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Mennonites in Mexico support Mennonite Church Canada
May 22, 2009
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Four churches in Mexico who once received financial support from Mennonite Church Canada are now contributing back to the denomination’s bottom line. They also send delegates to MC Canada assemblies and use Canadian assembly themes to shape their own gatherings.
“These brothers and sisters want to be part of a bigger identity and involved in wider mission. This is admirable,” says Robert J. Suderman, MC Canada General Secretary. “They feel most comfortable doing this via Mennonite Church Canada and our Witness initiatives. We are no longer parent and child. We are partners together reaching out in mission to God’s needy world. And we are grateful that this is possible.”
The Mexican church previously received funds from the General Conference’s Commission on Overseas Mission (COM), which in Canada has become known as Mennonite Church Canada Witness.
The Conference of Mennonites in Mexico (CMM) was formed in 1963 with the support of COM and grew to include four churches, Blumenau, Steinreich, Burwalde, and La Salada. All of these churches are situated in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
Earlier this year, Tim Froese, MC Canada’s Mission Partnership Facilitator for Latin America, and Suderman travelled to Mexico to meet with the churches and leaders of CMM. In a report following the trip, Suderman wrote, “They expressed deep levels of appreciation that we had come to look, to listen, to learn, and to understand them better.”
CMM began long before it’s official formation in 1963. After Mennonites first emigrated to Mexico from Old Colony Russia in the 1800s, some members were banished from the colony for engaging in activities that contradicted its conservative biblical understanding of social and economic development – such as driving automobiles or pick-up trucks, or using rubber tires.
The businesses and produce of excommunicated families were boycotted. Families were prohibited from attending worship and praying together. Children were not allowed to attend the existing schools.
In the 1920s, more Mennonites arrived from Southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, followed by a second group of Russian Mennonites. Eventually, these less conservative Mennonites joined with those who had been excommunicated and invited COM to provide them with educational and spiritual support. COM responded by helping them to open new schools and a German-language church with Sunday School and singing.
Today, CMM congregations are immersed in a sea of Old Colony, Kleinegemeinde, and Gemeinde Gottes churches, but together all of these Mennonite congregations operate 10 schools from K-12, with a combined enrolment of 854 students. They also manage a home for seniors, and a home for mentally challenged men and women.
As a small conference of 6-700 people, CMM itself engages in a number of significant ministries such as an addiction rehabilitation centre, a Bible-school that operates from January through March each year, a Credit Union – the second largest of its kind in Mexico, a modern and robust Mutual Aid/insurance ministry – the largest of its kind in Mexico, as well as Colonia Reforma, a mission outreach in Cuauhtemoc.
Isaak Bergen, who leads Colonia Reforma, has helped plant four new Spanish-speaking churches in Cuauhtemoc and has also created a variety of services that include a large and active work-program for the physically disabled, a feeding program that serves 100 children a day, six days per week, and an alternative funeral home service for the poor. With Habitat for Humanity, Colonia Reforma has built a barrio – a Spanish-speaking community – of 360 homes.
Mennonite Church Canada Witness continues to walk with CMM through ongoing personal relationships and by sending short term Witness workers to teach at Steinreich Bible School. Most recently, Helen Dueck spent the winter term at the Bible school teaching about prayer, missions, and women in the Kingdom of God.
John Klassen, chair of the Steinreich congregation, will represent CMM at MC Canada’s Assembly 2009 in Saskatoon, Sask. (June 5-7).