Volume 5 Issue 3
It Takes a Meeting to Support a Leading by Val Liveoak
I had the privilege of following a leading to work outside the US in 1986 that eventually led me to five years of service as a Released Friend (although I didn’t know what the term was when I began). I felt called to respond to the US government’s sponsoring of the government of El Salvador, which resulted in at least 70,000 civilian deaths, many at the hands of the military or paramilitaries. I went to the Friends Meeting of Austin (Texas) and to South Central Yearly Meeting with my concern and recently-conceived plan to work with a church-based group, Crispaz. While my plan was somewhat clear in my mind, I was quite unclear about how or if these Meetings could help me. (I had been attending Friends Meeting of Austin for about 2 years.)
It was my first Yearly Meeting, and during a business session, a Friend (whom I did not know) stood up and requested the Yearly Meeting’s sponsorship of her work with Crispaz in El Salvador. I jumped up, and basically said, “Me too!” The Meeting’s response was a little disconcerting — after some discussion, the concern was held over since there wasn’t clarity on the request. I thought it was because I was a newcomer, unknown to most people attending. (I had not had a Clearness Committee at that point — I don’t think I knew what one was, either.)
However the next day, when the concern was re-opened, the sense of the Meeting was that the Yearly Meeting wanted to support both of us, it just didn’t know how to be actually involved and not just lending its name. I learned a lot about both generosity and the testimony of integrity from that. After encouraging us to get Clearness and Support Committees in our home meetings, our requests were accepted.
I don’t recall much about the Clearness Committee process I underwent. Now, my memory mixes it up with my Clearness Committee for membership, which was held at the same time. But by the time I was ready to go, I had a Support Committee which continued to function for the next five years.
The Committee helped in so many ways. I was comfortable asking for money to support the work but the committee accepted and dispersed the money from the Friends Meeting account. Members of the Committee wrote to me and helped forward my mail, maintained a mailing list, mailed out a newsletter that went to 400 addresses, took care of health insurance, my mortgage and other expenses in the US, sent me M&Ms and other personal or comfort items, helped clean out my house in Austin to prepare it for sale in 1988, arranged for an accountant to help with my taxes and even drove me to San Antonio (several times) to catch the plane. They met with me several times during each of my 4-6 week home leaves, set up speaking tours and accompanied me on them.
Since El Salvador was a sometimes scary place to work for peace, I was very reassured to know that they had cultivated a relationship with my Congressman and his staff, and I believed that if they had to, they could call on him for help in an emergency. Most of all, I could ask them for anything, anything at all, and almost always they’d find a way to do it. While the most obvious efforts they made for me were logistical/material, I also felt they were accompanying me spiritually. For a year after my return they continued to help, maintaining the accounting of the balance of the money I had raised, providing a listening ear as I attempted to find my way in US society again, finding temporary housing for me after my return, and so on. Without their support, I suppose I could have done something with my leading, but it wouldn’t have been nearly so easy, nor as fulfilling. The Meeting would certainly not have been so involved.
When I helped start Friends Peace Teams Project, I was mindful of the important role the “home team” had provided me. FPTP continues to consider the Support and Oversight Committees of the people in the field as peace team workers, too. We are able to suggest training in some of the skill these teams need as well as the skills for peace team work in the field.
Our two new staffers who will join the Burundi Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Center Team in October will have support committees. I pray that they are as ably and lovingly supported as I was.