Back in November, I wrote, here, about a file I’d opened while I was at the MB Herald but ran out of time to complete, on the sexual assault of numerous women in one of the conservative Mennonite colonies of Bolivia. I’m glad to report that the story got written, nevertheless — a fine overview by assistant editor Karla Braun which appeared in the January issue. It picks up on what had seemed to Abe Warkentin, founder of Die Mennonitische Post and long-time advocate for the needs of Low German Mennonites, a “deafening” silence in the face of the situation, and his plea that it be more actively addressed.
It’s also evident from the article that there are divergent views about — and approaches to — conservative Mennonite groups by the various people who relate to them. These differences have their own long history, theological underpinnings, and ways of speaking, even “bad blood” between the parties at times, which the article doesn’t get into in any detail. I don’t intend to now either, except to say that these differences have clearly complicated Mennonite response to the story and perhaps accounted for much of the silence around it.
Recently, however, an inter-Mennonite committee formed here in Winnipeg to do one thing. We want to hold a service of prayer and lament for our Mennonite sisters in Bolivia who have been sexually assaulted. We recognize that any response one makes carries a bias and, regardless of diverse views on Old Colony life, this is ours: we want to express our love and compassion for, and solidarity with, these women, and to pray for healing and justice and hope in this situation.
I invite my readers in Manitoba to participate in this event, on February 7, and to let others know about it. Please see the Events page for more details, or the press release that follows from Abe Warkentin. We’re continuing to gather as much information as we can, although, as the release states, new information is difficult to confirm.
Prayer and lament service for Bolivian sexual assault victims February 7
(Winnipeg, Man.) – An inter-Mennonite group of volunteers will sponsor a special “prayer and lament” service for the women and girls who have been victims of sexual assaults and abuse in Manitoba Colony, Bolivia. The service will be held Sunday, February 7 at 7 p.m. at Morrow Gospel Church, 755 St. Anne’s Road, Winnipeg.
The service is open to all and has been planned as a result of concern over shocking reports in world-wide media in recent months of Mennonite men raping colony women.
Unverified reports state the rapes occurred over a period of several years and weren’t confined to Manitoba Colony, located some 140 kilometres northeast of Santa Cruz.
Confusion reigns over the matter in part because while colony men have been jailed in the matter, the men reportedly later denied they had been involved, stating they had been tortured or threatened with torture, to confess.
New information is difficult to confirm.
Various church agencies are involved in seeking to assist the Bolivia colonies. The Bergthaler Church is working together with the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (EMMC) and David Janzen, field director for the joint Bergthaler-EMMC work said last week that a meeting of many of the Mennonite workers at Pailon, Bolivia took place in late 2009. Campus Crusade, the Evangelical Free Church (EFC) as well as the EMMC and Chortitzer Mennonite Conference were united in working together.
In a July news release, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) called for non-judgmental “understanding and prayer” and noted an offer of counselling assistance to Manitoba Colony was declined.
The purpose of the Winnipeg church service February 7, according to one of the organizers, Dora Dueck of Winnipeg, is to show love and compassion for, and solidarity with, the Mennonite women of Bolivia. The service, states co-organizer Leona Dueck Penner, Winnipeg, is expected to include music, litanies of prayer and Scripture, candle lighting and stories of Bolivian women.
The service is open to all and a free will offering will be held for a new women’s shelter presently nearing completion at Pailon, Bolivia. “We would love to see $6,000 raised to pay for the kitchen and dining room in the women’s shelter,” concluded Abe Warkentin, another meeting participant, who may be contacted at myrnwa (at) yahoo.ca for further information regarding the church service.
Tax deductible receipts will be issued for donations.