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At 7:30 pm on Saturday, July 12, 2008 the Mennonite Historical Society will host Helmut Isaak for an evening of story telling
from the past to the present at the Bethany Manor Fellowship Centre in Saskatoon.
For three decades friends watched Helmut Isaak's Dutch Mennonite Conference (ADS) sponsored journey of research as he laboured and ministered in Europe, South and North America. Helmut Isaak is the author of "Menno Simons and the New Jerusalem," a small book of five chapters in one hundred pages published in 2006, distributed by Pandora Press of Kitchener, Ontario. Helmut, born in Filadelfia, Paraguay and trained in Asuncion taught in the Menno Colony for eight years before studying at the Mennonite Seminary and eventually receiving his degree from the University of Amsterdam in 1972. Intermittently between years of research in Europe he taught in Paraguay till the end of 1979 when he relocated to British Columbia as a minister. The author invites today’s generation to enter the dialogue on a theme that ran like a connecting thread through Menno Simons transformation.
Helmut and his wife Eve, who is trained as a Chaplain, work at what is recognized as the only Low German addictions treatment centre in the world which was started in 2004. They are currently on staff at the 60-bed Centro de Rabilitacion, Luz en mi Camino (Light on my way), near the city of Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua, Mexico. More than 15 percent of clients come from Canada, United States and other Low German-speaking communities outside Mexico. Recently with the new additions a Spanish speaking component has been added.
The more than 6,000 Mennonites who fled in 1922 to the area around Cuauhtémoc, in the barren plains of northern Mexico, looked out of time and place. They were blue-eyed blonds in a nation of dark-skinned mestizos and Indians, Protestants in a land of Roman Catholics, pacifists in a country recovering from a bloody seven-year revolution. Many of these Mennonites are often grouped as "Old Colony" like their forefathers; they tilled the soil and built simple homes, eventually transplanting whole villages to the Mexican plains.
Decades after settling in Mexico the lure of financial progress took over the fabric of many of their communities. Because so many Mexican Mennonites hold Canadian passports, authorities say they move freely through North America. The closed communities have never been immune to the presence of addictions as they ban from fellowship those who do not adhere to certain prescribed principles.
The global drug trade has transformed the once-placid Mennonite colonies in Cuauhtémoc into a modern Wild West. Tales of drug-related murders and crack houses abound. Young Mennonite thugs, flaunting gold rings and designer clothes and driving expensive, brand-new trucks spill into the parking lot of a Mennonite church. Nearby, a half-dozen men are in the throes of withdrawal at the colony's drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation centre; the cooperative venture of the Mennonite colonies that provides addiction services for men in the Low German language.