For political and economic reasons, there have been immigrations of Mennonites to the Latin American country of Paraguay. Many of these Mennonites are in the agriculture business and live in "colonies" throughout Paraguay. Some of the regions (especially the Chaco region in the upper north) where they live are very challenging (desert climate and terrain) and it is a struggle to "eke" a livlihood in these places.
If you are not familiar with the Mennonites, they are a part of the Anabaptist tradition of the Reformation. They were a counter-culture group then. They had different bibilical interpretations about the role of the Christian as they participated in the requirements of citizenship.
On the overly simple side, the Anabaptist groups believed that the radical teaching of Christ were often at extreme odds with the requirements that "states" (princes, kings, i.e. political leadership) had for their citizens. The Anabaptists would choose the pathway of witness against, resistance to and withdraw from the "state" when they felt their faith compelled them to do this.
On a historical note - the Mennonites were often persecuted for this. To make a very long story short, there were migrations of Mennonites to Paraguay, looking for political freedom and safety to follow their beliefs and also a place where they could be economically secure.
Yet here is where the Mennonites in Paraguay (seem to me) take somewhat of a different direction. These Mennonites are very involved in cultural transformation. That is what I normally expect to find in the more Calvinist inclined groups.
In Paraguay, the Mennonites are doing a lot of social service work for the poor and under-privileged. I visited a Mennonite Leprosy Hospital that also offers general medical care for the people of their region, along with basic surgical procedures. This hospital is getting involved in AIDS work as well. As I walked the grounds of this place, I felt a great sense of peace and love.
(The bamboo was near one of the leprosy wards. My friend Paul is standing in front of a "clump" of bamboo. There were gardens everywhere on the grounds of the hospital.)
One of the parts of the hospital I toured was their shoe production facility. They make specially designed shoes for each different patient.
There is also a large ranching and milking production associated with the hospital. They have thousands of acres of land for this.
Pictures below are: shoe shop, tailored shoes for one patient, what the ranch fields look like, and the hospital chaplains.
There are many very successful businessmen running good companies in Paraguay. These leaders are highly intentional about what it means to have a Christian business and what the implications are for those whom they employ. My friend Paul is a senior leader in a Mennonite based ministry that provides chaplain/pastoral care for the workers at the different Mennonite businesses. They have a very well developed ministry for this. Quite inspiring as I hear what they are doing.
The Mennonites are seeking to train and develop Christian businessmen to make a difference in the culture.
They are (both in the past and continuing in to the future) developing a wide variety of ministries to meet the needs of Paraguayans. I visited a missions festival at a German Mennonite church and saw the many ministries that want to bless those in need.
It was very encouraging to see what one Fellowship of God's People (the German and Russian Mennonites) are doing in their corner of the world to make a difference.
LCI is able to provide some resources to those who are involved in developing and spiritually forming leaders for this work. We are grateful to be a small part in this.
Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International