Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia
The Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia (Mennonite Brethren Churches of Colombia) can be traced back to April 1945, when the Mennonite Brethren sent their first missionaries to Colombia, the Daniel Wirsche family. They established a headquarters in the mountain town of La Cumbre, Valle, near Cali. From there missionaries moved out into the steamy rain forests of the Chocó in northwest Colombia, where medical and evangelistic work was begun among both the black and the Indian population. The first local church was established in 1946 in Itsmina, Chocó. Persecution led to the closing of the Indian work in Noanamá some ten years later. The work begun among blacks in Istmina and among the rural people in La Cumbre also suffered setbacks through persecution in the 1950s, but has continued.
The year 1958 brought political changes to Colombia which resulted in an open door for evangelism and church planting by Mennonite Brethren missionaries. Two other events that year also proved significant for the future of the Mennonite Brethren in Colombia. The Association of Mennonite Brethren Churches (Asociación de Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas) was officially organized, and a decision was made to begin church planting in the city of Cali, which became the headquarters for the national Mennonite Brethren conference until 2003, when it was moved to Bogotá, the capital of the country.
By 1971 the conference had grown to 24 congregations including those in Cali, rural areas of the Valle, and in the Chocó. New outreach since that time has added several new congregations in the major cities of Medellin, Bogotá, and Cali.
The Mennonite Brethren in Colombia have been involved with education from the beginning. Schools were part of the early work in the Chocó. A primary and a secondary school were established in La Cumbre. The primary school was eventually turned over to Colombian leadership and operated until 1969. The high school, College Americas Unidas, was moved to Cali in 1966, and has done well in recent years under Colombian directors.
Theological education has been a big challenge in the nationalization of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Colombia. There were a number of attempts to open theological institutions. Some of these were in association with other denominations: for example, United Biblical Seminary, and the Ecclesiology Centre. Others were of an independent nature, as was the Technological Biblical Seminary. All these efforts came to a quick end for economic reasons. Due to these failures, the Mennonite Brethren in Colombia created small local institutions in order to train leaders theologically, at a very basic level. For higher level study, students were sent to Protestant seminaries or Catholic universities. Thus, the few people who have been able to achieve a Bachelor’s degree in theology did not study with an Anabaptist focus, nor in a Mennonite Brethren institution. The goal of developing a clear identity as a church has remained illusive. Having a theologically mature church – one that develops and contextualizes its own theology with Anabaptist roots -- has remained a challenge. Achieving theological studies at a Masters or Doctoral level along with specializations in History, Old Testament, New Testament, Peace Studies, Missiology, Counseling, and others, have been unreachable dreams for the Colombian leadership.
Despite a turbulent beginning, the Mennonite Brethren church in Colombia has grown. With its roots in the jungles and rural areas, its major challenge today seems to be the cities. The three cities of Medellin, Bogotá, and Cali in 2009 had a combined population of more than 12 million people. Several cities remain without an Anabaptist presence. North American missionaries from Mennonite Brethren Missions and Services International (MBMSI) left the country in 2001.
In 2008 the Conference had 40 congregations with 1,700 members.
Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 211-12.
Martens, Phyllis. The Mustard Tree. Fresno, CA: Mennonite Brethren Board of Christian Education, 1971: 174-188.
Mennonite Brethren in World Mission, 2, no. 1 (Jan./Feb. 1986): 3.
Toews, John A. History of the Mennonite Brethren Church, ed. A. J. Klassen. Fresno, CA: Mennonite Brethren Board of Literature and Education, 1975: 427-429.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 39. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Ens, Harold and César García. "Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. November 2009. Web. 20 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A795.html.
APA style: Ens, Harold and César García. (November 2009). Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A795.html.