August 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Subud Organizer Made It All Happen By Just Saying

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A sign over Rifka Bullen’s desk reads: “Say yes.”

It’s a tall order.

As site coordinator for the 1997 Subud World Congress that opens Monday, Bullen is responsible for organizing the arrival, feeding, lodging and entertainment of 3,000 people from 80 countries who will be in Spokane for two weeks.

“She’s like that,” said Honora Foah, a friend and fellow Subud member. “When people say, ‘Do you think we could get 35 llamas into my hotel room?’ her first response is, ‘Let me see what I can do.”’

Foah is joking, but isn’t far off the mark. Among the tasks Bullen juggles are providing translation for workshops in six languages, arranging meals made from no animal products and assuring daily entertainment for 500 children from dozens of countries.

“It’s been an e-mail congress,” said Bullen, 42. “I do between 80 and 100 e-mail messages per day.”

The Subud World Congress is a spiritual assembly that happens every four years in a different country, bringing together people of varied religions and backgrounds for two weeks of reunion and worship.

The responsibility for organizing the congress rests on Bullen because she asked for it.

Bullen joined Subud when she was 17, learning about it from a couple whose children she baby-sat in her hometown of Livermore, Calif. She changed her name from Jennifer to Rifka, after asking the spiritual movement’s founder to help her select a new name.

People in Subud frequently change their names “if you feel the name your parents gave you doesn’t represent your true inner self,” Bullen said.

She moved to Spokane two years ago because she wanted to work on the congress. She packed up her home in Livermore, landed a job with a Spokane consulting firm and, for five months, worked full-time during the day and on Subud at night.

A tiny room with three phone lines, two computers and a gold shag rug quickly became Subud central in a house Bullen rents on West Mallon. Returning from work, she’d pore over schedules, registrations and congress plans.

She quickly was stretched too thin, and asked the World Subud Council to make her position full-time and paid. The council accepted.

Since then, Bullen’s personal interests have helped her become a member of the Spokane community, and she’s asked new acquaintances for help with her monumental task.

She joined Leadership Spokane, the American Indian Community Center and Unity in Action. She volunteers at the Cheney Cowles Museum and interviewed for a position on the city’s Human Rights Commission. A piece of artwork done by Ralph Busch, outreach coordinator for the Spokane Arts Commission, hangs above her mantel.

“That’s how Spokane works, I find,” Bullen said. “I was able to connect with people on a personal basis, which makes our various requests and needs easier to meet.”

Along the way, she fell in love with Spokane and plans to stay after the congress ends.

“She’s just like Convention Bureau family,” said Ann Brand of the Spokane Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We let her walk through the storeroom to get to the conference room.”

Bullen’s personal contacts could help when the congress ends because she’ll be looking for a new job. She’s a single mother of two teenage sons, one of whom moved with her to Spokane. Their household includes three cats and her 17-year-old son’s pets - a lizard and a baby boa constrictor.

At least twice per month for the last two years, Bullen has spoken to local groups. Her goal is to help Spokane become familiar with Subud, whose members will create an international village in the city’s core for two weeks.

She wants to help residents understand that Subud isn’t a cult or a new religion, but an international spiritual movement. There are no fees for admission and how members worship is entirely up to them.

“In Subud in general, there’s a willingness to accept people for who they are. That’s something we in the U.S. don’t do as well,” said Mike Kobluk, director of the Spokane Convention Center, who has worked closely with Bullen for two years. “I see a tolerance (in Bullen) that I sometimes wish I had.”

Bullen has been overwhelmed by how much Spokane has reached out to Subud. Businesses have organized cultural sensitivity workshops and offered discount rates for services. People have volunteered their time to help.

“There are so many groups working so hard to be inclusive,” Bullen said. “It’s a leap of faith, to welcome a weird spiritual group called Subud, which is not exactly a household name.”

In turn, she wants to help the city’s businesses understand how best to cash in on the congress, explaining what 3,000 people will want to eat, where they’ll look for entertainment and what they’ll want to buy.

Bullen’s organizational and interpersonal skills have enabled her to handle a task more suited to a much larger staff.

“If Microsoft were doing this conference, they’d probably have a staff of six to 10 people,” said Michael Menduno, Bullen’s fiance and publisher of the congress’ 60-page guide and a newspaper that will be published daily during the two-week gathering.

Menduno and Bullen met in April at a Subud convention in Las Vegas.

He asked her if he could help put together the congress.

“Rifka’s first response was, ‘I really don’t need any help,”’ Menduno remembered with a laugh. “That’s very Rifka.”

But Menduno, a former diving magazine publisher from Key West, Fla., won Bullen over professionally and romantically. Four weeks after they met, he moved to Spokane.

“Talk about synchronicity,” Bullen said. “I had no one to do a guide, no one to do a newspaper. It was like, boom!

“I honestly believe everyone brings a gift,” she said. “They don’t all have to be hyper-linear thinkers like me.”

Before moving to Spokane, Bullen operated an alternative elementary school that she started in Northern California. The publicly funded school had 60 students, grades one through five.

The school operated for 20 years, during which Bullen earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in culture, communications and systems management in education from John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, Calif.

Then the state’s public funding for alternative education programs dried up, and Bullen was out of a job.

The time was ripe for a change. The congress was approaching and Bullen knew she wanted to help organize it. When her school closed, Bullen worked for a Head Start program for two years, then packed her bags and moved to Spokane.

“I had a very good feeling about this,” Bullen said of the move. “I felt very strong in my (prayers) that I could do this.”

Still, organizing the congress has not been flawless. The biggest snag will prevent at least 100 people from several countries from attending. People from politically troubled countries such as Cuba, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo were denied visas, despite the intervention of Washington’s congressional delegation.

“We needed someone doing this for the last four years,” Bullen said with dismay. “We naively thought it wouldn’t be so difficult.”

She plans to place name cards on empty seats to signify the delegates who were denied entrance into the country.

“We want to recognize that those people aren’t there,” she said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This story also ran in the Idaho edition on Monday, August 4, 1997. The photo was in color.

This sidebar appeared with the story: EVENTS AND EXHIBITS Subud is hosting several cultural events and exhibits open to the public. Opening ceremony - 8:30 p.m., Monday, in the Lilac Bowl at Riverfront Park. The ceremony will feature performers and music from several different cultures. Architectural Journeys - 7 p.m., Tuesday, at The Met. Internationally renowned architect Antoine Predock discusses his work and vision. Learning to really see - 7 p.m., Wednesday, Chase Gallery, City Hall. Rashid Carre, an artist and educator, will discuss innovative ways of educating young people, beyond the realm of audiovisual technology. ArtSPIRIT - Wednesday-Aug. 15, Chase Gallery, City Hall. A juried art show featuring single works of Subud artists. International Artisan Bazaar - 3 to 6 p.m., Friday-Aug. 10, Ridpath Hotel. Subud members will display their crafts. Double-feature theater - 8 p.m., Saturday, The Met. “The Isles” is a musical about a woman washed ashore during a storm who spends her life searching for inner peace. ‘Lucky and Rose’ is an original rock opera about a young Hollywood star. Film Festival - 1:30 p.m., Saturday, The Met. A mini film festival showcasing the work of Subud filmmakers. Variety Show - 8 p.m., Aug. 11, Convention Center. Symphony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 12, Opera House. The Spokane Symphony will perform, under the direction of conductor Lucas Richman, a Subud member from Los Angeles, two selections by Subud composers and a cantata composed by Richman. The concert is a benefit for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the Spokane Symphony Education Fund. International Entertainment - 8 p.m., Aug. 14, Spokane Convention Center. Closing Ceremony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 16, Opera House. Includes a slide show with singing from Subud youth.

This story also ran in the Idaho edition on Monday, August 4, 1997. The photo was in color.

This sidebar appeared with the story: EVENTS AND EXHIBITS Subud is hosting several cultural events and exhibits open to the public. Opening ceremony - 8:30 p.m., Monday, in the Lilac Bowl at Riverfront Park. The ceremony will feature performers and music from several different cultures. Architectural Journeys - 7 p.m., Tuesday, at The Met. Internationally renowned architect Antoine Predock discusses his work and vision. Learning to really see - 7 p.m., Wednesday, Chase Gallery, City Hall. Rashid Carre, an artist and educator, will discuss innovative ways of educating young people, beyond the realm of audiovisual technology. ArtSPIRIT - Wednesday-Aug. 15, Chase Gallery, City Hall. A juried art show featuring single works of Subud artists. International Artisan Bazaar - 3 to 6 p.m., Friday-Aug. 10, Ridpath Hotel. Subud members will display their crafts. Double-feature theater - 8 p.m., Saturday, The Met. “The Isles” is a musical about a woman washed ashore during a storm who spends her life searching for inner peace. ‘Lucky and Rose’ is an original rock opera about a young Hollywood star. Film Festival - 1:30 p.m., Saturday, The Met. A mini film festival showcasing the work of Subud filmmakers. Variety Show - 8 p.m., Aug. 11, Convention Center. Symphony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 12, Opera House. The Spokane Symphony will perform, under the direction of conductor Lucas Richman, a Subud member from Los Angeles, two selections by Subud composers and a cantata composed by Richman. The concert is a benefit for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the Spokane Symphony Education Fund. International Entertainment - 8 p.m., Aug. 14, Spokane Convention Center. Closing Ceremony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 16, Opera House. Includes a slide show with singing from Subud youth.


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