Mexico’s Mennonites ‘flee’ electricity, seek new home

Herika Martinez Prado –

The desert of northern Mexico seemed so perfect when the Mennonites moved here 26 years ago: a place free from electricity, television or cars.
But then the government installed the first power lines.
And now, this deeply traditional, tight-knit community is divided between those who want to stay in Sabinal, their far-flung village, and those who soon will load their wagons, hitch up their horses and move to a new, even more remote home.
“When the power lines arrived, they decided to go,” says Sabinal resident Enrique Friesen, 37, who for his part plans to stay, with his wife and eight children.
“They don’t want electricity — just horses. They say electricity is a sin.”
The Mennonites of Mexico are the descendants of strictly conservative Protestants whose denominations emerged out of the 16th century Reformation in Europe.
Their ancestors fled persecution in Germany and the Netherlands for Russia, then Canada and finally Mexico.
Today, the people of Sabinal live in the Chihuahuan desert almost like an isolated indigenous tribe.
Men traditionally wear handmade overalls, while the women opt for long, flowing dresses.
Their native language is Low German. In a sign of their limited contact with the rest of Mexico, they often speak little Spanish.
They generally reject cell phones, television, cars and even rubber tires for their horse-drawn carriages.
Of the estimated 60,000 Mennonites in the state of Chihuahua, Sabinal’s 1,500 residents are among the most cloistered.
But the arrival of electricity is bringing modernity — and controversy — to their door. Nearly a third of the village plans to move across Mexico to the southeastern state of Campeche, where another Mennonite community has already settled.
“They want to conserve the faith. They don’t want change,” says Isaac Redecop, who runs the local store.
Other Mennonites around the world “have already changed. They use cars, while we’re still using horses,” he said.
For those who want to stay, electricity is a blessing — and one that is not necessarily prohibited by their faith.
It is nearly impossible to totally isolate them from the world beyond — especially since the Mennonites are hugely successful farmers.
They make 1.5 tonnes a day of cheese, which has become popular in the surrounding area.
“It’s the only cheese around without chemicals. Customers don’t want chemicals. This cheese is pure milk,” says Redecop. — AFP