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The first seeds of Anabaptist activity in Spain were planted by Mennonite missionaries who began to do relief work in Spain in the 1930's, in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. These workers included Levi Hartzler, D. Parke Lantz, Lester Hershey, and Clarence Fretz. Some of their relief work efforts included distributing food to refugees and working with orphaned children or mothers with young children. According to Mennonite missionary John Driver, the Spanish people they worked with appreciated that the Mennonites offered help “without trying to start a religious empire.”
In the 1950's and 60's, David and Wilma Shank worked as Mennonite Board of Missions missionaries in Brussels, Belgium. There they ministered to a group of Spanish expatriates living in Brussels. In 1974 John and Bonny Driver were sent by the Mennonite Board of Missions to work with the developing group of Spanish Mennonites in Brussels, who then moved back to Spain in order to establish Christian renewal groups. John describes these early groups in Spain as “radical Christian communities.” They focused on a “radical vision of alternative church history” embodied by the Anabaptist theological perspective, including a believers' church ecclesiology and ethic of peace. Some of John's mission work included teaching at various Bible institutes affiliated with the Evangelical Alliance in Spain, writing theological works, and encouraging the Spanish conscientious objector movement, which no other denominational group at that time had dared to do. Bonny's activities included volunteering at the Evangelical Hospital in Barcelona, attending a local church women's group, and homemaking and hospitality to members of the growing Christian community.
By 1977 Mennonites in Spain had formed a “community of witness and service in Barcelona.” The community began several outreach programs, including a drug rehabilitation center, a prison ministry, and a hospice for victims of AIDS. Soon after, in 1978, José Gallardo moved from Brussels to Burgos and became a leader of the radical Christian community developing there, beginning a drug rehabilitation center. Another drug rehab center was founded by the Christian community of Burgos in Brieva, a restored mining village in the mountains, in 1980. In 1985 even more church outreach organizations were created; the Christian community in Barcelona founded a nursing home, Hogar de Paz, and former drug addicts and prison inmates who had become Mennonites began a prison ministry. According to Driver, “in this emerging network of radical groups across northern Spain, worship and work were combined in a way that made them true communities in mission.”
Increasingly throughout the 1980's Spaniards began to take on more leadership in their Christian communities. In addition to José Gallardo, José Luis and Gabriela Suarez also moved from Brussels to take on leadership roles in the Barcelona community. Dennis and Connie Byler began serving in Spain with MBM in 1981, teaching theology, preaching, leading worship, and pastoring in the Burgos church. The 1980's saw expansion and more concrete links between different congregations. In 1985 the Burgos Christians began another church fellowship in Gamonal, an area of high crime and unemployment in Burgos. In 1989 three Christian congregations in Burgos joined together to form the United Christian Fellowships of Burgos. During the 1990's Dennis Byler began to phase out of direct pastoral leadership as the Spanish leadership team began to take more responsibility. However, the Bylers are still active in the network of Mennonite churches in Spain. In 2006 Brian and Noelia Fox began to work with the Burgos Mennonite Church through Mennonite Mission Network, working especially with youth.
Timeline of Key Events
1937-39: In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Mennonite relief workers Levi Hartzler, D. Parke Lantz, Lester Hershey, and Clarence Fretz begin work in Spain.
1950's-60's: David and Wilma Shank are Mennonite Board of Missions workers in Brussels, Belgium, ministering to Spanish immigrants.
1975: John and Bonny Driver begin working with Spanish Mennonites in Belgium, move back to Spain with them, and begin “working with Christian renewal groups in Spain, in ministries of teaching and writing.”
1978: José Gallardo moves to Burgos and becomes a leader of the radical Christian community there. Begins drug rehabilitation center in Quintanadueñas.
1978-79: John Paul Lederach, previously a Mennonite Central Committee volunteer in Belgium, comes to Spain to work with conscientious objectors and to participate in the Christian community in Barcelona.
1979: José Luis and Gabriela Suarez move from Brussels to Barcelona to serve with the Christian community.
1979: Comunidad Cristiana is formed in Barcelona by Mennonite Board of Missions families (Drivers, Suarezes, Rutschmans, Lederachs). “They see living in community as a form of evangelism.”
1980: Christian Community of Burgos founds a drug rehabilitation center in Brieva, an old mining village in the mountains.
1981: Dennis and Connie Byler begin serving in Spain with Mennonite Board of Missions.
1984: Comunidad Cristiana in Barcelona founds a nursing home, Hogar de Paz. Former drug addicts and prison inmates begin a prison ministry.
1985: Christian Community of Burgos begin another church fellowship in Gamonal.
1989: Three fellowships in Burgos unite and form United Christian Fellowships of Burgos.
1990: Evangelical witness march takes place in Burgos.
2000: Paco and Annette Zingbe are sponsored by Burgos Mennonite Church to open La Casa Grande, a home for children in Benin.
2006: Brian and Noelia Fox begin serving with Mennonite Mission Network at Comunidades Anabautistas de Burgos.
2009: Burgos Mennonite Church merges with the Christian Evangelical Church of Burgos.
December, 2014: Biennial meeting of Mennonites in Spain takes place in Burgos.
Important Individuals in the Life of the Church
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Driver, John. “My Pilgrimage in Mission.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 32, no. 4 (2008): 201-204.
In this article, missionary John Driver describes his and his wife Bonny's many experiences with mission work in Latin America and their nine-year period in Spain. John gives some background information about the development of Anabaptist fellowships in Spain from Spanish expatriates living in Belgium who had then returned. He describes the subsequent formation of “radical Christian communities” in Burgos and Barcelona, their theological development and outreach activities, and the growing Anabaptist identity of the groups.
Interview with John and Bonny Driver. November 22, 2014.
During a morning visit to John and Bonny's home in Greencroft, I learned directly from them more about their time in Spain and the Anabaptist groups that formed there. In our interview, we talked about the beginnings of Mennonite mission work in the 1930's, John and Bonny's mision work beginning in the 1970's, and a great deal about the theological identity of the Christians living and worshiping in Barcelona and Burgos.
Email Interview with Antonio Montes. November 6, 2014.
I corresponded with Antonio Montes, pastor of Iglesia Amor Viviente in Barcelona, a member congregation of AMyHCE. I asked a series of questions about the beginnings of the church, what their foundational beliefs are, whether they consider themselves to be Anabaptist and why, how they connect with the broader Anabaptist community, and what challenges they see in their future. He sent back detailed replies to each question, which provided very helpful information for this specific congregation.
Website: “Cristianismo Menonita: Anabautistas, Menonitas, y Hermanos en Cristo – España”. <menonitas.org>
This is the website of AMyHCE. For those proficient in Spanish, it contains extremely helpful information on the network Anabaptist churches in Spain. The page “who are the Mennonites?” describes the 16th-century origins of Anabaptism and the current Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective and shared convictions of Mennonite World Conference. The page “churches in Spain” lists each congregation with contact information for its leaders. There is a link to the AMyHCE publication “The Messenger”. Other links include Biblical passages on which the Anabaptist faith tradition is based and articles that expound on Anabaptist faith. The website also provides news about upcoming AMyHCE events.
Geiser, Linea. “Celebrating Jesus in Spain!” Leader's Resource Book. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1991.
This is a Sunday School curriculum presented by the Mennonite Board of Missions aimed at educating North American children about the Anabaptists in Spain and Mennonite missionaries who work with them. The resource book includes children's stories about the missionary families and Spanish individuals in the churches, ideas for Sunday School activities based on Spain, sheet music of Spanish songs, and a very helpful timeline documenting Mennonite Mission Board history in Spain from the 1930's through 1990.
“Spain: Serving alongside the church in Burgos.” Mission Banks: A stewardship and mission resource. Elkhart: Mennonite Mission Network, 2009.
This is also an educational resource put out by Mennonite Mission Network for Mennonite churches in the United States to use for children's time in worship, Sunday School, or at home with family. The packet includes a map, overview information on what MMN workers Dennis and Connie Byler and Brian and Noelia Fox are doing at the Burgos Mennonite Church, and story cards telling about individuals in the Burgos Mennonite Church. This resource gives helpful information about the everyday reality of Mennonites in Spain, as well as mission activities they are carrying out to spread the gospel.
“Spain: Sharing Jesus' love!” Mission Banks: A stewardship and mission resource. Elkhart: Mennonite Mission Network, 2014.
This is another Mennonite Mission Network mission bank tool published just three months ago. This resource includes more background information about Spanish history and culture, the beginnings of Mennonites in Spain, and the Mennonite Mission workers working there currently. More recipes, ideas for activities, and story cards are included for children's Sunday School classes. Also included are instructions for how to use the mission bank to raise funds to help support the Mennonite church in Burgos.
“El Mensajero.” Online newsletter. <menonitas.org/el_mensajero>
This publication offers a great deal of insight into the theological ideas being processed in the AMyHCE, and key thinkers and writers currently in the Spanish Anabaptist community. Some articles include “Resisting without violence” by Dennis Byler, “Peace in the storm” by Juan Ferreira, and “Jesus, the best of men?” by Julian Mellado (my translations of the titles). This newsletter also gives updates on news from the different congregations. Dennis Byler, long-term Mennonite Mission Network worker in Spain, is the director of “El Mensajero” and also a frequent contributor.
Hess, Melanie. “Congregations merge in Spain.” Mennonite World Review, January 11, 2010. Accessed December 5, 2014. http://www.mennoworld.org/archived/2010/1/11/congregations-celebrate-merger-spain/
This article describes a recent event in the history of the AMyHCE. In the fall of 2009 the Burgos Mennonite Church merged with the Christian Evangelical Church. The article describes some of the challenges of the merger, including church leadership, a new church building, and even a new name. On October 25 the two churches had a celebration – much like a wedding ceremony – to commit to their new union. A photo is included of the joint youth group preparing to serve at the celebration.
Mennonite Mission Board and Mennonite Mission Network Working Reports from 1977, 1979, 1985, 1990, and 2009.
These documents give accounts by the missionaries in Spain of the year's activities with local congregations, larger mission and outreach efforts, and the state of the churches that particular year. This is a useful resource for tracking the growth and development of the AMyHCE over a period of several years from the North American Mennonite perspective.
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