Kleine Gemeinde zu Spanish Lookout, Belize
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Belize: World Factbook, 2009
Area in acres
Number of members
Kleine Gemeinde Membership
Kleine Gemeinde Presiding Officer
The Kleine Gemeinde came to Belize in 1958. They left the Quellen Colony, Chihauhua, Mexico looking for land. In Belize's Cayo District, located on the north side of the Belize River, they settled 18,500 acres in the jungle that became the Spanish Lookout Colony. The total area of land is 8,866 square miles: 68 miles wide and 174 miles long. Spanish Lookout is located 65 miles from Belize City.
Today (2011), Spanish Lookout is Belize's most modern Mennonite Community. The Mennonites in Spanish Lookout are major producers of dairy, poultry, vegetables and cattle.Create new articles that tell stories about the Anabaptists of Kleine Gemeinde and insert links to those stories here. Click here to learn more about stories. Furniture manufacturing, house construction, and automotive industry are also important parts of the Spanish Lookout economy.
- "Belize," CIA World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/BH.html (accessed 24 June 2009).
- In addition, oil was recently discovered in Spanish Lookout.&amp;lt;ref&amp;gt;Romero. Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "spanish" defined multiple times with different content
- D. F. Dueck and John B. Loewen, "Spanish Lookout Colony, Belize," Global Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/S6803.html/ (accessed 29 July 2009).
- "Churches," Spanish Lookout, http://www.spanishlookout.bz/churches/church.htm (accessed 29 July 2009).
- Carl R. Jantzen, “The Mennonites of Spanish Lookout,” Washington Times, (June 1989): 665.
Similar in background to the Old Colony Mennonites, the Kleine Gemeinde (“small church”) also left Mexico and settled in Belize in 1958. There they founded a colony (a block of hundreds of adjacent acres of land) known as Spanish Lookout. (Of Dutch-Russian background, the Kleine Gemeinde had settled in Canada in the 1870s and then immigrated to Mexico in 1948.) Members speak Low German and wear traditional clothing but use modern technology and have an evangelical religious view that has attracted some Old Colony Mennonite converts. The group has five congregations (about 800 members) in two colonies: Blue Creek (formerly a colony of the Old Colony Mennonites) and Spanish Lookout. This group has related congregations in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
Foundation of Spanish Lookout & the Formation of the Kleine Gemeinde church in Spanish Lookout
Purchase of Land and Settlement in British Honduras
The Mennonites in Belize come from Russian Mennonite groups who initially emigrated from Russia and moved to Canada in early 1900s while fleeing the Russian Revolution. In the late 1940s the Mennonites moved from their homes because there was compulsory secular education in Canada which challenged the beliefs of the Mennonites, leading them to pick up and move to Mexico. Once settled in Mexico, it was made known that the government intended on fully incorporating the Mennonites into their social security system called Seguro Social, which was threatening and led to yet another migration. There were three Mennonite groups—Altkolonier (Old Colony), Kleine Gemeinde (Small Community), and Sommerfelder (Sommerfeld)—and they began immigrating to Belize because they felt that they could remain separated from society. The government in Belize was open to bringing in agricultural colonists so arrangements were made on both ends, and a group of Mennonites visited to examine the area. This group inquired about obtaining special privileges that were specific to the Mennonite faith and that would allow them to live their faith while also establishing farms and businesses in the area. What the group reported was that everything grew fast and it would be easy to make a living. After more delegations were sent, the group purchased land from Miss Olga Burns, after promising her that she could keep the plot of land where her relatives were buried. Because the land, living arrangements, and special privileges that were granted from the government in Belize looked so promising, It was believed that “The Almighty God wanted a Christian church in Belize.” In 1958 The group of Kliene Gemeinde Mennonites traveled from Mexico, crossed the Belize River, and established themselves in the middle of the jungle, soon to be known as Spanish Lookout. The new settlers at Spanish Lookout worked hard at clearing plots of land and preparing for themselves a place to farm and live. By the mid-seventies, several business began to emerge and services were offered to the people of Belize, while also providing natives with work and aid. Today, there are a great deal of businesses, a few Mennonite church buildings, schools, meeting houses and homes throughout Spanish Lookout as well as a tourist site for visitors.
In a written agreement, the government of British Honduras granted the Mennonites several things that helped maintain their tradition:
- The right to run their own churches and schools with their own teachers and language
- An exemption from making the traditional immigration deposits
- Exemption from the military
- Freedom to enter or leave the country with their money and property
- An exemption from social security
Several guidelines that the Mennonites must adhere to:
- The responsibility of paying all the costs of establishment
- Providing and farming food not only for themselves but also for the local markets
- Observe and obey the laws of the country
- Pay all regular taxes, just as a native citizen would
Daily Life of the Kleine Gemeinde Church
Farming and Agriculture
In the early days, clearing large areas for farming with a Caterpillar was expensive, so they adapted to the poor man’s way of farming, which involved cutting the jungle right at the start of the dry season and waiting for the rest of the brush to dry. A pointed stick was used to dig holes to plant corn and during the harvest, the corn was picked by hand. At first, the Mennonites asked the natives how to prepare food that was unfamiliar to them and native to Belize. Adapting to the new climate conditions was a struggle for the farmers as well as learning what type of food to grow and how to control the diseases that struck the crops. This type of frustration led several people to move back to Mexico after the first year, but those who persevered soon became familiar with the land. From the late 1950s until the present day, corn and beans have been the major crops that farmers in Spanish Lookout have grown. Corn is currently the number one item produced in volume but the farmers are also invested in chicken raising, the grain industry, and dairy farming. Technology has been used in several ways including improved cultivation, finding more suitable chemicals for growing, and improving seed varieties.
Some of the businesses that are operated by the Kleine Gemeinde church in Spanish Lookout include:
- Western Dairies (http://www.westerndairies.com/)
- Koop’s Tinsmith
- Mid-West Steel
- C.B. Machine Shop
- Fabric ‘N Fashion
- Sunshine Dental
- Cano’s Auto Repair Shop
- Golden Corral Restaurant
- Friesen Hatcheries
- Hillside Welding Center
- Farmers Choice Gas
- Computer Ranch
- Bel-Car Export & Import
- Good News Bookstore
- Western Rebuilders
- Western Tractor Supply
- Loewen Furniture
- Rallican Restaurant
- Reimer’s Feed Mill
- Universal Hardware
There was a ferry that was built to cross the Belize River, which provided a more efficient way of transporting and traveling back and forth. In 1972 a road was opened to Santa Familia and Bullet Tree Falls with bridges that were paid for by the government. In 1959 the government of Belize sent a well rig to dig the first well, which was finally successful by 1977. In the early 1970s the Belize Telephone Association supplied the community of Spanish Lookout with its first telephone. Today there is a wireless tower in the area. Recently, crude-oil was discovered to be flowing from 3,500 feet beneath Spanish Lookout, which has come to be a blessing to all Belizeans, especially for the agriculture industry.
The school board includes four members that are each elected to serve four year terms. Two of these members are appointed by the church ministry and are held responsible for maintaining a connection between the church and the school, concentrating on the spiritual aspect of education. The other two members are responsible for the curriculum that is taught. In 2002 a method was begun in which the fathers of the village elect the teachers that will serve in the schools. The finance committee is in charge of administering the revenue collection, paying the teachers, providing the school books, and keeping track of the budget. In 1975, after generations of teaching and speaking German to children in schools, English became the primary language. Because English is the first language of natives in Belize, this initiative was crucial in the establishment of relationships with people within the country. It was an opportunity for the younger generation to learn ways to communicate and relate to their native neighbors.
When the Mennonites left Canada and moved to Mexico, they made the transition from a British Commonwealth to a Spanish Republic. In 1981 the country of Belize was given independence from Great Britain and became self-governing. Mennonites are willing to pay the government revenues, even though they pay all of their own funding, community expenses, etc. Choosing to become involved in the government is what often creates division within the church. The Kleine Gemeinde church practices the Anabaptist tradition of separation of church and state, and while involvement in the business world tends to test this value, they pay special attention to maintaining their religious identity in the workplace.
Like many farming communities, there have been a number of recorded accidents and tragedies within the operations and business of Spanish Lookout. Hurricanes have struck the country of Belize, which do damage to the buildings and farmland. Homes located by the river experience the effects of floods, and there have been tragic stories of drowning taking place in the community. Because the Mennonites are heavily involved in business, they are seen as a wealthy people, leading to random acts of violence and kidnappings. Some have chosen to leave Spanish Lookout for a number of reasons including the fear of crime, a more favorable climate, and religious reasons and concerns about there being too large a concentration of Mennonites in such a small country. They often want more space and better soil for farming, so daughter communities are formed, such as the Mennonite community at Blue Creek.
Religious Commitments and Mennonite/Anabaptist Identity
To be a part of Spanish Lookout is like living in a “country within a country” because of the way Mennonite life and beliefs clashes with that of the natives. Maintaining the visions of their forefathers has been a challenge for the Kleine Gemeinde church, especially with rapid changes and growth in the business world. Involvement and interest in politics have divided the church and not everyone has held onto the Mennonite faith that was so present when the community was established. But just because the church was holding onto strong traditions does not mean that these traditions cannot change—the Scripture does not say to hold on to a certain tradition from one century to another. It is important to discover what changes are necessary to make, especially when becoming involved in the business world. It is clear to members of the community that the business world invites the state, but they have stood firm in their belief of creating and recognizing a separation between the church and the state. Many will fall into the trap of becoming too heavily involved in worldly issues, but others will stand their ground. This is often what creates division in the church, but though there are two different groups of believers in Spanish Lookout (with Kleine Gemeinde being the more conservative and traditional of the two and not being involved in politics), the community is so close-knit that they are able to live and work together while being a part of separate churches.
The church maintains their Anabaptist identify through their commitment to pacifism as well as the number of outreach projects that have emerged throughout the years. Much emphasis is put on the idea of given material things to the needy and letting various missions stations become an extension of the church. After Hurricane Hattie in 1961 struck villages and homes throughout the country, several Mennonites organized relief help to the people of Belize who had experienced devastation. When an earthquake hit Guatemala in 1976, the church sent volunteers to help rebuild homes and restore hope to the people living there. The goals of the outreach projects are to help people physically more than spiritually, but they did use opportunities to minister to the spiritual needs when possible. Other missions have included help with the Listowell Boy’s Training School, the establishment of a missionary school, a ministry to the needy deaf, setting up health clinics, prison visits, farming assistance, and Summer Bible schools. The church has also established sister churches such as the Blue Creek community, also located in Belize.
What the Future Holds
In terms of the way the world and the market situations typically go, it is likely that the Mennonites at Spanish Lookout will continue to gravitate more and more towards the business world, establishing and developing new forms of production, farming, and retail. Their goal in all of this is to keep the same “farm-spirited” attitude of their forefathers while also allowing new innovations to take them to new, more prosperous levels. This also includes finding a balance between the workplace and the church, and continuing to provide hospitality and outreach wherever needed. Because there are no real written standards for their faith, the Mennonites at Spanish Lookout choose to live off of “spirit rather than letter,” meaning that they are better off living in the spirit than adhering to many formal regulations. According to Henry Reimer, “There is always a tendency to give in to a more liberal life. There are always some that don’t want to ‘go more liberal,’ and this causes a split. We can expect this to happen more throughout the years.” Part of the mission at Spanish Lookout is to maintain a good relationship with the natives of Belize. This involves providing them with jobs and teaching them methods of farming. While the farmers currently are selling to local markets, they are looking into becoming involved in the world market and would like to go into bigger scale farming.
1874-1880 About 18,000 Mennonites Migrated to the United States and to Canada in order to escape the Russian Revolution. One of these groups of Mennonites in Canada was the Klein Geminde (Small Community).
1948 After living in Canada in order to avoid oppression in Russia, the Mennonites moved to Mexico, despite the unfamiliar climate conditions. In this new country they were faced with freedom to continue their private schools that taught Anabaptist values and beliefs.
1958 Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites living in Mexico were threatened by the social security system their government was enforcing and sought a place to live that would allow them to remain in-tune with their Anabaptist beliefs. After recommendations were made several delegations were sent to investigate the land and the opportunities in Belize, the first group of families left their homes in Mexico and settled there in order to remain separated from the forces of the state. The Mennonites were offered a number of opportunities from the government of Belize and found ways to establish farms and businesses in the new climate.
1958 The government of Belize sent a well rig to dig the first well for the community, but they were not successful because the cable was only 70 feet long. After more unsuccessful attempts, five more wells were dug between 1977 and 1985, which was an important step in developing the community
1961 Hurricane Hattie blew down the church building, which was a major challenge for the entire community. Despite this, Mennonites also organized relief help to aid the native people of Belize who had lost their homes.
1967 Sixteen farmers and businessmen formed Western Dairies. They produced, sold, and delivered dairy products because dairy farming has always been an important part of Mennonite farming history. Most of the equipment came from the United States but was bought used and took some repair in order to be of good use. In 1977 the first addition was built for cold storage rooms, and its production and services have only been improved since then.
Early 1970s The Belize Telephone Association supplied the community with a telephone, allowing for better communication in the establishment of the businesses and outreach projects. Later the colony set up a wireless tower.
1972 A road was opened to Santa Familia and Bullet Tree Falls and bridges were paid for by the government.
1975 After generations of teaching and speaking German to children in schools, English became the primary language. Because English is the first language of natives in Belize, this initiative was crucial in the establishment of relationships with people within the country. It was an opportunity for the younger generation to learn ways to communicate and relate to their native neighbors.
1978 The first people moved from Spanish Lookout to Blue Creek in order to avoid the large concentration of Mennonites in such a small area, and to find better soil for farming.
1981 Belize was given independence from Great Britain and became self-governing. Mennonites are willing to pay the government revenues, even though they pay all their own school funding, community expenses, etc.
1998 Western Dairies has a distributing center in Belize City
2002 Teacher training, school meetings and board meetings were held in Spanish Lookout, expanding the school curriculum
- Dueck, D. F. and Loewen, John B. . "Spanish Lookout Colony, Belize." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contentsS6803.html (accessed 1 November 2008).
- This is an online source that gives a short but comprehensive overview of the Spanish Lookout colony. It briefly describes the colony's history and then gives a few insights into the colony’s government and tax system.
- “From Hardship to Success.” Belize Tourism Board: Belizean Journeys. 2008. www.belizeanjourneys.com/features/spanish_lookout/newsletter.html (accessed 24 September 2008).
- The article on this website “From hardship to success, celebrating the Mennonite’s 50th anniversary in Belize” (2008), describes the fiftieth anniversary festivities. The page also includes an online photo album with a hundred pictures that show the festivities in Spanish Lookout. For the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, despite its history of isolation from the rest of Belize, the community opened its doors for the public and government.
- Jantzen, Carl R. “The Mennonites of Spanish Lookout.” Washington Times (June 1989): 664-673.
- This is a news story about Mennonite Colony in Spanish Lookout. It describes the colony, its history and contemporary life as of 1989. The article is intended to inform the audience, in a simple manner about the group and their mission. The article covers themes like, Kleine Gemeinde migration to Spanish Lookout, adaptation to Belize, family-household, adolescent years, marriage. The article a helpful description of Mennonite life in Spanish Lookout.
- G.S. Koop. (1991). Pioneer Year in Belize. Country Graphics & Printing
- Nicholson, Samuel. "Mennonites in Belize: Mennonite contribution to the Belizean economy, 1957-present." Goshen College Term Paper (2007). Mennonite Historical Library (MHL).
- This is a term paper, written by a Goshen College student. The paper explores the Spanish Lookout Mennonite colony and its contributions to Belize. The writer sites many personal interviews that were conducted in Belize. This author mainly looks at the agricultural and small industry (i.e. furniture) contributions from Spanish Lookout. Nicholson, argues that the people of Spanish Lookout have lived in a symbiotic relationship with Belizeans.
- Penner, Heinrich R., Reimer, John D. and Reimer, Leonard M. Spanish Lookout since 1958; Progress in Action. Spanish Lookout, Cayo, Belize, 2008.
- Spanish Lookout since 1958 is a book compiled by the people of Spanish Lookout. The three men noted in the bibliography are the book organizers, but the book has authors ranging from the first immigrant to persons who came to Spanish Lookout as recently as 2007. This book contains a wide variety of information from personal journals and poems to detailed accounts of colony organization and government. There are also scanned copies of immigration and land acquisition records. The organizers of this book also noted several other important sources on the Spanish Lookout colony. This sources offers a rich first-person insight into the history of Spanish Lookout.
- Sawatzky, H. L. They Sought a Country: Mennonite Colonization in Mexico. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971.
- While this source deals primarily with the Mennonite experience in Mexico it also offers historical reasons for Mennonites leaving Mexico and settling in Belize. It explores the trials and triumphs of the first generations of migrants to Belize (British Honduras). This source provides a useful broad description of the Mennonite experience in Belize.
- "The School Board, Spanish Lookout." Our Country of Belize. Spanish Lookout: The School Board, 1981.
- This is a copy of the first textbook used for the primary schools in Spanish Lookout and offers insight into the educational system in the Mennonite Colony in Spanish Lookout.
- Snider, Howard. "Agriculture in the Kleine Gemeinde Community of Spanish Lookout, Belize." Mennonite Life. (March 1980): 19.
- This article gives a brief description of the agricultural economy of the Spanish Lookout Colony in 1980.
- Spanish Lookout http://www.spanishlookout.bz (accessed 24 September 2008.
- This is the home page and website for the Spanish Lookout community. This website includes information about everything from job listings to the communities local churches. Also included is a section called history that relates personal accounts from the Russian Revolution to the story of George Price, the Belizean leader who helped Mennonites move from Mexico to Belize.
- "Spanish Lookout: A Modern Mennonite Community." MyBelizeAdventure.com. http://www.mybelizeadventure.com/destinations/cayo/spanishlook/ (accessed 29 July 2009).
- This website supplies travel information about Belize. The article about Spanish Lookout, Belize describes, generally, the Mennonite community, including its location in Belize and its economic activity.
Driedger, Leo. "From Mexico to British Honduras." Mennonite Life 1958: 162-66. Print.
This article published in Mennonite Life was written in anticipation of the Mennonites moving from Mexico to their new home in Belize. While also including maps and photos, it gives an overview of the reasons for settlement and conditions of the land in which the Mennonites established their farms and community.
Dueck, D. F. and John B. Loewen. "Spanish Lookout Colony, Belize." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 10 April 2011. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/S6803.html. This Global Mennonite Encyclopedia Online article covers a few of the basic areas of life within Spanish Lookout. Focusing primarily on government involvement, it describes the responsibilities of the Mennonites to the state and what types of privileges they have.
Koop, Gerhard S. Pioneer Year in Belize. Belize City: Country Graphics & Printing, 1991. Print. This book is written by a Mennonite man who moved to Belize and gives an account of Mennonite life in Belize. Spanish Lookout is one of his focuses throughout the book as he addresses the settlement agriculture, and life.
Reimer, Henry. Telephone interview. Henry Reimer is one of the ministers at the Klein Gemeinde church who I spoke with over the phone. He knows a great deal about the history and missions of the group and was able to give me a good idea of what the future holds. He also works in the steel business so he is involved in both the religious and business aspect of the community.
Reimer, John K. "Spanish Lookout Colony in Retrospect." 129-33. Print. This was an article published by a member of the community that includes statistics and facts about establishment and farming in Spanish Lookout. He covers areas such as the construction of roads and bridges, farming techniques, and the installation of telephone lines. This source gives a good idea of some of the advancements made over the years.
Sawatzky, Harry L. They Sought a Country: Mennonite Colonization in Mexico. Berkeley: University of California, 1971. Print. While the book mostly contains information about the Mennonite settlements in Mexico, there is an Appendix dedicated to Mennonite Colonization in British Honduras. There is information about events leading to the migration, the agreement with British Honduras (a list of the things the government was willing to grant to the Mennonites and what they required in return), details on the purchase of land, migration, settlement, the character of the colonies, trends and techniques, education, and how the Mennonites relate to the native population.
Spanish Lookout Since 1958: Progress in Action. Benque Viejo: BBC Printing, 2008. Print. This book was published in honor of the anniversary celebration of the Spanish Lookout group. There were many authors who contributed articles and stories about many aspects of life and events within the colony. Included in the book are early documents of letters written by land owners about proposals and settlements, pages of pictures of daily life, farming, church, and the people, stories of pioneering, goals in terms of missions, organization, health care, education, etc.
Western Dairies. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. <http://www.westerndairies.com/>. This is the actual website for Western Dairies in Spanish Lookout. It gives a history of the establishment of the business, which is currently the most well-known establishment in Spanish Lookout. It has provided native people with jobs and connects the Mennonite community with the rest of the country.
- Donald B. Kraybill, Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 228.