Latin American Anabaptist-Mennonites: A Profile

By Martinez, Juan Francisco | Mennonite Quarterly Review, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Latin American Anabaptist-Mennonites: A Profile


Martinez, Juan Francisco, Mennonite Quarterly Review


The history of the Anabaptist-Mennonite church in Latin America is relatively recent. (1) The first permanent Mennonite presence on the South American continent can be traced to the arrival of several missionaries sent by the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities to central Argentina in 1917. (2) Between this initial effort and the more recent emergence of numerous Mennonite-related national church conferences, Mennonite identity in Latin America has unfolded in a rich and complex way. In general, churches claiming some sort of connection to the Anabaptist-Mennonite faith have been established by at least three distinct efforts: (1) North American Mennonite mission agencies; (2) Mennonite immigrants from Europe and Canada seeking to preserve a distinctive religious identity or to establish new homes following the displacement of war; and (3) the local mission efforts of these Mennonite immigrants. Whereas the first two initiatives have existed largely independent from each other, the third reflects one way in which North American mission agencies and the colonies established by Mennonite refugees have found common ground.

NORTH AMERICAN MISSIONS

The early Mennonite presence in Argentina remained an isolated missionary endeavor until the 1940s when, as a consequence of World War II, Protestant missionary agencies were forced to curtail their work in China and the Pacific region and began to shift their focus to new mission fields in Latin America. U.S. and Canadian Mennonite missionary efforts followed this general trend. In the mid-1940s both the Mennonite Brethren and the General Conference Mennonites sent missionaries to Colombia and later (1950) to Mexico. The (Old) Mennonite Church extended its mission presence to Puerto Rico in 1947, following up on the contacts made by Mennonites who had done Civilian Public Service work on the island during World War II, and then to Brazil and Uruguay in 1954. The Evangelical Mennonite Church (US) sent workers to the Dominican Republic in 1949, followed by the Lancaster Mennonite Conference---with its own Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM)--who sent its first missionaries to Honduras in 1950, and the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren who established a mission presence in Peru during the same year. Later in the 1950s the Virginia Mennonite Conference began work in Jamaica, the Brethren in Christ in Cuba, and the Franconia Conference sent missionaries to Mexico and Cuba. By the middle of the twentieth century, virtually every Anabaptist group in North America was sponsoring some form of mission activity somewhere in Latin America.

During the early 1960s a second wave of Mennonite missionaries began to arrive in Central America. Rosedale Mennonite Missions, the Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Mennonite Conference (Canada) all began work in Nicaragua, with the Beachy Amish and Rosedale also establishing a presence in Costa Rica. (3) From this base the North American Mennonite mission agencies expanded their work to Guatemala (EMM), Belize (EMM), Panama (MB), Venezuela (EMM), El Salvador (EMM and Beachy Amish), Cuba (Beachy Amish), Nicaragua (Beachy Amish) and Honduras (BIC). Other smaller Mennonite groups also began to work in Latin America, such as the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Holderman) in Haiti, Mexico and Brazil.

Gradually North American Mennonite mission efforts expanded still further in Latin America, with some groups moving into areas that had earlier seemed "reserved" for others. In the 1970s, for example, the Argentine church, along with COM and MBM, sent missionaries to Bolivia. In the 1980s EMM included a missionary from Guatemala in its new outreach to Venezuela. The Brethren in Christ began work in Colombia, where previously there had only been Mennonite Brethren and General Conference Mennonites. Rosedale Mennonite Missions sent both North Americans and Costa Ricans to Ecuador. The Mennonite Brethren began planting churches in Peru after helping in the aftermath of major flooding in the northern part of the country. …

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