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Mennonite Church Canada responds to Mexican Mennonite dilemma


May 17, 2004
- Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man.— Dan Nighswander, MC Canada’s general secretary, has written a letter to Peter Stoesz, president of the Conferencia Menonita de Mexico, expressing concern for the faith community in Mexico as well as offering encouragement and support for church leaders there.

In a recent feature article, Saturday Night magazine dramatically portrayed the Mexican Mennonite community as thugs and drug traffickers, exposing the role that police say some members of the community allegedly have in connecting a drug trade corridor that runs from Colombia to Canada.

Nighswander’s letter to Stoesz says, “It is not clear to us that the drug problem is in your churches or only in other Mennonite churches.” The letter also notes that a substance abuse rehabilitation centre has recently been established in one community to restore health and wholeness to members who struggle with addiction.

On March 7, Mennonite Church Canada and the Conferencia Menonita de Mexico signed a fraternal partnership agreement, pledging to “grow the relationship.” Regarding the challenge of rehabilitating drug smugglers, Nighswander’s recent letter asks, “… is there anything we might do to encourage and support you?”

The issue has surfaced in the Leamington, Ontario area, where police claim that 5,000 Old Colony Mennonites are involved in the drug trade. Arli Klassen, executive director of Mennonite Central Committee (Ontario) has written a letter to the editor of Saturday Night acknowledging that the wider Mennonite church is also “disturbed by the serious problems of drug trafficking and drug use” referred to in the magazine article. The MCC letter also deplores the “Religious and ethnic group stereotyping and labeling” depicted in the article.

Meanwhile, MCC Ontario is working with Old Colony Mennonites and the wider Mennonite church, the MCC letter notes, “to work together to respond to the tragic reality that illicit drugs brings to all our communities.”