Readers write: February 4, 2019 issue

January 30, 2019 | Opinion | Volume 23 Issue 3
Various Contributors |

CM, Miriam Toews criticized for exploiting Bolivian rape case
Re:Moderns ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal,” Oct. 8, Oct. 22, Nov. 5, Nov. 26, 2018, issues.

I feel that Miriam Toews’s book Women Talking exploits the sad situation in the Manitoba Colony in Bolivia and is obviously written by a person who has never been in Bolivia. It is insensitive, misusing “the women” for her literary purposes. It is surely not Bolivia, as there are no haylofts or quilting bees, and the colony women are not all illiterate. Does fiction allow for a distortion of facts and a misrepresentation of people when it locates the story in a definite place, the Manitoba Colony, and identifies names such as Friesen and Loewen?

I question Canadian Mennonite for allowing Toews’s book to motivate four lengthy articles at this time. Will Braun has never been to Bolivia nor was he able to speak personally with the women he tried to contact. In his first article, he mentions several times that there are “few established facts.” I do not doubt the accounts of sexual abuse and incest, and the veracity of this sad story, but I wonder what these articles will achieve now, even as Braun alludes to letting the Bolivian events speak to “our own ghosts.”

Maybe CM could suggest the reading of Martha Hiebert’s book Beyond the Village Circle: Narratives by Mennonite Women from Bolivia, written in 2017.

Perhaps Braun doesn’t know that there have been some positive experiences in the last years. During my last visit to Santa Cruz I participated in a Sunday service in the yard of some Old Colony Mennonites who were being baptized in one of the Bolivian churches belonging to the Convention of Bolivian Mennonite Churches. They had invited some of their Old Colony friends and one of the Spanish Mennonite churches. Maybe, hopefully, change will come from within.

—Helen Dueck, Winnipeg
The author is a retired missionary with the former Commission on Overseas Mission.


Critics of Bolivian Mennonites ‘encased in postmodernist insularity’
Re: Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Pt. 4,” Nov. 26, 2018, page 18.

I appreciate Will Braun’s remarks on the cultural bias of North American Mennonites who are so frequently prone to view traditionalist Mennonites as childishly regressive. We—including myself—are hopelessly encased in postmodernist insularity.

I do not wish to engage in a critique of Miriam Toews’s recent novel, Women Talking. Her prose is wondrously beautiful, but I would argue that western writers, like the rest of us, frequently condescend to cultures that don’t match up to our educated and prosperous standards.

The serial rapes that occurred in Bolivian Mennonite colonies are indicative of deep flaws in their culture. No defence of the subjugation of women in their colonies is possible. However, might we also be examining “the beam in our own eye” and “the mote in the eye of our neighbour” (Matthew 7)?

—Robert Martens, Abbotsford, B.C.


More than prayer for peace is needed
Pregnant with peace” feature, Nov. 26, 2018, page 4.

I’m thankful to Carol Penner for her insights and dedication generally, and for the “Pregnant with peace” article.

I admit, though, that encouragement to pray for a cause—peace, in this case—may foster the delusion that in praying for God’s intervention, we feel we have done something, possibly all we’re capable of. “I’m praying for you/it/them” can ring as hollow as a politician’s words, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” expressed after a tragedy.

I’m grateful, however, that Penner has written, “The goal is for God’s Spirit to transform us as we pray.” I fear the vision of church congregants praying ardently for peace, but with that ardour failing to accompany them through the church door as they leave. “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works,” Pope Francis has said.

“Peace” discussions, even prayers for peace, are obviously a part of being a “peace church.” Assuming we mean a reduction or elimination of conflict in the world when we say “peace,” and assuming that Pope Francis is expressing a truth, we Mennonites need to teach each other what active peacemaking could look like. We need to devise ways for our regional churches, our congregations and each individual to be part of active, concrete advocacy for peace.

Maybe Penner could broach such a prayer “follow-up” in another feature. I’d welcome that. 

—George Epp, Rosthern, Sask.


Put your money where your prayers are
Re:Pregnant with Peace,” Nov. 26, 2018, page 4.

Carol Penner’s metaphor for a church waiting expectantly to see the fruits of God’s action in Jesus is apt. Truly we have been waiting long to see peace and goodwill reign on earth among humankind. We can be tempted to think it will never come to pass, that things here are going from bad to worse and headlong towards catastrophe. Prayers in the congregation are a vital part of keeping hope alive.

But how effective is it to keep praying for peace when we keep paying for war? Our democratically elected government spends huge amounts on instruments of war and on training people to operate our warships, submarines, fighter planes and drones with money they get from taxpayers, namely us, who sit in the pews praying for peace.

Besides praying, let’s take some well-directed action to help bring to birth the peace we are pregnant with. Some of us who are self-employed or otherwise have to send a cheque to the Canada Revenue Agency at tax time can withhold 9 percent (equal to the Department of Defence budget). Many others of us who are not owing income tax, or whose taxes are taken off their pay cheques, can still make a clear statement that we are labouring to bring life to the earth, not to deliver death and destruction.

How to do this can be seen and done using the Peace Tax Return at Conscience Canada has been helping Canadians “speak their peace” for 35 years. Many more need to join in for Ottawa to hear our cries.

—Mary Groh, Kitchener, Ont.

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