What we want to do for the Mennonite women of Bolivia

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. Continue reading

For the Bolivian Mennonite women: a lament

Abe Warkentin of Steinbach recently sent a letter to editors of some Mennonite periodicals, expressing his concern about the raped Mennonite women of Bolivia (see more in this post ), which he also copied to me and to Leona Dueck Penner. Leona, a writer friend of mine, has been reading the Magnificat in Luke 1 in preparation to lead worship in her church on December 20 and that text and Abe’s letter, got her going, she said, “mourning the plight of those oh so humble abused women and girls suffering for years from post-traumatic stress after being raped, suffering silently for the most part as such women do, for decades, while we continue to sing harmoniously at MWC.”

The suffering of the women and the sparseness of Abe’s words just wouldn’t leave her mind. It “sort of seemed like a poem to me,” Leona said, “and struck home quite forcefully.” She sat down and lined the words of the letter into a poem.

His words — a letter which is a poem, a poem which is a letter — sing a moving lament no matter which way you read them. Both Abe and Leona have given me permission to share them here.

“The least” among us

Regarding the brief media accounts of the rapes,
hanging and vigilante-style justice in Manitoba Colony,
Bolivia in the last few months:

The silence
from our Mennonite constituency
is deafening

but this ‘thing’ isn’t going to go away.

Those horrific reports out of the Manitoba
and neighboring Las Cruces colonies
can only be interpreted as urgent cries for help.

And in the long run
we will be judged
not on how wonderfully we sang
at Mennonite World Conference
(and I applaud that!)
but on how we treated “the least” among us.

In this decade for certain,
and perhaps far longer than that,
“the least” among us are
the raped women
and girls
of Manitoba Colony.