Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Mennonites of Cuauhtémoc

The town of Cuauhtémoc is situated 82 km (51 mi.) west of Chihuahua in the federal state of the same name. Apart from cattle farming, an important industry in the region, Cuauhtémoc is regarded as the „state’s breadbasket.“ East of Cuauhtémoc lies the Laguna de Bustillos with many opportunities for watersports and a fascinating diversity of water fowl. An enclave of Old Colony Mennonites has formed near Cuauhtémoc.

The Mennonites are a denomination of Old Evangelic Anabaptists that originates in Baptist communities headed by Menno Simons in the Netherlands and Northern Germany. Dating back to the 16th century, they number more than 800,000 believers today. The Mennonites oppose any kind of violence and offer passive resistance to state pressure in religious matters. They are very close to Calvinism in this respect. Obligatory military service, taking an oath in court, and divorce are unalterable taboos for the Mennonites of Cuauhtémoc. The Bible is their ultimate standard for the school curriculum, with the Imitation of Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount being one of the central tenets. All Mennonites object infant baptism. When, however, the young people receive the believer’s baptism - mostly at the age of 14 – they are expected to turn to God and lead a reverential life by the laws of God. But there is no formal dogma behind this; each community is a church in itself, reflected in its assemblies. The insurmountable distance to the state and the objection to any kind of violence have repeatedly forced the Mennonites to emigrate. They started their exodus in the 18th century in Prussia, from where they migrated to the Ukraine and farther deep into Siberia. When the conditions worsened in the East, the Mennonites moved on to Canada and the North of the United States of America, where the Mennonite community of the Amish had settled as early as the 17th century. Like the Quakers and the Brethren, the Mennonites belong to the peace churches.

Having been invited by Mexican president Alvaro Obregón, the first community of settlers, some 5,000 believers from Canada, reached Cuauhtémoc in the Mexican state of Chihuahua in 1921; today more than 40,000 Mennonites live in the fertile plain. Three main groups with greatly diverging values have formed in the community over the years. While the liberal group supports a more comprehensive school education and allows more contacts with the Hispanic population of the region, the conservative tendencies stick to their ancestors’ traditions. This widening gap becomes manifest in social tensions that mean great mental stress for many Mennonites and are a breaking test for the community. The Mexican population holds the Mennonites in high esteem especially for their good dairy products and their expertise in mechanical engineering. Apart from Cuauhtémoc, a developing provincial town, you should visit some Mennonite settlements and the local radio station, which broadcasts in German language. Neither should you fail to visit the Mennonite museum with exhibits related to the history of the Mennonite community in this region.

Most Mennonite churches and communities are today organized in the Mennonite World Conference, which was established in 1925. A much smaller part belongs to the Ecumenical Council of Churches.

Menno Simons was born in 1496 in Witmarsum in Friesland – today part of Wonseradeel. Already in his adolescence, Simons took an active part in the life of the Christian communities in the province of Friesland. Under the influence of the teachings of Martin Luther and other reformers such as Caspar von Schwenckfeld and Sebastian Franck, Simons, in 1536, joined the Baptists, who insisted on adult baptism and rejected any dogmatic form of Christianity. On the other hand, Menno Simons also opposed the radical stance of Thomas Müntzer, whose extreme demands threw lasting discredit upon the Baptist communities. As the elder of the community of Leeuwarden, Simons tried to unite the moderate Baptist communities. The central part of his teachings was that the believers after the conscious baptism should lead a repentant life in obedience of God. The conversion to God in baptism was linked to a new perspective in respect of church membership and formal dogmas, in particular infant baptism. In the last twenty years of his life, Menno Simons was mainly active in the Netherlands and Northern Germany, where his followers founded the religious community of the Mennonites after he had died in Wüstenfelde near Bad Oldesloe on January 31, 1561.