By Nathan Hosler
“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Eglise des Freres d’Haiti (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti) marked the International Day of Prayer for Peace 2015 with a march to the center of Port-au-Prince, the Haiti’s capital city.
On Sunday morning, Sept. 20, at around 8 a.m. people began to gather around the Brethren Guest House and church in Croix des Bouquets, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Signs announcing “Seek peace for a better Haiti” and “Let’s live in peace one with another for a new Haiti” in Haitian Kreyol were pasted onto truck windows and hand-held placards were loaded into the bed of a truck.
Around 9 a.m., a brightly painted bus arrived and we began to board. Global Mission and Service worker Kayla Alfonse noted that there was a great deal of excitement as this group gathered and departed for the march. Our group met more Brethren at the starting point, where we disembarked and assembled ourselves two-by-two along the side of the road and on the sidewalk.
Most of the marchers were dressed in white shirts, with some of these shirts printed specifically for the event. A banner was unfurled to lead the procession and smaller signs were distributed. As we began our trek under the hot sun we were accompanied by a truck set up with a generator and sizeable block of speakers, which provided music with occasional breaks for someone to lead chants.
Thirty minutes into our march another church streamed down a hillside street and merged with us. By this point we reached our full number. Global Mission and Service worker Ilexene Alfonse estimated that the event drew 300 to 350 people from four congregations. Additionally, some people made a six-hour journey from the congregations in the north to attend.
This was the first International Day of Prayer for Peace event held by Eglise des Freres d’Haiti, and the first such public witness event by the church. A small group appointed by the National Committee had worked for many months to plan this event and some had worried about how it would relate to the experience of political protests in Haiti, which often include violence or destruction of property.
Our experience was a far cry from such a “manifestation” as those political protests are called. Indeed, not only was this an undeniably peaceful event, but organizers guided us so that we stayed mostly in the two-by-two formation throughout the hour-and-a-half long march.
Upon arrival at the city center we gathered in a plaza under a tree for prayer, song, and reflection on the day’s theme verse from Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” I was given a few minutes before to the sermon to speak on our biblical understanding of peace rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus, as well as to bring greetings from the Church of the Brethren in the US, the Office of Public Witness, and my home congregation of Washington City (D.C.) Church of the Brethren.
The Brethren in Haiti are already beginning to think about next year’s Peace Day. This event was part of a concerted effort to bring peace as a core belief and practice into this relatively young denomination.
Kayla Alfonse noted on our drive that it is important that peace not be seen as something on the side, but as a central part of what it means to be a Christian. On Tuesday, she and I met with workers from Mennonite Central Committee and Church World Service, a meeting initiated as part of my work on the situation of statelessness for persons of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic, threats against them, and their risk of deportation. While our meeting covered this important issue as well as a more general connecting with the two organizations’ work in Haiti, the topic of peace also entered our conversation. MCC Haiti is working to reinvigorate their work in peacebuilding, which had been minimized in the push to respond to the devastating earthquake of 2010. In addition to committing to meet and talk further about potential common work for peace, they have expressed interest in collaborating on next year’s Peace Day event.
Leaving Haiti, I am filled with joy that the church there has committed itself to this work. Such a witness is a crucial part of the broader ministry of the church. Ministries that are ongoing in Haiti, such as the mobile health clinics, rebuilding after the earthquake, music, and Bible studies have long been the staple work of the church. These along with a growing reflection and action for peace are vital for this church in this place.
-- Nathan Hosler is director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness, working out of Washington, D.C.