As the criminal investigation continues into allegations of gang rape in some Mennonite colonies in Bolivia, many local congregations see a need to reach out to people dealing with addictions, sexual abuse and violence against women.
A shelter for women opened in April and 7.5 hectares of land are being purchased for a rehabilitation centre that will offer treatment programs for men seeking freedom from alcohol and drug addictions. Both facilities are located near Pailon, 60 kilometres east of Santa Cruz.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Bolivia is working with the Mennonite churches that are developing the rehabilitation centre and is supportive of the efforts to provide a safe environment for women.
“Churches can look at this in two ways: Churches can’t do anything and churches can do a lot,” says Klas Rempel, who represents the Chihuahua Colony on a seven-member planning committee to develop the 20-bed rehab centre. The Chihuahua Colony, located about 140 kilometres northeast of Santa Cruz, is a community of about 160 families who have left the Old Colony Mennonite Church.
Construction of the rehab centre will begin as soon as land transactions are completed.
“When the doors open, people will come,” says Rempel, who is also a founding member of MCC Canada’s Low German Mennonite Advisory Committee. “I’ve been getting lots of phone calls about when we will open,” he adds.
In Bolivia, the Low German Mennonite population has grown to 50,000 people living in 63 colonies and communities. The first colony was formed in 1953 by Mennonites from Paraguay.
Alcohol and substance abuse, family violence, teen pregnancies and sexual abuse are symptoms of low self-esteem, says Rempel, describing low self-esteem as a “spiritual sickness” that is prevalent in many Mennonite colonies and communities in Bolivia. The emphasis on finding self-worth will be part of the addiction treatment program when the rehab centre opens, he notes.
“We could see that people in Bolivia need help and that something should be done about it,” he says. “The person with alcohol addiction has a hard life, and his family also has a very hard life because of the addiction.”
Quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, Rempel says churches are stepping up to the challenge of serving God through “binding up the brokenhearted” and comforting people who are hurting. “That is my motivation for doing this and that is also the goal of our committee,” says Rempel.
The rehab centre in Bolivia will offer the same treatment program used in Luz en mi Camino (Light on my Way), a cooperative venture of Mennonite churches in Chihuahua, Mexico, that is supported by MCC Canada. It will include medical assessments, classroom instruction, Bible studies, a full range of individual and family counselling, and recovery plans in the event of a relapse.