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Apr 29, 2014

Religious persecution in Mennonite community sparks violence

The community of Shipyard in the Orange Walk district is home to thirty-five hundred Mennonites. They’re generally considered a peaceful, hardworking, quiet people. Their homes, farmlands and industrial sites are well-kept models of efficiency. But where Shipyard is concerned, there are growing reports of a dark underbelly of religious persecution, fear and violence. The small community is close-knit, and these sinister threads are for the most part covered-up and hidden away. Our News Five team was in Shipyard on Monday and has put together the first look at another, seamier side to Mennonite life in Belize. Mike Rudon has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The small Mennonite community of Shipyard in the Orange Walk district appears to be a haven of peace and stability, like Mennonite communities elsewhere. But while difficult to comprehend, it is very likely that this idyllic setting is only a facade, hiding a dark underbelly of religious persecution and violence. There is growing division here, because the elders preach and promote a religion called Old Colony…a very strict set of rules which allow no deviation.

 

Henry Redekopp

Henry Redekopp, Evangelical Pastor

“They’re very strongly against music, they teach strongly against all electronics, they teach very strongly against modern conveniences…while they use vehicles all the time, they themselves are not allowed to have them. They’re not allowed to have rubber tires on the tractors and so on. They can have rubber tires on their buggies, but not on anything with a drive train…it’s just too convenient to get out and you can get mixed up in too many things from their perspective.”

 

Henry Redekopp came to Shipyard four and a half years ago. He operates a small evangelical church with sixty members. Most of them have been excommunicated by the elders for breaking the rules of Old Colony. He’s been asked by the elders to encourage his congregation to pack up and leave, but for him that’s not an option.

 

Henry Redekopp

“I think that the bible teaches very clearly that we have to live at peace with all men. My responsibility is to be a minister of reconciliation and to be reconciled with people means to do whatever we can to build bridges and to operate an attitude of peace and harmony. And if we don’t agree with each other, it’s not something we fight about. We talk about it and we come to terms. We can unite even though we don’t agree on the details. And when we see groups that have been ostracized as opposed to dealing with the disagreements, I see that as a big problem.”

 

David Friesen

So how does this excommunication work? Well, exactly like the definition states – banishment, shunning and shaming.

 

Pete Penner, Raised in Shipyard

“What really happens is that when you get labelled as a black sheep you’re excommunicated – you can’t buy or sell in the community. You’ll be shunned until you come and repent and ask the elders’ forgiveness.”

 

David Friesen, Excommunicated

“My problem why I was excommunicated was just because my sons started to study the bible, you know, and that’s against the community. So you could read the bible, but don’t try to study it or share it with your neighbours.”

 

Reporter

“And because they did that your whole family was excommunicated?”

 

David Friesen

(Nodding)

 

Pete Penner

Pete Penner

“It could be anything. It could be partying, it could be driving a vehicle…basically being disobedient to their community, to their rules.”

 

Henry Redekopp

“Someone has once described this system as a Cuban democracy, where it’s supposed to look like people have a voice but ultimately it’s a very top-down structure. I don’t know how many people rule it, but I would say less than two dozen people actually control this community.”

 

It may be difficult for many people to understand that level of control, but within the Mennonite community it’s a simple matter of indoctrination, fear and survival.

 

Pete Penner

“You’ve been brought up since a child…you look at this baby and they’re taught every day that outsiders are all going to hell…those are worldly people. We are the only righteous people. And if you leave, you’re basically being condemned…you’re going to hell for eternity. And those roots are deeper than anyone can imagine who comes in from the outside.”

 

Henry Redekopp

“Fear is the big tactic. For example, if you’ve lived in this community all your life and you’re thirty years old, you’ve got five or six kids, then this is all you know. You don’t have a different life, you don’t have a different vocation, you don’t know a different language…this is who you are. Now if you start revolting against what their rules are, and that means that you’re going to be excommunicated for going against their rules, that means that you lose your job, what vocation you know…that means you lose your ability to do business in the community, how are you going to take care of your family? If your livelihood is lost and you gain it back by submitting to their control even if it’s under fear, you would rather live in that fear than lose your ability to care for your family.”

 

Many Mennonites have left the community of shipyard rather than face excommunication. Others who are excommunicated but stay are forced to live as outsiders, unable to speak to friends or family who remain within the fold of the religion known as Old Colony.

 

Pete Penner

“What really happens is that when you’re excommunicated, their religion says that you’re not supposed to take any part in their lives. Those are lost sheep, and you’re not supposed to sell with them, do any kind of business or associate with them in any way, shape or form. But see now, they’ve basically been set free…now they are free to do whatever they want. They can listen to music, they can drive vehicles, whatever they want to do. But if they do, then it still pisses them off and they will come and retaliate against them.”

 

But there is another serious problem in Shipyard…the realities of religious persecution have brought with them escalating violence.  Mike Rudon for News Five.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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9 Responses for “Religious persecution in Mennonite community sparks violence”

  1. Kaila Moralez says:

    Interesting, that translate to meaning that Elvin PENNER is Excommunicated because he owns a Hummer.

  2. bzean says:

    Sodom and Gomora

  3. Belizean Pride says:

    it’s no surprise that these things are happening in the community, it has been a long time but it has been kept secret. Same has been showed on the show Amish gone Wild where the same things happen only thing is that IF the elders are bribing the police to keep it mum/ secret it’s really bad. I grew close to this community and saw many time youths being lashed like animals for this little offenses while the parents watch with out being able to say a word to the elders. Finally the dirty little secrets are starting to get out.

  4. just a beginning says:

    These are just the beginnings of a much larger story that should become the subject of a documentary sometime. These issues run deep and have a very long history. The freedom to rule themselves (no separation of church and state) has many endemic problems which the general public has no knowledge of. Great care is taken by community leaders to quell any public knowledge by buying off any police and avoiding any embarrassment. Unfortunately for the person arrested, he is not subject to this protection since he is an outcast and therefore must carry the shame attached to his actions. This is part of their game plan and looks like it has succeeded.

  5. KARLA says:

    WHY DOES RELIGION HAVE TO MEDDLE AND FEEL SELF RIGHTOUS AND INFRINGING ON PEOPLE BELIEVES AND CULTURE THAT CONTRADICTS THEIR.. THE RESPECT OF EACH OTHERS RIGHT TO BELIEVE, CULTURE AND PRACTICE EVEN WHEN DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS IS PEACEEEE.. RELIGION HAS HURT SO MANY PEOPLE IN THEIR EXTTREME RIGHT IMPOSITION… LEAVE THE MENONITES ALONE AND GO BACK TO IDAHO AND MISISSIPI YOU RED NECK RELIGIOUS ZEALOTS…

  6. Simon says:

    That’s called mental slavery in the modern world. We are born with inalienable rights that differentiate us from animals. There must be a more serious problem that is being hidden in that community that will ultimately come to light.

  7. Concerned Bzean says:

    Reminds me of the Amish Mafia show on Discovery Channel.

  8. Amigo says:

    I agree things are happening in SOME Mennonite communities, but I feel lead to comment, because I am a Mennonite, serving in central america caring for orphans. Not all communities are the same. Our group looks at the Bible together as our road map. And we are blessed, freely serving Him (God)!

  9. Rev. Helena says:

    God loves all, the leaders of this community need to hear the truth about Mennonotes. Fear and control is not true Mennonite theology. This group has gone and done their own thing. What the leaders of this group are doing is not what the gospel of Jesus Christ says.

    The bible is clear that people perish for lack of knowledge. So we are urged to study the scriptures and learn about God.

    Perhaps someone could offer the elders some seminary training in a Mennonite seminary, so that they may know the truth. In the mean time pray for all in this community.

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