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!