Meet Kathy Tobias

Kathy TobiasKathy describes her passion for InterPlay and Africa.

It’s a time of anniversaries for me and my family. My parents were married July 3, 1942, and next month in Wisconsin, we will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary-and the 73rd year since they first met, at age 14!

This past Wednesday, I had a quiet celebration of my own – 30 years in the federal retirement system. I actually got my first government job as a college student, when I worked summers as a letter carrier – the first woman to do so in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Later I carne to Washington and eventually became a senior editor and writer with the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, where I’ve been for more years than I want to count. What does all this mean to me, a person whose life has taken such different directions since I first was gifted with the concept of call here at Seekers in 1988?

What it means is OPPORTUNITY and CHOICES. The opportunity to think about retirement brings its own set of challenges. It is a time of listening for authentic CALL in this phase of my life. In no small part because of connections here at Seekers, several calls have become important. One is a lifelong passion for writing, so to support that outside of work, I have been a member of Seekers’ Artists Group for a number of years.

The Artists Group was where another passion blossomed…a love of Africa. I had longed to visit Africa since childhood and had had roommates with African connections over the years. In the Artists Group, Roy B. told about using his playwriting talent in South Africa. I guess you could say hospitality is another call – I offered space to house some of the homeless actors that made up the MUKA Project when Roy brought them here in 1998. That eventually led to using my knowledge of small business to work on income-generating projects with a group of women in Winterveldt, South Africa, for two months in the summer of 2000. Those projects were part of the same NGO that housed Bokamoso, the project we have supported here in Seekers for the past half dozen years.

That experience in turn helped lead to other connections to Africa through other groups, including a Lutheran connection to Namibia. Once, German and Finnish missionaries colonized that Southwest African country. Now the process is reversing in a way, with Africans among others regarding the northern nations as a field ripe for mission. And the Lutheran churches in North America are working with the concept of companionship: In what ways are we in this wealthiest nation called to walk side by side with mends whose lives are deeply immersed in poverty and every kind of life-threatening risk imaginable? Yes, we are called to be financially generous, but even before that, how are we called to be mends and listeners? How are we to make spaces for each others’ gifts, to be mutual partners in a relationship that is economically so unequal?

This week Solly M. from Winterveldt is staying with me after a year of studying “nonviolent responses to terrorism” at the Quaker center at Pendle Hill. Yesterday Solly told me about how debilitating it is for young people to grow up and live in poverty. There is no margin of safety. You can only think about putting food on the table for your family today. And every day is another such day. We were talking about this over an American-sized restaurant dinner that did not require much effort from me.

And then there is InterPlay! That is another passion that is growing, also related to my Artists Group connections. The power of InterPlay is easy to understand, once you are engaged in it, but hard to explain. I think it has to do with the wholeness of the experience-the way InterPlay integrates mind, body, and spirit in improvisational dance, movement, vocalization, and storytelling. By empowering us to be our most creative and whole selves, InterPlay also creates community and change. And it is a way for people to explore community in a completely MUTUAL relationship!

In August I am combining two passions and traveling to Malawi, in central southern Africa, to be with a group of Inter Players in the home village of Masankho B. I am practically dancing on air, just thinking about it! We will also meet Masankho’s Aunt Emily Chinthu, the executive secretary for Kudo Foundation, which works with the issues of poverty, women’s empowerment, orphan care, and education.

When Alan Storey (a South African Methodist pastor and another connection through Seekers) came to visit here a year or two ago, he did a workshop on a book by an. American Lutheran, Dan Erlander, called Manna and Mercy. It is a succinct version of the Bible, beautifully illustrated with Dan’s drawings, but it is not just for children. One of the most memorable illustrations to me is the Bible’s contrasting visions of the world-from the human point of view and from God’s. Human beings usually end up viewing the world as a sort of pyramid, with the ruling VIPs-<)r as Dan calls them, the “big deals”- on the top, and then in successively larger layers underneath them, the wealthy and powerful elites, landowners and business people, then the thousands of tenant farmers and others in terrible debt, the millions of landless, widows, orphans, and beggars, and the hundreds of millions of the poorest of the poor, living and dying on pennies a day all over the world.

God, on the other hand, has a different vision of justice, one of manna and mercy for all. In God’s vision, no “big deals” are getting all the goodies while the great multitudes-the rest of creation-starve, get sick, suffer, and die young. God is partial to the poor. God’s vision “bends toward justice.” God gives rest so human beings can practice full time what life is all about-friendship with God, friendship with others, friendship with nature.

So how does all this come together for me in this time of anniversaries and opportunities? It is a time of openness, of InterPlay, of building community, creativity, and change. A time of listening for God’s next call on my life.

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