Representatives of the Historic Peace Churches in Latin America have been meeting together to focus on seeking "the peace of the city."
A group of 77 Friends (Quakers), Church of the Brethren, and Mennonites from 17 countries gathered in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, from 27 November to 2 December 2010.
The theme of the encounter was "Hunger for Peace: Faces, Paths, Cultures."
The gathering was the fourth in a series of Historic Peace Church conferences that have been part of the World Council of Churches’ Decade to Overcome Violence.
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 on what it means for the Kingdom of God to come, in accordance with Jesus' message and prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (Gospels of Matthew and Luke).
She called the local congregation and the conference to forms of active peacemaking carried out on behalf of the city in which they 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 programme involved a march for peace that involved city leaders on 21 September this year, the International day of Prayer for Peace. A significant reduction in violence has been partly attributed to the work of the programme.
"If you and I don’t pursue it, the Kingdom of God is not going to come," said Ms Lozano. "It comes by the work that you do with your hands, in the presence of the church."
The conference 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 professor of Bethany Theological Seminary.
There was also 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 a variety of books.
"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.
Among the issues discussed have been cooperation in areas of common concern such as training for nonviolence, mediation, conflict resolution and developing a curriculum for peace.
But first "we need to learn a lot about each other," Ms Fernandez cautioned.