Kleine Gemeinde zu Blue Creek, Belize

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Blue Creek
Belize-map.gif
Belize: World Factbook, 2009[1]

Area in acres

115,000 (1958) [2]

Population

750 (1966) [2] 500-1000 (2009) [3]

Languages

Spanish, German, English (2009)

Kleine Gemeinde Membership

60 (2007) [4]

Kleine Gemeinde Presiding Officer

Heinrich Penner (2007)[4]

Congregations

1[4]

Kleine Gemeinde contact information

EMMC website and contact information

http://www.emmc.ca/provisioner/articles/article.php?ArticleID=32#belize

The Blue Creek community is spotted in a flat landscape with a few low hills. There are approximately 750 people living there as of 2009, and this number has remained relatively constant since the foundation of the colony in 1958, historically shifting between 500 & 1000 people.[3] This makes Blue Creek the fourth or fifth largest Mennonite colony in Belize and is considered one of the most progressive Mennonite colonies in Belize alongside Spanish Lookout because of their use of agricultural machinery, tractors and harvesters with rubber tires, use of automobiles, computers, air conditioning, television, radio, refrigerators, computer games and mobile phones.[3] Blue Creek enjoys a strong economic position and has significant economic exchange with Belizean society - Blue Creek produces a large chunk of the nation’s rice, corn, beef and poultry and also builds roads and operates heavy equipment all over the country.[5]

The inhabitants are diverse and can be categorized into groups according to church (EMMC [Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference] or Kleine Gemeinde), origin (Canadian Mennonites or Belizean Mennonites), language (Low German or English) and wealth (rich or poor). The Kleine Gemeinde adherents in Blue Creek use Low German as their main language whereas EMMC Mennonites speak English. The Kleine Gemeinde also dress in traditional clothing such as dresses with flower designs for women and overalls and blouses for men.[3]

Edental is the district of the Blue Creek colony that houses most of the Kleine Gemeinde families.[3]

The name Kleine Gemeinde (small church) was formed in 1812, when a division occurred among Russian Mennonites. Napoleon invaded Russia and some Mennonites pledged money in support of the Russian army. The Klein Gemeinde believed that as a non-resistance group they could not contribute money towards an aggressive movement. [6]


Foundation of Blue Creek & the Formation of the Kleine Gemeinde church in Blue Creek

The Blue Creek community was established in 1958 by Old Colony delegates from Mexico, who found the Blue Creek tract of land preferable to others due to its relative isolation in northwest Belize - isolation from the influence of the world. The Mennonite migration from Mexico to Belize was caused mainly by increasingly aggressive attempts by the Mexican government to incorporate Mennonite youth into the Seguro Social, or social security system, which clashed with a Mennonite conviction on remaining separate from the world. [7]

While the colony was originally affiliated with the Altkolonier church, or Old Colony Mennonites as aforementioned, the colony's affiliation has changed as a result of an early split. This split occurred shortly after the immigration of these Mennonites from Mexico, and revolved around issues of technology, namely the use of the rubber tire. The permissiveness of technology is a legacy inherited from when the Mennonites lived in Mexico, where these issues threatened the solidarity of the group towards the end of their stay in Mexico. In order to keep in touch with the Altkolonier position on technology, church leaders in the early Blue Creek colony invoked ostracism and excommunication against members who were partial to non-traditionally accepted forms of technology, such as the rubber tire, that was adopted when members of the colony realized the hilly, difficult terrain wasn't conducive to the use of steel tires or horses.[3]

However, due to the practicality associated with the use of rubber tires, a significant portion of the Blue colony ended up being excommunicated, and a large rift was formed between members of the community. Those of the community that refused to adapt to the difficult environment with the adoption of the rubber tire moved to Shipyard, Bolivia and Paraguay, while the more progressive members chose to stay. Today, Blue Creek is one of the most modern Mennonite colonies in Belize and has a thriving agricultural business.[3]

The EMMC, in response to some of the distress the early colony was expressing over the decision to use rubber tires, sent help to help develop organization and relieve some of the tensions in the community in 1964 with the arrival of Jake and Verna Martens, who helped initiate an EMMC church, the Linda Vista EMMC School and the Blue Creek Medical Centre.[3]

By the 1970s, most of the Old Colony families had moved away, and this is when the Kleine Gemeinde church from Spanish Lookout came to help those that weren't sure how to live in the tension between the Old Colony and EMMC. Thus, the Kleine Gemeinde church in Blue Colony was founded.[3] However, the Kleine Gemeinde church traces its origins in Belize to Spanish Lookout, where delegates of the church first chose to inhabit Spanish Lookout due to the relative scarcity of insects and higher altitude. [7]

Religion[3]

(Because little is in literature concerning key details concerning the Kleine Gemeinde church within Blue Creek, the following information is largely taken from Roessingh's research into the Kleine Gemeinde church within Spanish Lookout, which is expected to be largely representative and similar to the church in Blue Creek)

Key Commitments

At a fundamental level, the Kleine Gemeinde church relies on the basic assumption that brotherhood is the basis of the community and the church. The Bible provides principles, which it is the task of the church to turn into applications. There are boundaries to these applications which take form in the role of rules within the Kleine Gemeinde community, which those outside of the Kleine Gemeinde often describe as overly binding and confining. Those outside the church express a desire for some freedom in making their own decisions. It is the position of the Kleine Gemeinde church that these rules are as they are in order to turn Biblical principles into applications, which are the basis for brotherhood and thus for community. These rules are needed to preserve that brotherhood.

With all this being said, the Kleine Gemeinde church is sympathetic to other churches and this desire for freedom, and maintains an open relationship with other churches. Also, the Kleine Gemeinde realize the desire and need for a change in perspective at times and try, within reason, to accommodate these needs.

Daily life of the Kleine Gemeinde Church

On a given Sunday during church service, men sit on the left and women on the right on long wooden benches. Women wear small back head coverings. The basis for use of head coverings is taken from I Corinthians 11: 5-6. Members see the use of coverings as a way to please God, as they believe God has a special blessing for those who live up to the rules outlined in Scripture.

Hymns are sung without music and in German. The sermons in the Kleine Gemeinde church are well organized.

What the Future Holds

Due to Blue Creek's relative financial success in different fields, it is emerging as a sort of business, so a challenge the group faces within the next 50 years is remaining separate and isolated from the world despite meeting with economic success and developing a burgeoning agricultural business, as well as other businesses.

Also, some integration with the native population is expected at some point, so a distinct challenge the church might face in the coming years is the potential tension between ethnic and converted members. The distinction is laid out by Roessingh when describing the Beachy Amish plight: "...ethnic Mennonites are missionary Mennonites from America that have their own history and identity" (180).[3] He juxtaposes the ethnic Mennonites with Belizean Mennonites, and describes how identity formation can be potentially different for both groups. Consider statistics published by the 2000 census of the Central Statistical Office of Belize which states that there are 8,276 ethnic Mennonites and 9,497 religious Mennonites, a difference of 1,221 - this indicates that this amount of people are Belizean Mennonites, which is a significant portion of the total amount of people identified as Mennonites in Belize (180).[3] Therefore, these Belizean Mennonites are religiously identified as Mennonites, but have a drastically different cultural identity, which offers a peculiar challenge for the church to face within the coming years, as native Belizeans are converted to the Mennonite faith. The church will have to navigate the tension of conflicting cultural interests between the ethnic and converted Mennonites and somehow mediate this effectively to remain faithful to its Mennonite heritage.

The following was taken from a News5 Article covering the celebration of the colony's 50th anniversary in 2008, and compares somewhat how the community is today compared to when it was first founded, as well as mentioning some of what the future might hold for this community:[5]

Stewart Krohn
“Do you get the feeling that your generation was a little bit spoiled, that you didn’t have to do those things growing up?”
Victor Dyck, Blue Creek Resident
“Oh yeah, I mean well if you look at it now how we have it compared to what they had it back fifty years ago when they came here, I would say in a way we’re spoiled and in a way we’re very blessed as well.”
Stewart Krohn
“The first fifty years in this country have been good to the Mennonites of Blue Creek and from the looks of things the next fifty should be just as successful [economically].”

Mennonite Identity

Little can be found in the literature regarding specific theological commitments Mennonites in Belize (and in Blue creek in specific) still have and share in common with the Global Anabaptist Church. Some commitments that can be inferred from descriptions of these groups is a continuing commitment to isolation from the world. Blue Creek was originally chosen because of its relative isolation from the larger country, in hopes that this isolation would promote and help keep this devotion to the Mennonite heritage. Despite the change in churches from the original Old Colony Mennonites to Kleine Gemeinde and EMMC today, the physical isolation of the Blue Creek community in northwest Belize still serves as a symbol of Mennonite isolation from the worldly community. However, with increased technological adaptation in the community and in general, this isolation is becoming much less pronounced than it was in 1958, when access to the community was very difficult.

A second commitment these Mennonites hold is that of the community of believers, and Blue Creek still exists primarily as a community within the larger Belizean society. Group solidarity remains important to Blue Creek members and the group still holds priority over the larger community.

The following was taken from a News5 Article covering the celebration of the colony's 50th anniversary in 2008:[5]

Stewart Krohn:
“Having been born here yet being a Mennonite, do you feel more Belizean or more Mennonite? What is your identity?”
Abe Froese, Mayor, Blue Creek:
“Belizean. I’m a Mennonite but I don’t think we should pull back from being a Belizean. Our commitment should be to Belize from early. It’s our responsibility to help build the nation of Belize. Yes, I am a Belizean. Our parents, they have always worked hard. I think that’s the starting point but from there we’ve had good—we’ve had a lot of help from the government. They helped us really when we needed help. Our ministers have supported us.”

Relation to Outside World and Colony Dynamics[3]

The Blue Creek Mennonites stay in constant contact with the world outside their community for business and private matters. The main place of interaction between Blue Creek Mennonites and local people is at shops and markets in town. This is the main place of interaction because this is where the Blue Creek Mennonites go to sell their products or buy products not offered within their community. The relative economic success Blue Creek has developed and maintained, in relation to the other Mennonite colonies, makes it one of the colonies with the most interaction with Belizean society.

Because of business interactions with the larger society, an Anabaptist theological commitment of isolation from the world is more loosely followed than other Mennonite colonies in Belize, as these business and economic exchanges and interactions make isolation tough. However, Blue Creek is still isolated, and the degree to which they interact with the larger society is often limited to the economic and business spheres, as the Kleine Gemeinde church has its own school system, clinic and shops. The Blue Creek colony in general has its own bank system as well and their own set of rules and regulations that keep them segregated from the larger society.

To outsiders of the Blue Creek community, distinctions are made only by religion and life style, which is to say that, to outsiders, the distinction between the EMMC church and the Kleine Gemeinde church is hard to make. However, within the community, these distinctions are clear. While the separate churches do interact, as is expected if both live within the same community, there do exist distinctions aside from clothing and language spoken. This distinction is evident in the entrepeneural activities of the two churches. For example, Carribean Chicken originates from a Kleine Gemeinde background and employs mostly Kleine Gemeinde members, whereas Circle R., a rice mill company, comes from an EMMC background and employs mostly EMMC members.

Annotated Timeline

1814 Kleine Gemeinde church founded, when Klaas Reimer assumed leadership of a small group of dissatisfied members of the Mennonite church in Russia. Derisively called “De Kleen-gemeenta” (Low German for “Little Church” and in German “Kleine Gemeinde”) by people outside the church, the Kleine Gemeinde church was not an attractive church to join. Some of the basic contours of the original movement included saving people from the disastrous influence of the world, noncomformity, humility, and church discipline. The original Kleine Gemeinde church diligently practiced: “reading the Bible, the writings of Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, and Peter Peters, as well as the Martyrs' mirror, feet-washing, strict discipline, honesty, etc.” [8]
1874 Larger part (60 families) of 1874 Kleine Gemeinde migration to North America settled in Manitoba. Migration began in early 1860s to provide farming opportunities for landless members and to shy away from political and administrative involvement in the mother colony. [9]
1919 A new Manitoba school law in 1919-1920 and experiences with World War I dissatisfied many Kleine Gemeinde members in Manitoba, and so delegates were sent out in order to find potential colonization possibilities. Plans were dropped after no good possibilities found.[8]
1948 Emigration interest was being renewed after World War II, and so thus in 1948 a colony called Quellenkolonie was founded in Las Jagueyes, Chihuahua, Mexico. By 1949, 15 percent of Manitoba Kleine Gemeinde members had moved to this 35,000 acre land that was bought at 7 dollars an acre. Two thirds of this land was a ranch, of which the remaining third was purchased by Old Colony Mennonites.[8]
1958 The Blue Creek community was established in 1958 by Old Colony delegates from Mexico (not Kleine Gemeinde adherents), who found the Blue Creek tract of land preferable to others due to its relative isolation in northwest Belize - isolation from the influence of the world. The Mennonite migration from Mexico to Belize was caused mainly by increasingly aggressive attempts by the Mexican government to incorporate Mennonite youth into the Seguro Social, or social security system, which clashed with a Mennonite conviction on remaining separate from the world.[3]
1964 Splits within the Blue Creek community concerning use of rubber tires on the difficult terrain in the colony occurred, leaving the colony in major disunity. The Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (EMMC) responded to distress expressed by some Blue Creek members and sent Jake and Verna Martens to Blue Creek, founding the EMMC church that exists in Blue Creek today.[3]
1978 In 1978, some Kleine Gemeinde members from the nearby Spanish Lookout colony moved to Blue Creek in order to help those that weren't sure how to live in the tension between the Old Colony and EMMC, thereby founding the Kleine Gemeinde zu Blue Creek.[3]

Relevant links and Suggestions for Further Reading

Blue Creek Mennonites celebrate 50 years in belize (News Article 2008)

http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/5358

Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)

GAMEO entries on EMMC, Kleine Gemeinde & Blue Creek

Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (EMMC) - http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/E9365ME.html

Kleine Gemeinde - http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/K5446.html/?searchterm=kleine%20gemeinde

Blue Creek - http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B577.html

Annotated Bibliography

Bender, Harold S. (1956). Kleine Gemeinde. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 05 April 2011, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/K5446.html.

This GAMEO entry outlines historic information of the Kleine Gemeinde church throughout its history and inception in Russia. Useful historical source on larger Kleine Gemeinde church.

Blue Creek. (2011) Naturalight Productions Ltd. Retrieved April 05 2011, from http://www.northernbelize.com/see_bluecreek.html

This tourist oriented website provides some basic information on Blue Creek and some visuals.

Hamm, H. H., G. H. Penner and Jack Heppner. (July 2010). Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (EMMC). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 05 April 2011, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/E9365ME.html.

This GAMEO entry is similar to the source immediately above in that it outlines historic information of the larger EMMC church. Blue creek is partly EMMC, so anyone interested in the colony should find history and information on the EMMC useful.

Haniewicz, J. (1991). A Mennonite story. London, England: J. Haniewicz.

This source outlines information on specific colonies in Belize, specifically challenges facing the groups and some main influences in the colonies’ development. It gives a basic overview of the colonies and some visuals that bring the environment to life. On Blue Creek, it explains how certain people and situations were crucial in the development of the colony.

Koop, G. S. (1991). Pioneer years in Belize. Belize City, Belize, C.A: G.S. Koop

This book gives a variety of first-hand accounts and reflections on initial Mennonite settlement in British Honduras by the very first settlers that provides insights into reasons for various decisions back then. Most of the information is provided through story-telling and reflection of actual events. Also included are some short stories.

Kornelsen, Peter F. (1987). Blue Creek Colony (Belize). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 05 April 2011, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B577.html.

This brief GAMEO entry provides some basic information regarding Blue Creek and its formation and history. Useful for some small details.

Krohn, Stewart. (2008). Blue Creek Mennonites celebrate 50 years in belize (News Article 2008). Belize. Retrieved 05 April 2011, from <http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/5358>

This article gives some first-hand quotes from residents of the Blue Creek colony’s 50th anniversary celebration and some useful, if not peculiar, information regarding the colony.

Roessingh, C. H., Plasil, T., & Visser, P. (2009). Between horse & buggy and four-wheel drive: Change and diversity among Mennonite settlements in Belize, Central America. Amsterdam: VU University Press.

This book provides an excellent summary and overview of Mennonite colonies within Belize, with an in-depth chapter on several colonies that explores the dynamics that are relevant to the colony. It provides history, current and past issues, an economic overview, and the general context within which the Anabaptist story is unfolding within Belize.

Sawatzky, H. L. (1971). They sought a country: Mennonite colonization in Mexico. With an appendix on Mennonite colonization in British Honduras. Berkeley: University of California.

This book, published in 1971, provides a detailed look at economic issues the early Mennonite settlers of British Honduras faced in purchasing land and subsequent handling of finances in colonies, and various facets of early Mennonite life in Belize. Good source for information on the foundation of Mennonite colonies in British Honduras and the issues and information that went into the decision-making process.

Citations

  1. "Belize," CIA World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/BH.html (accessed 24 June 2009).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sawatzky, H. L. (1971). They sought a country: Mennonite colonization in Mexico. With an appendix on Mennonite colonization in British Honduras. Berkeley: University of California. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Sawatzky" defined multiple times with different content
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 Roessingh, C. H., Plasil, T., & Visser, P. (2009). Between horse & buggy and four-wheel drive: Change and diversity among Mennonite settlements in Belize, Central America. Amsterdam: VU University Press. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Roessingh" defined multiple times with different content
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Mennonite World Conference "World Directory." Retrieved 17, April 2011 from: http://www.mwc-cmm.org/en15/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13&Itemid=16 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MWC" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MWC" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/5358 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "News5" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "News5" defined multiple times with different content
  6. Haniewicz, J. (1991). A Mennonite story. London, England: J. Haniewicz.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Koop, G. S. (1991). Pioneer years in Belize. Belize City, Belize, C.A: G.S. Koop. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Koop" defined multiple times with different content
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Bender, Harold S. (1956). Kleine Gemeinde. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 05 April 2011, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/K5446.html Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Bender" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Bender" defined multiple times with different content
  9. Fast, Henry. (June 2010). Evangelical Mennonite Conference (Kleine Gemeinde). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 April 2011, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/E9364ME.html