Paraguay Mennonite high school students training to be "peace servants"

By Ferne Burkhardt
March 17, 2009

Eighty-one high school students from Mennonite schools in Paraguay are training to be 'peace servants' at Paraguay 2009, the Mennonite World Conference assembly in July.

This is the first time students from so many Mennonite high schools have gathered together in Paraguay.

The 27 boys and 54 girls come from eight German-speaking high schools, three Latino high schools and one indigenous high school, spread across Asunción, the Chaco and eastern Paraguay.

There are around 1.6 million Mennonite and Mennonite-associated Christians throughout the world. They are heirs to a radical Reformation tradition which emphasises peacemaking and social witness, voluntary believers' baptism, the following of Jesus in everyday life, and a form of church life and practice distinct from the state.

These students are a microcosm of the diversity found among Paraguayan Mennonites, but all claim practical Christian service as part of their background.

Students, aged 16 to 19, from these 12 schools participated in a training camp from 26 to 28 February 2009. Peace servants will volunteer at Paraguay 2009 with committees for information and guest services, food services, youth and children's activities, service opportunities, the Global Church Village, ushering, local tours and security.

“These volunteers won't have much time to participate in Assembly 15 itself, but beginning July 11, they will definitely be there, helping make it possible,” said Robert Penner, MWC Asunción staff member who is organizing the peace servants.

“They are excited and proud to participate in such a big event.” He considers his involvement with the peace servants “a great privilege and blessing.”

The students already identify with a diverse Mennonite community but they hope to get to know many people their own age from different countries, said Penner. They anticipate learning new ways of worshipping as they join with other cultures from around the world. Only a few of them will be old enough to attend the Global Youth Summit.

Penner expects that the students' faith will be strengthened through their assembly experiences which he hopes will include participation in some worship services as well as cross-cultural dialogues. And he hopes that international friendships will be created.

“They've [already] recognized benefits and riches when they put racism aside and...I hope they can understand better the social, cultural and political environment of Mennonites around the world,” said Penner.

“We're thankful that the MWC A15 is coming to Paraguay. It’s already united us in a direct way with our brothers and sisters in faith from other cultures in Paraguay. It sparks our interest and concern for the well-being of our neighbour,” he said.

Penner hopes having these young people work together will lead to more national gatherings among the three Mennonite cultures within Paraguay. He muses about the formation of a national committee of Mennonite high schools in Paraguay and the posibility of an exchange programme between them.

There are 16 Mennonite high schools in Paraguay, 14 of which are part of MWC member conferences.

Mennonite World Conference is a communion (Koinonia) of Anabaptist-related churches linked to one another in a worldwide community of faith for fellowship, worship, service, and witness.

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