The Mennonites of Bolivia

Photos by Karla and Ivan











Text by Ivan Kashinsky

It was night.  I had cut my hair, shaved my beard, and was dressed in blue overalls, a long sleeve blue shirt, and a blue baseball hat.  I was one of them.  “Come, here”, Cornelius said.  He was sitting with his wife in the corner of their dinning room staring at me seriously with spooky eyes. “It has been really great to have you here.  It is a shame you have too leave so soon.  What do you think about coming to live here, in our community, forever?”




I thought for a second.  What would it be like to become a Mennonite?  No cars.  No television.  NO MUSIC!  No way.  “It has been great staying with you”, I politely replied, “but I can’t, I just can’t.”


I was dressed like a Bolivian Mennonite because I was preparing to do the unthinkable.  I was getting ready to enter the Sunday church service in the Mennonite community of Santa Rita, Bolivia.  At 6:30 in the morning Abram cruised by the house in his carriage.  “Just don’t take any pictures”, he warned, as the horse trotted down the beautifully lit countryside on the way to the chapel.


We were late.  We sat on little wooden benches, the men on one side and the women on the other.  No one dared to say a word.  All of the sudden the entire room was filled with the thick sound of voices.  They sang like it was judgment day and their souls depended on it. The golden light poured through the cracks of the walls threatening to break them down.  The voices penetrated my body, from my forehead to the depths of my bowels.  Wow!  Maybe there is a God.


For the next two and a half hours I listened to a priest read from the Bible in German.  My back ached.  Sleep threatened.   The fear of being found out had worn off.  All of the sudden everyone jumped up, rushed out to their carriages, and rode off without saying a single word to each other.  Strange.


About a week ago, Cornelius had courageously agreed to let us stay in his house. We observed as the girls went out to milk the cows in the morning and the men endlessly worked in the cheese factory.  As the kids played in the evening light, it took me back to a story I did as an intern about a farm family in Iowa.


At night, the family of ten gathered around the dining room table as we showed them slide shows on our laptop.  Their eyes widened in disbelief as we opened magazines with double page spreads of underwater worlds.  Although these youngsters could cook a dinner for ten and make their own clothes from scratch, they hadn’t a clue about the outside world.  Their school curriculum consisted of the Bible, nothing else.  Basic knowledge of geography and history were totally absent. 

Why are these people so painfully separated from the outside world?


“The chip”, Cornelius explained.  “It is already happening in more advanced countries like Germany and the United States.” Cornelius went on to tell me how the bible clearly states that computer chips will slowly but surely be planted into the right hand or forehead of every human being on the planet.  Those who resist will be murdered.  “The chip is the 666”, he insisted. 


The Mennonites, who have moved from Europe, to Russia, to Canada, to Mexico, and now to Bolivia, have always been outcasts.  They have always searched for a simpler way of life in which they can practice their religion in peace.  They are scared of technology and it’s ability to distract them from the path of Christ.  Now, the ultimate enemy has arrived.  The apocalypse is near and the devil has come riding in on the back the digital revolution.  The Internet is the 666.


Back in Santa Cruz we indulged in wifi and frapachinos.   Sometimes it’s nice to be evil. 



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6 responses to “The Mennonites of Bolivia

  1. Hi Chicos,

    I’m loving the Mennonites (although it sad think how evil I am). The photographs are wonderful — they take me back to the beautiful photos (not mine) that accompanied my article on the Lancaster Country Amish ( It is extraordinary that the Amish/Mennonites’ diaspora is all over the world and how little their lifestyles and appearance changes. So, do the Mennonites also have Rumspringa, and if so, did they talk to you about it? -Aimee

  2. David

    Ivan and Karla,

    Great imagery once again. Keep up the good work.

  3. Jonah

    Great story my friends! The pictures are wonderful and give give some insight into what it is like to be there. I can picture Ivan in his overalls trying to figure out how he could get away with taking a picture or two during church services ;). People live by such a verity of stories and realities, what a facinating one to come upon. It must be amazing to talk with kids who know very little about the outside world. I’d imagine it was a little strange to show them pictures on the computer and hear stories of ‘the chip’ being 666.
    Thanks for the gimps into another realm.
    Love U

  4. Liz

    wow i grew up mennonite but am now a did they let u in their houses and how did u communicate with them

    • tothetip

      What did you think of the photos and story? It wasn’t easy to enter into the lives of the Mennonites. A kind family let us live with them and document their daily life.

    The Mennonites of Bolivia, Photos by Karla and Ivan.

    These pictures recalled for me a happy childhood. I am from a similar Mennonite group in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada. I grew up among them, speak Plautdietsch (Low German) and sat on those church benches many times..I have many similar cousins in Mexico, in Belize and some in Bolivia.

    There are differences among them about how much technology and education is accepted. Many are very competent with farm machinery and basic processing like flour and cheese, etc, and they do learn to calculate profit and loss very competently! The Amish are probably even better.

    Consider this — What we “sophisticates” call advances in the last 300 years has brought the earth to a possibility of hellish apocalyptic change with chemical pollution, radioactivity, and warming climate change, not to mention world wars, genocide, and who knows what other hellish changes.

    We smile condescendingly at these backward groups, but maybe they had at least one thing right — SLOW DOWN ! !
    –Jacob Rempel, Vancouver, Canada

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