Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala

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Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala
Guatemala: World Factbook, 2009


Guatemala City, Guatemala

Contact Information

Date Established


Presiding Officer

Concepción Villeda (2006- )

MWC Affiliated?


Number of Congregations




Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala (IEMG) is the second largest Mennonite conference in Guatemala. IEMG began as a result of mission work by the Eastern Mennonite Board of Mission and Charities (EMBM) (Mennonite Church) and the Franklin-Washington Mennonite Conference (later by the Franklin Mennonite Conference) of Chambersburg, PA in 1968. IEMG is involved in community outreach through its Permanent Social Service Committe (CPSS) and its clinic and pharmacy, both of which are located in IEMG's Mennonite Center.[2] In 2006, IEMG included six congregations and 1,320 baptized members.[1] To learn more about the Mennonite experience in Guatemala click here.

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Initial Settlement/Origins

In 1948 a group from EMBM (now Eastern Mennonite Missions or EMM) went to Central America to assess Central American needs, and in 1966 EMBM representatives returned to Guatemala for another exploratory tour.[3] This group connected with missions already established in Guatemala. In 1968 EMBM and the Washington-Franklin Mennonite Conference began work in Alta Verapaz, a cool, humid mountain region in northern Guatemala.[4] Several months later Richard and Lois Landis began church planting work in Guatemala City. The first Spanish-speaking congregation formed in 1971 and a few years later local congregants built the first church.[5]

Early Years: 1971-1982

On July 2-12, 1974, Central American Anabaptists held the first Central American Anabaptist-Mennonite consultation (CAMCA).[6] This group consisted of Central American Mennonite leaders who thought it important to share their experiences in church work and biblical and theological reflection. In 1975 CAMCA published a hymnal titled Alabanzas de Libertad (Praises of Liberty) that led to worship renewal in the evangelical community - Mennonite and otherwise.[7]

An earthquake and its aftermath in 1976 led to intensified expressions of racism, classism, political unrest and other profound social changes. The new socio-economic climate saw Guatemalans displaced from land, language, and culture, as well as the formation of new labor unions, peasant organizations, guerilla movements and a growing evangelical church.[8] The evangelical church provided a spiritual refuge for Guatemalans facing these new challenges. Mennonite Central Committee's (MCC) response to Guatemala’s natural disaster and continued presence there offered one expression of Anabaptist faith within the broader Guatemalan evangelical church.[9]

The Emergence of Guatemalan Anabaptism

From 1980-1992 Guatemalan Anabaptism emerged. In 1982 CAMCA conversations highlighted the need for a strengthened Anabaptist witness in Central America. Subsequently, Central American Mennonite leaders founded the Anabaptist Ministerial Leaders Seminary (SEMILLA) in Guatemala City. This seminary, by extension, serves eight Central American countries, preparing church members with biblical and theological preparation for leadership. Although SEMIllA is not directly linked with IEMG, the church has benefited greatly from its presence since many IEMG leaders have received theological training through SEMILLA. Together CAMCA and SEMILLA promote a holistic view of spiritual growth and a sharper definition of Anabaptist identity in Central America.[10]

Following a military coup in 1982, Efrain Rios Montt became the president of Guatemala. He was an anti-communist evangelical Christian, converted under the guidance of Gilberto Flores – a Mennonite pastor – in the late 1970s. Montt received strong support from the evangelical community, including urban Mennonites. Yet MCC and many K’ekchi Mennonites opposed his leadership because of their direct experience with military operated civil patrols and situations of extreme violence. After connecting with K’ekchi Mennonites, Casa Horeb, a new 200-member middle-class congregation Guatemala City congregation within IEMG, also began to challenge these policies, using their personal contacts with President Montt to work for change (Flores, who served as Casa Horeb’s pastor during this period, provided a particularly important connection).

In 1984 IEMG built a large meetinghouse for Casa Horeb on a centrally-located property in Guatemala City. This site also served as a conference “headquarters” for IEMG's administrative offices and outreach programs. IEMG's Permanent Social Service Committee (CPSS)and a clinic and pharmacy attended to the health and nutrition needs in the capital’s marginalized areas.[11] Starting in 1986, the Department of Christian Education (DESEC) offered Saturday night Bible institutes to supplement local church leaders' academic learning, and in 1987 DESEC also begin to sponsor a primary school in an economically struggling neighborhood until a government school was established there.[12] MCC used the back lot of the property to create an experimental herb garden as part of its appropriate technology program.[13]

Struggling for Relevance in a Violent Context

Throughout the 1980s violence in Guatemala significantly impacted the church’s relevance and vision. Conflict between peasant-supported guerrillas and counterinsurgency led to death tolls of over 100,000. Most of the victims were of Mayan descent. The repressive government welcomed alliances with Protestant churches in Guatemala, and many – including some Mennonites – sought approval from the Guatemalan government by staying politically neutral and focusing on spiritual goals. In the process, they inadvertently supported the status quo.[14] Within this context the Guatemalan Mennonite church adopted the vision of alternative community.

In 1984, IEMG hosted DESAFIO 84, a leadership conference with Mennonite participants from throughout the Americas. This conference highlighted the church’s need for reflection on Christ´s call within a violent context – indentifying especially the need for a coherent prophetic witness.[15] Three years later, CAMCA issued its statement on war.[16]

On December 29, 1996 the Guatemalan peace accords ended the country’s 36-year civil war. Although the accords marked the end of the war, crime rates within Guatemala rose to unprecedented levels and living conditions throughout much of the country continued to decline.[17] Guatemalans struggled to overcome the trauma of a civil war in which 130,000 people were killed; 45,000 disappeared; and 1,000,000 internally displaced.[18] Within this difficult post-war context IEMG sought to express its understanding of faith in a socially relevant way.

Contemporary IEMG

Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala's membership has grown slightly since the late 1980s, from 900 members in 1987 to 1,320 in 2006. The conference continues to be actively involved in development work within the local Guatemala City community. In 2003 CPSS operated five health and nutrition clinics in five low income congregations. The DESEC also facilitated Saturday night Bible studies and other educational initiatives in the local community.[19] In addition, in April, 2007 IEMG conference members started the Escuela Menonita de Música (Mennonite School of Music). In a country where violence and crime are common and where few can afford the high cost of private music lessons, the Escuela Menonita de Música provides opportunities for Guatemalan youth to "sing, read music,... play an instrument... and develop relationships with each other...."Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many IEMG is also involved in various economic development activities in Guatemala. In 2007, church members organized a women's beading cooperative to help women support their families.[20]

Key Individuals in the Life of the Church

In 2006 Concepción Villeda was the president of IEMG. She was the first woman to hold that office. According to Janet Marie Breneman, Villeda brought a greater sense of mission and overall unity to the church.

Gilberto Flores was both a pastor at Casa Horeb and served for a time as the academic dean of SEMILLA. He was one of the influential leaders who applied sixteenth century Anabaptist principles to the Guatemalan Context. He now works for Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).

Jose Rafael and Alba Escobar are pastors of the Iglesia Mennonita Casa Horeb congregation in Guatemala City. Rafael is also a professor of theology and dean at SEMILLA and a important voice in helping to connect Anabaptist theological convictions with the contemporary context of the Mennonite church in Guatemala.

Mario Higueros is a IEMG pastor and theologian, and also served as the academic dean of SEMILLA. He has worked to bring Guatemalan Anabaptism into conversation with the global church. Higueros participated in a Mennonite World Conference (MWC) delegation that included members from Zimbabwe and Belize. He attended because of his reservation about growing Zionist support among local churches, especially within his local denomination.

Electronic Resources

Annotated Bibliography

  • Breneman, Janet Marie. “Guatemalan Mennonite Women at Prayer: Religious Heritages and Social Circumstances Shape the Prayers of Ladina and Q’eqchi’ Women.” D.Min. Thesis, Lancaster Theological Seminary, 2004.
Prayer is the bread and butter or “tortilla and café” of women in Guatemala. Their spoken prayers reflect heritage and life realities that are consistent with historic Anabaptist understandings of prayer as they live lives analogous to that social and spiritual context. Anabaptist understandings of the Gospel have been incorporated into Q’eqchi’ (indigenous) and Ladina (women of mixed racial background – indigenous and Spanish) culture and the spiritual depth and heritage of these populations have enriched the Anabaptist practice of prayer. Janet Marie Breneman lived and worked in Mennonite churches in Guatemala for 25 years. This thesis considers (through oral interview) the prayer life of 40 women who are members of the Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala (Guatemalan Evangelical Mennonite Church, also IEMG). Breneman finds ties between the prayer characteristic of the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century – particularly the South German stream that was influenced by German medieval mysticism – and those of modern Guatemalan Mennonite women. She describes eight characteristics typical of Anabaptist prayer: prayer (1) is simple, plain, and without pretense; (2) comes from the heart and is sincere; (3) requires faithful action – discipleship; (4) includes yieldedness and submission to God’s will; (5) happens in community for the community; (6) is the responsibility of everyone; (7) is essentially grateful and praise giving; (8) comes in a variety of forms or expressions. It is not clear whether Anabaptism is the root of these prayer practices or if they are simply similarities given the context and traditional religious practices. Whatever the case they encourage the cultivation of Anabaptism in Guatemala. This thesis provides helpful information about the women of the Guatemalan Mennonite church, some theologically trained but most not. The text also provides important historical details and dates within the church’s history.
In response to the continued devastation of October 2005 Tropical Storm Stan, IEMG organized a beading cooperative in Panapaj, Guatemala during the summer of 2007. Women buy beading materials and sell their products. The income of the cooperative helps 15 women support their families. This news release provides a taste of the relief effort intiated by IEMG.

_______ . “Building skills in music, promoting peace.” Mennonite Central Committee: News & Events. http://mcc.org/news/news/article.html?id=247 (accessed December 1, 2008).

The Escuela Menonita de Musica (Mennonite School of Music) is held at Jesús el Buen Pastor (Jesus the Good Shepherd) in a neighborhood where drive-by shootings used to occur almost on a daily basis. Although gang violence has decreased in recent years, promoting peace is still a need for the community. The program is premised on the idea that peace is created when people build relationships, coming together for constructive activity. There are classes for youth and adults and activities for children too young for formal musical instruction. Isabel Garnica, co-coordinator of the program with Beth Peachy, explains why this program is unique: “[t]he vision of the school is not only to teach music [… b]ut the experience of sharing time together is a way to respond to the violence that happens here.” This article provides insight to the philosophy behind IMEG’s practical community involvement.
  • Escobar, Alba and Rafael. “Life and Faith in Casa Horeb.” In Mennonite World Handbook: Mennonites in Global Witness, edited by Diether Gotz Lichdi and Loretta Krieder, 111-3. Carol Steam, Illinois: Mennonite World Conference, 1990.
The Iglesia Mennonita Casa Horeb church has been a leading congregation within IEMG. Its leaders have helped to establish present Guatemalan Anabaptism. Here, pastors Alba and Rafael Escobar tell the congregation’s story. They also write about the congregation’s engagement in the community. This piece provides a rich description of the Mennonite church in Guatemala.
  • Escobar, Rafael. "We Need You to Believe in Us." Mission Focus 17, no.1 (1989): 9-10.
Mennonite missional church structures and projects have not asked for consultation in their host countries, and because of it, they have failed. Missionary existence has often created situations where local people have lost their place in society. Rafael Escobar, pastor of Casa Horeb in Guatemala City, stresses the need for local communities to think for themselves, choosing the system they want. This may not be an economic, political, or civil rights system already in place, but rather a "kingdom option." As Mennonites we must take interest in each other, attending to more than economic needs and believing in one another. This article offers a fresh perspective from a brother working within the Guatemalan Mennonite Church.
  • Flores, Gilberto. “Church as an Instrument of Hope.” In Anabaptist Visions for the New Millennium: A Search for Identity, edited by Dale Schrag and James Juhnke, 43-47. Scottdale: Herald Press, 2000.
The church of the new millennium is global. Gilberto Flores, pastor and church leader - first in Guatemala and now in the US - argues that the church should be multicultural, multiethnic, missional, and rooted in the margins. In a chapter, first presented at a symposium at Bethel College, he writes of a church that will “incarnate in the world the presence of Christ, the cross and suffering” that is “redemptively open to the poor.” He speaks further to his own denomination stating this new church needs to be more identified with Anabaptists than with the ethnocentrism of Mennonitism. This article expresses the vision of one Guatemalan church leader who is steeped in both Anabaptist and Liberation Theology. It also serves as a gentle unsettling voice to the comfortable North American Mennonite Church.

_______ . "Toward a Theology of Marginality and of Anabaptism in Central America." Mission Focus 17, no.1 (1989): 1-4.

The poverty and violence stricken society of Central America needs the hope and equality Anabaptism offers as its most fundamental ideas. In this article, Gilberto Flores, highlights the need for an alternative community that testifies through an ethical model that the world can be different than the present harsh reality. This Anabaptist concept of church as a concrete strategy of peacemaking and social change includes: a critique of the powers of the world through life/action/word; an understanding that suffering and those who suffer are of value; a search for authenticity (no strategy is credible if the group itself does not implement it); a voluntary and visible community operating free of coercion and domineering leadership; and a true ecumenical vision opening the church and gospel to every culture. The historical convergence of modern Central American and 16th century European realities has led to the rediscovery of Anabaptism in Central America. Flores challenges the Central American Church to active Anabaptist witness. This article is helpful in identifying issues that plague the church both locally and globally, speaking to a particular context with ideas that might be applied universally. Flores calls for more than negative pacifism, or passive-ism, stating a community is peaceful only when it seeks to create shalom both inside and outside its borders.
  • Harms, Patricia Faith. "Guatemalan Anabaptism: Towards an Authentic Protestantism in Guatemala." M.Div. thesis, Princeton University, 1993.
Guatemala's turbulent history is interwoven with support and complicity from religious entities which have only fueled the conflict. Both Protestants and Catholics have tended to ignore internal struggles of the poor and disenfranchised. This master's thesis focuses on Mennonite Central Committee's (MCC) involvement in Guatemala with both the Spanish Mennonite and K'ekchi Mennonite Churches since the arrival of mission workers in the 1960s. Harms proposes that the relationship between the developmental aid organization and the churches has fostered the growth of an authentic Anabaptism that incorporates 16th century Anabaptist beliefs (servanthood, discipleship, and witness to nonviolence) into the Guatemalan context, and further that lived faith serves as prophetic witness to Protestantism. She offers her analysis alongside a helpful description of Guatemala's violent context and socio-economic realities, as well as the history that led the present situation. This thesis is helpful in providing specific details of the church's (local and global) historical involvement in Guatemala. It also speaks of conflict within the church between the Spanish and K'ekchi Mennonite branches as well as conflict between the congregations and MCC.
  • Higueros, Mario. “Tools for Building the Kingdom.” In Mennonite World Handbook: Mennonites in Global Witness. Edited by Diether Gotz Lichdi and Loretta Kreider, 67-9. Carol Stream, Illinois: Mennonite World Conference, 1990.
The Latin American Anabaptist Seminary (SEMILLA) prepares members of the Mennonite church for Anabaptist engagement through biblical and theological study. In "Tools for Building the Kingdom," former academic dean Mario Higueros writes about his work with the seminary. Having arrived to the Mennonite Church from an evangelical Protestant background, he understand the task of witness both within and outside of the church. This piece is helpful in providing the philosophy of the seminary: remain open to new methods and new resources, and be ready to re—assess what was one “very clear” doctrine.
  • Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala. “Confesion de Fe.” March 1985.
The IEMG offers a confession of faith with articles on: God, creation, divine revelation, sin, salvation, Christian life, the church, baptism by immersion, the Lord’s Supper, marriage and the home, equality of men and women, love and nonviolence, Christianity and the state, final judgment, and the reign of God. This document is quite similar to Mennonite Confessions of faith from the North American context. It is helpful in comparing theological “basics” with other churches in the Global Mennonite Church.
  • Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala. “Constitucion.” February 1985.
The IEMG records the basics of their institution, including: offices and the roles they carry, statement of belief/doctrine, and church structure. It is helpful for understanding the organization of the church as well as the church’s areas of focus.
  • Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala. “Manual Ministerial Menonita.”
This document gives instruction to church leaders for the conduct of church or religious services. It covers these topics: (1) biblical ordinances – baptism, Lord’s Supper, footwashing, marriage, ministry to the sick, and ministry of liberation; (2) other pastoral services – transferring membership, presentation of children, funerals, visiting the weak and depressed; (3) ministries of the church – election of officials and congregations, ministry licensing, ordination, and discipline and excommunication; and (4) traditions for special days such as the inauguration of buildings, anniversaries, Christmas or holy week. This document was helpful in showing the relationship of the church to the cultural context it finds itself in. More than the Constitution or Confession of faith, it shows a real blending of Anabaptist and Guatemalan traditions. It is interesting to note the presence of excommunication as well as holy week within this document.
  • Mennonite World Handbook: 1984 Supplement. Strasburg: Mennonite World Conference, 1984.
  • Mennonite World Handbook: A Survey of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Churches. Lombard, Illinois: Mennonite World Conference, 1978.
  • Mennonite World Handbook: Mennonites in Global Witness. Edited by Diether Gotz Lichdi and Loretta Kreider. Carol Stream, Illinois: Mennonite World Conference, 1990.
The global Mennonite church is growing and the Global Mennonite World Handbook provides consistent information on the conferences and congregations that form the church. The statistics, stories, and articles collected within provide a sense of the church’s activity and growth throughout the world. Of particular note for the Guatemalan context are two articles in the 1990 edition: “Life and faith in Casa Horeb” written by Alba and Rafael Escobar and “Tools for Building the Kingdom” written by Mario Higueros.
  • “MWC delegation considers Christian Zionism.” The Mennonite 7, no. 10 (18 May 2004):7.
Mario Higueros, a IEMG pastor and theologian, participated in the fifth international conference held by Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem entitled “Challenging Christian Zionism: Theology, Politics and the Palestine-Israel Conflict.” He was part of a Mennonite World Conference delegation also including members from Zimbabwe, and Belize. Higueros attended the conference due to his concern for the increasing Zionist emphasis in the local churches, especially within his own denomination. This news release exhibits IEMG’s engagement with global issues of peace.
This encyclopedia article provides a description of the gathering of Central American church leaders that have greatly impacted Anabaptist formation in their context. This article shows the relationship between different churches in Central America as well as the importance of biblical and theological “brainstorming” – something that is held in high regard within the IEMG.
Following Hurricane Stan, both EMM and MCC gave $2,500 to Iglesia Evangelica Menonita de Guatemala (IEMG) to fund the church’s compassionate response to its country’s needs. The church organized an emergency committee to oversee the training of volunteers and planned responses in Santiago Atitlan, an area hard hit by mudslides. Trained volunteers from a variety of churches tended to the needs of more than 1,000 people. Over a three-month period volunteers delivered food to 500 households and provided crisis counseling for 200, while medical teams treated 500 and 70 households were assisted with cleanup. IEMG members also provided worship services and pastoral care. Concepcion Villeda, president of IEMG, gave this response to North American Mennonites when speaking about the interaction: “We wanted to respond to the national disaster[…a]nd we were very excited to receive your gifts, which enabled us to do so much more than we could have done. Together we are called to God to bring peace to the suffering.”
This encyclopedia article provides a fact-based history of the IEMG. It provides a structure for the stories of leaders and members within the church that are scattered throughout other sources.
This encyclopedia article describes the history of Guatemala and its varying Mennonite Conferences. A violently turbulent history has intensified socioeconomic disparities. This article aptly describes the context within which IEMG operates.

External Links

  • Guatemala on Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Caribbean, Central and South America." Mennonite World Conference. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/Directory/2006carcsam.pdf.
  2. Amzie Yoder, "Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala," Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/I44169.html.
  3. Breneman, "Guatemalan Mennonite Women at Prayer: Religious Heritages and Social Circumstances Shape the Prayers of Ladina and Q'eqchi' Women," (D.Min. Thesis, Lancaster Theological Seminary, 2004), 101, 106.
  4. Amzie Yoder and Richard D. Thiessen, "Guatemala," GAMEO, http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/G82.html/?searchterm=guatemala.
  5. Yoder, 3.
  6. David Shelley, "Historical Timeline," in Mennonite World Handbook: Mennonites in Global Witness, ed. Diether Gotz Lichdi and Loretta Kreider (Carol Stream, Ill.: Mennonite World Conference, 1990), 144.
  7. James Adrian Prieto-Valladares, "Consulta Anabautista Menonita de Centro América," GAMEO, 1986, http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C669.html/.
  8. Patricia Faith Harms, "Guatemalan Anabaptism: Towards an Authentic Protestantism in Guatemala." (M.Div. thesis, Princeton University, 1993), 33-47.
  9. Ibid., 62.
  10. Preito-Valladared, "Consulta Anabautista Menonita de Centro América."
  11. Yoder, "Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala."
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Harms, "Guatemalan Anabaptism," 64-6.
  15. Ibid., 84.
  16. David Shelley, “Historical timeline,” in Mennonite World Handbook: Mennonites in Global Witness, ed. Diether Gotz Lichdi and Loretta Kreider. (Carol Stream, Illinois: Mennonite World Conference, 1990), 144.
  17. Breneman, “Guatemalan Mennonite Women,” 32.
  18. Ibid., 31
  19. Yoder, "Iglesia Evangélica Menonita de Guatemala."
  20. Julie DeLuca, “Beads for the future,” Mennonite Central Committee: News & Events, http://mcc.org/news/news/article.html?id=262.


Amy Showalter compiled much of the information presented here in a student research paper written for an Anabaptist History Class at Goshen College (Fall 2008).