My Life So Far–MOC, Language School and On to Brazil

The Missionary Orientation Center was a cooperative venture of several mainline, progressive denominations. While MOC no longer operates as denominations have downsized their staffing and revised their sense of mission, choosing to support other multi-national ngos and interfaith-based groups. But in those days we arrived to a very new and exciting experience.

In many ways it was a communal living arrangement. Two buildings held individual rooms but communal bathrooms and a communal dining hall. Married couples were assigned a room. Families might get enough rooms for their group. Singles were paired up. (Yes, women with women and men with men. It was a church organization, after all.) We all ate together getting our food from servers. Everyone took turns serving and then cleaning up; not unlike pulling KP duty in the Air Force. We were encouraged to eat with people we didn't know. (Later there would be no such people as we became more connected with each other.)

The participants (students?) had a many skill sets. There were many physicians, many ordained clergy, a number of people with agricultural backgrounds, hospital administrators, at least two accountants, many nurses and a variety of other professions. The only real commonality is that all were preparing for deployment to other countries.

Each day began with a short worship designed by a different small group. The groups were well-mixed theologically. Husbands and wives were in different groups.  The second period was a guest lecture on some subject that would be helpful overseas. Remember that this was the middle of the cold war and not too many years post McCarthy and the House Unamerican Committee. The Vietnam war was in full force, Martin Luther King, Jr. had just called the U.S. "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world." So we had lecturers who spoke on the ethics of violence, but we also had biblical studies lecturers, a psychiatrist, experts in many other fields. Sociologists and anthropologists who helped us learn about approaching new cultures. All of these lectures were followed by intense study group sessions.

One notable speaker, whose name I don't recall, spoke as a communist and gave a well-reasoned critique of not only our religious ideas, but also our economic and political ones. He gave three lectures and at the end, he admitted that he was not a Communist, but a Menchevist. That he understood the communist perspective was undoubted however, and very enlightening. It helped prepare us for opposition by left-wing students and organizations in the nations where we would be posted. It was a rude awakening for all of us, but especially for the large group of participants from more conservative parts of the denominations.

Lest I leave the impression that it was all work and no play, that is not true. We had some afternoons and weekends to visit local sights, take occasional trips into New York City, do shopping, and handle our personal business. I ordered a kit from Heathkit and built a very sophisticated amateur radio receiver and transmitter to take to Brazil. I was able to use it, despite not having a good antenna, to contact several countries in Latin America, Europe and elsewhere around the U.S. (Remember, before the internet and cellphones)

We "graduated" from MOC and moved on to the designated language school. From an apartment in Alexandria, we ventured into Washington to the school each day. Accompanied by another couple (Who later demurred from actually going to Brazil), we spent the day in a made to order class in Portuguese (The language of Brazil). We had six months of language school there. But it was also a time of turmoil. Highlighted by a month at the Urban Studies center and the University of Chicago in that city where the Presbyterian church was learning to take the insights of Saul Alinsky and under the leadership of George Todd was learning to fulfill its role as the center of community I was also sent on a ten stop tour of the United States, visiting the key players in "urban ministries", that is, the ecumenical church's work in social justice in each city. Many of these efforts were community organizing among the poor and people of color. In those days, the church put many people through apprenticeships with Saul Alinsky, the great leader in community organizing. Those folk came back to their communities to put what they learned into practice.

It was also the summer of the Poor People's Campaign. We volunteered to work in support of this. In fact, on April 4, 1968, I was in the second session of a class on non-violence, led by several of Dr. King's close associates. A TV station had decided that this was a good night in which to film the class for presentation on TV.  In the middle of the class, one of the cameramen walked in and announced that Dr. King had been shot and was dead. The leaders of the class, all of whom had been close friends and associates, stopped the class and took the time to let us express our feelings of pain and betrayal; and for them to share stories of the King family. They had so many memories. The next week, we took up the class with renewed vigor and commitment to Dr. King's vision.

This is why I often don't celebrate Dr. King's birthday, but I always remember and celebrate his life on April 4.

Our last act was to convince COEMAR (Remember them?) to send us to Brazil by ship. This was the time when air travel overseas became about the same price as ship voyages. Since we enjoyed our trip from Japan in 1964, and it gave us the chance to mellow out from the period of language study  and urban study, we really wanted this. Somewhat reluctantly, they acquiesced and we boarded the ship. (I don't remember the exact date or the name of the ship.) It was a 12 day voyage with a stop in Port Everglades and then on to Rio de Janeiro, and our destination, Santos.

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