What is it like to grow up in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia?  Through the ministry of Anne & Diedrich Groening, we have been given an inside look into the lives of the very special Mennonite patients who come to the Mission of Hope clinic in Santa Cruz.

            Anne and Diedrich met, dated, and married in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia.  There were no cell phones, no cameras, no TV, no music, no sports, no cars, no cafés or restaurants, and no electricity!  All of these “modern” conveniences and social pastimes were strictly forbidden!  They were not allowed to leave the colony to visit other places, except when they occasionally went into town with their parents to shop, and it is still like that in most of the colonies today!

            Today there are more than 70,000 Mennonites living in about 70 different colonies in Bolivia.  They live in isolated farming communities, where they live off the land and grow their own food.  Horse drawn buggies and wagons are used on the dirt roads in and around the colonies.  It is not unusual for a Mennonite family to have 10 or more children, and the girls are usually uneducated.  All of the women dress the same in long dresses and hats, and all of the men dress the same in overalls and hats.  The language they speak is “low German.”  Good medical care is not available in the colonies as most practitioners are self-taught.

            After they were married, Anne and Diedrich spent a few years living in Canada.  After experiencing the freedom of living in Canada, they returned to Santa Cruz and made the difficult decision to leave the colony.  Anne writes, “Leaving the colony was not an easy thing to do.  That meant leaving all behind, family and friends.  That also meant facing rejection, being shunned, and not allowed to come to any family gatherings.  It has been 18 years since we left the colony and we have never been able to be part of any family gatherings, not even my own parents’ funerals.”  Anne and Diedrich believe that God has used all of this to prepare them for the very special ministry that they now have to the Mennonite people.

            Anne and Diedrich have been invaluable as translators for the Mennonite patients who come to our clinic.  During the weeks of surgery, Anne and Diedrich stay with the Mennonite patients day and night translating for them, and close bonds are formed.  At night, they spend time with them reading the Bible.  Anne writes, “This clinic has been an open door to us to reach out to the Mennonites.  We try to make home visits after their surgeries, and we are so welcomed into their homes, which would never be possible if it weren’t for the relationship that we make at the clinic with each patient.” 

            The women usually come to the clinic totally terrified, not knowing what to expect and not able to communicate in Spanish.  But after spending a short time with Anne, their fears are relieved and they really begin to enjoy their stay.  It is so wonderful to watch the transformation as they experience the love of Christ.  Many of these women leave saying they feel they have had a “vacation!” 

            Mennonite men do not normally show any emotion, but when Anne and Diedrich visit the families in their homes, it is not uncommon for the men to be fighting tears as they express their gratitude for the care their family received.  Many say that their lives will never be the same!

            As we close out the year 2016, we want to thank you, our faithful supporters, for giving so generously throughout the year to support our work.  Together, we are making a difference as our Mennonite patients experience the love of Christ and go back to their colonies forever changed,   sharing their stories with friends and family.  To God be the glory for this very special ministry!

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