to park the vehicles off street,
I have had to replace a stolen battery on the truck and pay many hundreds of dollars to have the sand cleaned from the gas tank on the bus. Also, every time I get ready to use the bus we must take time to re-adjust the mirrors because the kids like to look at themselves. Off-street parking would be really helpful.
2. there were room for a basketball court and volleyball court (and even a soccer field?),
We have joined the Inter-Institutional Sporting Competition with 4 other teams from non-traditional schools. We have to travel several blocks to practice soccer. We only have to go about a block and a half to practice basketball, but we are using a facility that is shared with lots of other people and sometimes it feels like we are “in the way.” We practice volleyball at the same facility but we have to set up our net every time and take it down when we are done.
3. there were space for a fledgling church to meet and 4. room for a community center with meeting rooms and a large gathering space. It may or may not be that the community center and the church could share a facility.
Reflection/opinion: The church and the community center are integral to the expanded ministry in Belize. We are advertising for a pastor. That person would be expected to be the chaplain at the school, to help gather Friends in worship and service, and to engage in relational evangelism. Relational evangelism is a fancy word for ‘”really care about and get to know the people who you are trying to reach.” A possible way to facilitate that is with recreational facilities and a community center. I could see the pastor hanging out on the playground talking with the children or inviting people to the community center for a meal sponsored by the new meeting. If you find this exciting or know someone who might, please check out the rest of the information on the FUM website.
I will be completing my assignment at the end of the current school year. Graduation is June 19. I plan to return to the states the following week. What about between now and then?
I expect to concentrate on just a few items:
- Implement a financial accountability program that will be sustainable into the future. We have purchased QuickBooks and I am teaching myself to use it. Mike Cain has used it and is willing to answer questions if he can. Ms Maggie is our current bookkeeper/secretary and she is willing to learn to use the program. We will be implementing this is January.
- Continue to help the current Friends meeting grow in whatever ways I can.
- Host 2 or 3 teams from the states. The first one arrives a day and a half after I return to Belize on January 4.
- Continue to oversee the work at the school. I act as Ms Candi’s confidante and encourager. She is the principal.
- Search for facilities. This has been and will continue to be an “interesting” process. We have a building next to the current school that would serve very well but the owner has set an exorbitant price on it and won’t budge. We thought we hand found another facility but the two structural engineers who I asked to look it over both advised against that purchase. We are now looking at two other possibilities. One looks particularly promising but making contact with the owner is becoming problematic. He is Belizean but isn’t in the city often and isn’t answering our phone messages. Stay posted.
- Search for funding sources. I have only recently begun to look at grant possibilities. I found that I had missed a grant possibility from the US Embassy last spring for the “enhancement of youth in Belize City.” I have kicked myself a thousand times for missing that one but it hasn’t changed the fact that I missed it. I will begin this search in earnest in January.
If we had time over lunch, there is lot’s more I would like to tell you but this posting is too long already. I hope it helps explain what we are up to. If you have questions, please ask.
You have my permission to keep me on task. But I be nice about it, ok?