Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Domingo in Santo Domingo

The conference began by our attendance at a large Mennonite church in Santo Domingo called Luz y Vida (Light and Life.) There were several short messages of welcome, but most of the service consisted of chorus singing led by a praise team. Alix Losano of Colombia brought a powerful message about violence and peace in the cities.

In the afternoon we moved to the center where we will remain for the rest of the week. We traveled in buses loaned by local churches, and our luggage went on the back of a small truck. It was piled twice or three times as high as the cab. I said goodbye to my small case which was perched on top, not really believing I would see it again; but the combination of a rope and a man balanced on top of the load kept everything in place. How did he keep his balance? I am glad there were no low bridges.

The recently-built center where we are staying is called the Casa Arquidiocesana Maria de la Altagracia. Much of the work is done by young women volunteers from different countries. After squeezing into a room with five women and having to share a bed in the hotel, it is wonderful to be in this welcoming space. The pope has stayed here, so you can imagine it is in good shape. I enjoy visiting different retreat centers to see the commonality (how do the do food service? en suite rooms, or facilities down the hall? worship? budget worries?) and also the differences. Here the communion sacraments are on display 24 hours a day in a chapel, with two volunteers keeping constant vigil. Parts of the beautifully planted grounds are also a cemetery in current use - not at all obvious as there are no headstones or mounds.

The full day ended with a long and detailed presentation by John Driver, a veteran of Civilian Public Service, who spent his working life as a Mennonite missionary in different Latin American countries, starting in Puerto Rico. The characters and issues from the Radical Reformation in sixteenth century Europe must have given quite a workout to the interpreters. We were off to a good start!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

With St. John and St Dominic

I left a somewhat chilly Philly for San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is a hub for many flights between the US and parts of the Caribbean. I have been there a couple of times on my way to somewhere else, and although we flew in low over the city, I haven't really been to Puerto Rico, since I have never left the San Juan airport. The airport is a strange experience since the stores and fast food cafes belong to the familiar US airport chains.

Flying to Santo Domingo is a different matter. To go there you need to complete an immigration card and a customs declaration, and on arrival buy what is called a tourist visa, but seems to function as a non-negotiable $10 tax on visitors. You then have to go through immigration (which doesn’t happen if you are flying from the US to Puerto Rico) and finally get some Dominican Republic Pesos. After all that, and friendly welcomes, I knew that I had truly arrived in a Hispanic Caribbean country.

When I got out of customs I saw the IHP – Iglesias Historicas de la Paz sign that was being held up to welcome participants at the Conference of the Historic Peace Churches of Latin America. After many hugs and handshakes we were dispatched in groups of fifteen onto a shuttle bus to the hotel where we would spend the night before moving to a Catholic retreat center for the rest of the week.

70 people are expected. Apart from a group from the US (mostly denominational staff like me) the majority are from the Caribbean and Latin America. In descending numerical order they are from the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Chile, Guatemala, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina, Jamaica, Peru and Venezuela. The Cuban Friends who couldn't get visas will have their talks read and I will show video clips of interviews I did with them when we were together last week.

The proceedings will be mainly in Spanish, with interpretation to and from English and Haitian Creole.

Please join the conference. You can watch it live over the internet in English or Spanish at http://www.bethanyseminary.edu/webcasts/PeaceConf2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Historic Peace Church gathering

The Brethren, Friends and Mennonites have held three conferences in connection with the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence. They were in Switzerland, Kenya and Indonesia. In addition there was a Canada/USA conference in Philadelphia, called Heeding God's Call. Now it is the turn of Latin America to host the final one. FWCC Section of the Americas has underwritten the Quaker contribution to make this happen. I am on my way right now to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and will report on ways in which members of the Historic Peace Churches are being Salt and Light where they live.
Photos show some Quaker arrivals at the Santo Domingo airport. Above: Costa Ricans Sandra Ribas (San José) and Ivonne Rockwell (Monteverde.) In the background are delegates from other churches in the Dominican Republic and Chile. Below: Dionel Mejía (Honduras), Loida Fernández (Mexico), Bernabé Sánchez (Honduras) in the background, Aminda Posada de Arévalo (El Salvador) and half of Nick Wright (Mexico.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ann Arbor and Detroit

Friends from Toledo, Ohio and Birmingham, Michigan joined Ann Arbor Friends to hear Anne Bennett talk about some of her experiences working with Friends in Northern Ireland on peacebuilding and reconciliation. She decribed work done by Irish Friends at all levels from grass roots community work to strategic off-the-record meetings, and her own work with the latter.

With Anne's encouragement small groups considered issues in their locality and how they could make a difference where they are right now in reconciliation.

Next day, Anne spoke to the middle school students at Detroit Friends School. Thanks to Ann Arbor Friends for their gracious hospitality and a special thank you to Nancy and Thomas Taylor for hosting and planning - and for taking Anne to Indianapolis for her next Salt and Light event.

Safe travels, Anne, as you leave for Mexico City for the Casa de los Amigos.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Salt and Light in Illinois

Louise Salinas writes: A good-sized crowd from five nearby meetings showed up for the hearty potluck at Lake Forest Friends Meeting before Anne Bennett and Rachel Stacy spoke in what felt like an extended Meeting for Worship – intense, spiritual and moving.

In line with the bright sun streaming through the large windows at Downers Grove’s new meetinghouse, Saturday’s event was spent with cheery Friends who had more time to hear from Anne and Rachel. Here Friends talked about the issues of brokenness that are on their minds: access for all to resources such as water; the large number of incarcerated persons in the US, and understanding technology in our lives.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


We lined up, from Britain, Indiana, Lake Erie and Philadelphia yearly meetings, around the table in Kalamazoo Friends meetinghouse. What a feast of autumn abundance. We talked, we ate, it was hard to herd us all upstairs for the program, but we went to hear Anne Bennett.

She told stories of people taking small steps where they were in situations of terrible loss and fear. Of men in Burundi trampling red mud and water to make bricks – almost dancing as they gave their time to re-house neighbors whose homes had been burnt. Everyone had lost family members in the slaughter, and there was always the possibility of more reprisal raids. She told us of women taking the practical steps of opening a laundry in a Balkan town where landmines were still hidden in side streets. It became a place to talk as well as to clean clothes, and is still a presence in the community. Just do what you can, where you are, was what I took away. Even if it doesn't make much sense at the time. Those small steps are part of the greater fabric of reconciliation.

She reminded us of our coping mechanisms. How we cope when we are with “others” – those with whose community we have historic issues or often recent grievances. – We navigate politely by talking about many topics except those touching on the things that separate us. How do we create the space, and time, and safety, to make possible those more difficult conversations, so critical for community and personal healing, possible?

I appreciated her accounts from long years of Quaker service, and I was happy that one of the things that we (FWCC) are doing is not only bringing speakers and programs to Friends communities, but also acting as a catalyst to bring those Friends together. As someone said last night: it takes outside visitors to get 35 Friends together on a Monday evening.