Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Peace church testimonies highlight struggles and successes, told with joy and tears

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – Testimonies shared over the past two days at the Historic Peace Churches conference in Latin America reveal difficulties as well as opportunities for success for Brethren, Mennonite, and Quaker churches working for peace.

Two days have been filled with the reports and stories of church programs, and other personal efforts in areas of peace, justice, human rights, and services meeting human needs. Given with aids like PowerPoint presentations, videos, and statistical analysis, some reports impressed the conference with the gravity of situations of violence in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. For example, numbers like the millions of children who are affected by sexual violence in Brazil were presented, or the three murders a day that are committed on the island of Puerto Rico.

But many of the reports and testimonies also were opportunities to share joy and tears with fellow Christian workers for peace. Some speakers offered personal challenges and passionate callings to the group, while others simply told their own stories of faith.

Among the many testimonies and stories told were the experience of Mennonite women in Latin America, their emerging work against domestic violence even in their own congregations, and the effort to open ordination and the ministry to women....

The work of the Brethren in Haiti following the earthquake, where homes are being rebuilt and displaced people are being fed, not just in the church but also neighbors known and unknown....

The many programs for children, adolescents, and families in a variety of countries, ranging from a Brazilian program to prevent the sexual abuse of children, to a project in Venezuela teaching creative play, to those working for healthy families and against domestic violence in Central America, to a Chilean pastoral couple offering counseling to men and women on issues related to gender and sexuality....

The jail visitation ministries of Quakers in Jamaica, and the women in Bolivia who are volunteers implementing an AVP (Alternatives to Violence Program) originally developed by Quakers working in prisons in the United States....

The testimony of one Quaker man about the work done to end military conscription in Honduras and to provide alternative service options for conscientious objectors....

The reports and testimonies are being collected by a documentation committee drafting a final document to come out of the conference. Also being collected are comments from small groups that are meeting each evening to respond to the day’s information.

Yesterday’s evening devotion led by Mennonite pastors invited the symbolic crying of tears through the mixing of salt with water. This evening, a Brethren group led devotions on the theme of dealing with the trials that can come in church ministry.

Suely Inhauser of Igreja da Irmandade (the Church of the Brethren in Brazil) talked about a moment of despair when she was trying to lead a church that seemed about to fall apart. Yet God’s grace came from a completely unexpected source--a drunken man who wandered into that church meeting at a critical moment, with words of wisdom that could only have come from the Spirit.

Peacemaking is similarly impossible without the accompaniment of God and others. "Who are we to solve the wars? We can’t talk about peace alone," she told the group, asking them to join her in contemplation of Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed--God bringing fruit out of small efforts and unexpected sources.

The evening closed with her invitation to the other Brethren present to join her in kneeling prayer, a symbolic prostration of the self before God.

Webcasts from the conference are being offered at www.bethanyseminary.edu/webcasts/PeaceConf2010. An online photo album has been started at www.brethren.org/site/PhotoAlbumUser?AlbumID=13041&view=UserAlbum.

-- Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is news director for the Church of the Brethren.

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