During the last decades, Hispanics (i.e. speakers of Spanish in the Western Hemisphere) have been the most rapidly growing minority group in North America. The United States, with more than 23 million Spanish-speaking people, is the fifth country in the world in Spanish-speaking population, outnumbered only by Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and Colombia. It is believed that by the year 2000, the United States will rank second in Spanish-speaking world population.
With awareness of the challenge in their midst, Mennonites began work among the Spanish-speaking people in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Of the Mennonite groups, the three largest ones especially directed their efforts to the Hispanic agenda: The Mennonite Church (1932), the Mennonite Brethren (1937), and the General Conference Mennonite Church (1958).
The Mennonite Church (MC) initiated contacts with the Hispanic community in North America in 1932 in the city of Chicago. By 1934 the first Hispanic Mennonite congregation, which became known as the Lawndale Mennonite Church, had been established. In its beginning J. W. Shank, David Castillo (the first Hispanic Mennonite pastor), and Canadian Nelson Litwiller played very important roles.
Even though the formal beginning of the church dates from 1932, an even earlier connection had occurred in 1916 when Simón del Bosque, from Mexican background, participated in the English-speaking Mennonite congregation in Tuleta, Texas. In addition to this, Hispanics were also contacted sporadically in La junta, Colorado, during the 1920s.
After these beginnings, the Hispanic work began to spread, and during the decades of the 1940s to the 1960s, congregations were established in six other states. This growth, however, was slow and decentralized. It was not until the end of the 1960s that a thrust was realized, and during the 1970s that formal organization took place. It was in these years of growth that the church developed the elements that would counteract existing lethargy: solidarity, self-identity, and organization. During this period the first Hispanic Mennonite Conference was held (1973), women's activities were initiated (1973), an office on Latin affairs was established (1974), the National Council of Hispanic Mennonite Churches was formed (Concilio Nacional, 1975), and programs of literature and congregational education (1976) and theological training (1979) in Spanish were started.
In 1986, the Hispanic Mennonite Church had an approximate total of 70 congregations and 2,450 members. In 1999 there were 68 congregations with 3471 members. As a whole, the congregations were small; they averaged around 35 members. They were located in Washington, D.C., 16 states, five provinces of Canada, and Mexico. The majority were in the north-east part of the United States, especially in Pennsylvania and New York. In 1999 there were Hispanic congregations in Alberta (Calgary, Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Red Deer), British Columbia (Vancouver), Manitoba (Winnipeg), Ontario (Toronto) and Quebec (Montreal).
The Hispanic Mennonite congregations have emerged due to several principle factors: the Mennonite missionary commitment to develop urban missions, the immigration of Latin American Mennonites to North America, the relocation of missionary personnel who have returned from Latin America, the establishment of voluntary service units in Hispanic communities, and the evangelistic and missionary vision of Hispanic leaders and workers.
Though the Mexicans and Puerto Ricans dominate, the Hispanic Mennonite conglomerate is made up of a great variety of national backgrounds from practically all the Spanish-speaking countries. This heterogeneous factor in the church is manifested in a cultural, idiomatic, educational, religious, and social diversity that converts the Hispanic North American ministry into a significant challenge.
The Hispanic Mennonite Church has experienced remarkable numerical growth. From 185 members in 1955, it grew to 490 in 1970, 2,450 in 1986, and 3471 in 1999. In the first five years of the 1980s, the growth of membership was 33 percent. In 1955 there were 4 congregations, while in 1986 there were approximately 70. The growth of congregations between 1981 and 1986 was 34 percent. These statistics are more significant when compared with the less than one percent annual growth rate of the North American Mennonite Church (MC) in general. The formal organization of the church, the obedience to the Great Commission, the extroversion of the Hispanic believers, the vision of the Hispanic Mennonite pastors, the awakening of self-identity and self-dependence, and a spirit of renewal are reasons for this rapid growth.
In spite of this growth, Hispanics as a minority group face challenges: language, culture, prejudice, and adjustment to the environment. In addition, internal problems also exist, some of which are experienced by Mennonites in Latin America, while others result from the socio-cultural situation of North America. Among these can be mentioned the lack of trained leadership, generational gaps, economic dependence, and the diversity of national backgrounds.
Mennonite Brethren have centered their Spanish-language work in two states with large Hispanic populations: Texas and California. In Texas the work began in the town of Mission (1937), and by 1982 there were 284 members and seven congregations near the Mexican border. In California the work was initiated in 1956, and in 1982 there were 291 members and eight congregations, located mainly in the area of Fresno and Reedley. Generally the congregations are in small towns with the ministry directed to Mexicans and Mexican Americans. The Mennonite Brethren Church has its own program for the training of Hispanic leaders at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno.
The General Conference Mennonite Church began its work among Hispanics in Lansdale, PA, in 1958. After a period of little activity, a spirit of revival occurred during the 1980s and churches were established in several states and in Toronto, Canada. By 1986, this group had grown to nearly 100 members and seven congregations.
Falcón, Rafael A. La Iglesia Menonita Hispana en Norte America, 1932-1982. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985 ; English trans. by Ronald Church as The Hispanic Mennonite Church in North America, 1932-1982. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986.
Ortiz, José M. "Church Growth Among Spanish-speaking North Americans." Mission Focus 9 (1980): 442-52.
Oyer, Emma. What God Hath Wrought. Elkhart, IN: Mennonite Board of Missions, 1949: 23, 130-38.
Smith, Willard H. Mennonites in Illinois. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983: 420-27.
Esau, H. T., Mrs. First Sixty Years of MB Missions. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1954: 481-95.
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MLA style: Falcón, Rafael. "Hispanic Mennonites." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/H58ME.html.
APA style: Falcón, Rafael. (1989). Hispanic Mennonites. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/H58ME.html.