Sunday, November 28, 2010

Peace church gathering in Latin America begins with focus on the ‘peace of the city’

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic -- Representatives of the Historic Peace Churches in Latin America began a week of meetings today with a focus on seeking "the peace of the city." The group of 77 Friends (Quakers), Church of the Brethren, and Mennonites from 17 countries gathered in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, on the theme, "Hunger for Peace: Faces, Paths, Cultures."

The gathering is the fourth in a series of Historic Peace Church conferences that have been part of the World Council of Churches’ Decade to Overcome Violence.

An evening of ice breakers and sharing of expectations for the conference was held yesterday evening, Nov. 27, as some participants were still arriving on late-evening flights.

But Sunday morning worship at the Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Luz y Vida--a Mennonite congregation in Santo Domingo--set a foundation on the first full day of the conference. Alix Lozano, a Mennonite minister who has taught for 16 years at a seminary in Bogota, Colombia, preached for worship.

Asking what it means for the Kingdom to come--as Jesus prays in the Sermon on the Mount--she called on the local congregation and the conference to peacemaking that is carried out on behalf of the city in which we live. Noting the text in Jeremiah in which the prophet tells the exiles in Babylon that, in Lozano’s words, "from the wellbeing of the city depends your wellbeing," she urged, "Work for your city, and pray for it."

A Mennonite community in Colombia has done just that, she told the group. Starting with a soup kitchen in a very needy and violent sector of the city, the church has grown its ministry into the San Nicolas Platform for Peace. The program recently witnessed a march for peace that involved city leaders on Sept. 21, the International day of Prayer for Peace. And the program has marked success, in a significant reduction in violence.

"If you and I don’t pursue it, the Kingdom of God is not going to come," she said. "It comes by the work that you do with your hands, in the presence of the church."

The day opened with a review of the history of the Decade to Overcome Violence and the role the Historic Peace Church consultations are playing in that process, given by Donald Miller, a former general secretary of the Church of the Brethren in the US and faculty emeritus of Bethany Theological Seminary. It closed with an evening presentation on the theological foundation for peacemaking, given by John Driver, Mennonite professor, theologian, and missiologist from the US who has served in Latin American and Caribbean countries as well as in Spain, and has authored various books.

At least one participant has high expectations for outcomes from the conference. "I have lots of expectations because it’s the first time that...the Friends, Mennonites, and Brethren are joining together for something like this" in Latin America, said Loida Fernandez, interviewed during a break in the meetings. She is coordinator of the Quaker groups in Latin America, on behalf of the Friends World Committee for Consultation.

Outcomes could include cooperation in areas of common concern like training for nonviolence, mediation, conflict resolution, and maybe even developing a curriculum for peace, she said. But first, "We need to learn a lot about each other," she cautioned.

As the conference continues, delegates will be engaged in just that--learning about each other’s experiences of violence and peacemaking through telling personal stories. The meeting continues through Thursday, Dec. 2.

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