Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church
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In 1970, the Conservative Mennonite Fellowship requested help with mission work in Guatemala because they had more opportunities than they could handle. 
Beginning in 1971, Mennonite Messianic Mission, the service agency of the newly created Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church, agreed to mission work in Guatemala. This was the first foreign mission project for the agency. Forty-eight acres of land were acquired and in early 1972 several families from the United States moved to Guatemala.
Early mission work for the church began in the primitive highlands of Guatemala in an area known as La Victoria. The early missionaries faced much superstition, much of which could be attributed to the present Indian culture which emphasized the role of spirits and sorcery in daily life. Homes were built for missionary families which moved from the United States. In late 1972 the first natives joined the church as five Guatemalans were baptized. By 1977, the first congregational building was completed and named La Iglesia Menonita de La Victoria (La Victoria Mennonite Church).
In the 1970’s, the majority of Guatemalans were either Catholic or held indigenous beliefs. Early converts were attracted to the church due to the clarity and structure offered in Bible teaching programs. The missionaries instructed Guatemalans in the meaning and application of Bible verses and stories. One on one tutoring programs and personalized teaching were effective in the adaptation of Mennonite beliefs.
Civil Unrest in Guatemala (1980's)
Beginning in the late 1970's Guatemala began a period of conflict between between Guatemalan government forces and leftist rebels. This was a dangerous time for members of the church as they found themselves in the middle of the fighting. One family had to hide for cover as their home was caught in a shootout between the two forces. After a conservative Mennonite worker was shot to death and the missionaries received threats, many of the United States mission families decided to return to the United States for safety. These workers returned a short while later after determining that the needs of the church outweighed the dangers.
This time of fighting also challenged the Mennonite stance of separation of church and state. Mennonites refused to assist or participate with either side in the conflict. Guatemalans faced immense pressure to join the Guatemalan national forces or local watch groups known as the Civil Defense Patrol. One church member ended up in jail after he refused to participate in activities with the Guatemalan military. The issue of involvement in the Civil Defense Patrol brought much conversation and controversy to the church. Frank Martin petitioned the Minister of Defense to allow alternative service for church members instead of civil defense. After several more meetings and conversations, government officials determined that members would be allowed to serve in community betterment projects instead of the Civil Defense Patrol.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church of Guatemala has five congregations in western Guatemala and about 200 baptized members. About three-fourths of the members are native Guatemalans while the rest have origins in the United States. These missionary families live and work, primarily in agriculture, alongside Guatemalans. Their presence provides opportunity for leadership, contact, and witness.
For the most part, the Guatemalan branch of the church is held to the same standards as the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite church based in the United States. These standards are dictated by the Statement of Christian Doctrine of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church.
The church doctrine states that members of the church should seek to live a holy life of separation from the world. Followers are called to lives of non-resistance and refusal to participate in politics and government. Members do not vote, hold government office, or participate in the armed forces. Baptism and church membership is restricted to believer’s who are of age to make a commitment to the church. Uniform and modest dress is required; women must wear skirts and head coverings in public. A life of purity and simplicity is called for and television, radio, Internet, alcohol, and tobacco use are forbidden among members. The church ban is actively practiced among the Guatemalan branch of the church. Members who have violated church doctrine are excommunicated with the hope that they will repent and rejoin the church.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite church of Guatemalan is administered the same way as the North American church with a bishop oversight and one or two ordained ministers for each congregation. Three of the ministers are of Guatemalan background while the rest of leadership comes from those with origins in the United States. Spanish and English schools have been established to provide education to the youth. Church activities include street meetings, passing out tracts in the city market, and prayer meetings.
In 2007, the first issue of Sendas Derechas was published and distributed. Sendas Derechas is a bi-monthly Spanish newsletter published by the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church. This family oriented newsletter provides editorials and devotional readings for churches and neighborhoods.
The Guatemalan branch of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church is small and a significant challenge of the group will be in retaining young members and attracting new converts amidst significant social pressures. The church has experienced significant losses in membership, particularly among the second generation of converts. Young people often leave the church for the reasons of marriage, work, and education. The church has responded by providing more one-on-one mentoring to young people and making sure children have a relationship with the church.
Important Individuals in the Life of the Church
Wayne Rudolph – Wayne is one of two bishops for the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church in Guatemala. Although he lives in the United States, Wayne makes frequent trips to Guatemala and is active in guiding the standards and development of the church.
Frank Martin – Frank Martin and family have been active members in the church since its inception. In 1972, the Frank Martin family along with others was the first church members to cross into Guatemala from Mexico. The Martins were instrumental in founding the La Victoria congregation. Martin was instrumental in negotiating alternative service for Guatemalan Mennonites.
Leopoldo Maldonado – One of the first Guatemalans to be baptized into the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church. Maldonado and his descendants have been active members of the church.
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1. Hostetter, Sanford. The Lancaster Conference: A Study of the 1968 Schism. (1970). Thesis paper concerning the events leading to the schism which brought about the beginnings of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church
2. Rudolph, “Our Mission in Guatemala” (Secondary School term paper written about general Guatemalan history and Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite History involvement in the country)
Term paper written by the son of Wayne Rudolph. A large section of the paper focuses on the history of Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church and noteworthy events in church history.
3. Wayne Rudolph, Phone conversation with author, April 12, 2011. Phone interview with Wayne Rudolph. Wayne is a bishop of the Guatemalan branch of the Eastern PA Mennonite Church.
4. Sendas Derechas. July/August 2007. Bimonthly Spanish newsletter and devotional from the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church. Distributed in Guatemala and other Spanish speaking countries where the church is present. The July/August issue was the first publication.
5. Iglesias Menonitas de Guatemala de la Iglesia Menonita de Pennsylvania Oriental y Las Areas Relacionades. (Eastern Mennonite Publications, 2008). Church and member directory of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite church in Guatemala.
6. “Guatemala News” Eastern Mennonite Testimony. January 2010-March 2011, 7. The Eastern Mennonite Testimony is the monthly newsletter of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church. Each newsletter has a section titled “Guatemala News” in which a missionary family in Guatemala briefly reports on the natural events, church events, joys/frustrations, projects, etc.
7. Statement of Christian Doctrine of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church. 2003. Official doctrine of the church. Basic Christian beliefs are outlined as well as guidance for issues like dress, relation to government, education, and other contemporary issues. For the most part the Guatemalan church adheres to the same standards.
Archives and Libraries
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- Donald B. Kraybill, Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 229.
- Rudolph, “Our Mission in Guatemala” (Secondary School Term Paper written about general Guatemalan history and Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite History involvement in the country) , 24
- Wayne Rudolph, Phone conversation with author, April 12, 2011.
- Iglesias Menonitas de Guatemala de la Iglesia Menonita de Pennsylvania Oriental y Las Areas Relacionades. (Eastern Mennonite Publications, 2008)
- Statement of Christian Doctrine of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church. 2003.
- “Guatemala News” Eastern Mennonite Testimony. Jan 2010, 7.
- “Guatemala News” Eastern Mennonite Testimony. Feb 2010, 7.
- Sendas Derechas. July/August 2007.