Darrow Miller and Friends

The Church and Development in Paraguay’s “Green Hell”

  1. A Wasteland Transformed to a Garden
  2. The Church and Development in Paraguay’s “Green Hell”
  3. Community: The Engine of Mennonite Economic Development
  4. Commerce, Roads, and Mennonite Obedience to the Cultural Mandate
  5. Vision and Technology Turned Desolation Into Abundance
  6. Women Made the Transformation Possible
  7. Healthcare and Development: Learning from the Mennonite Colonies
  8. Education: Preparing the Next Generation for Life and Work

How can a people prosper in the midst of hardship and poverty? To a large degree, the answer has to do with the connection between the church and development. If we understand the power of God’s intentions we will not be surprised that the church and development go hand in hand.

The story of the Mennonite colonies that settled in the “Green Hell” of Paraguay’s Gran Chaco is an illustration of how God can work through a people to heal the land and help build a nation. In his book, Like a Mustard Seed, Mennonite author Edgar Stoesz tells just such a fascinating story. Stoesz answers the question “How did they prosper?” by examining nine principles that created the success of these colonies. The first principle is the preeminence of the church in the development process.

The Disciple Nations Alliance promotes Seven Foundational Truths. Four of these truths relate to the local church:

  • His key agent in this task [of discipling nations] is the local church (Ephesians 3:9-11)
  • The ministry of the church must be wholistic (Colossians 1:19-20)
  • The ministry of the church must be incarnational (John 17:15-19)
  • The local church must operate intentionally from the biblical worldview (Colossians 1:15-18)

church2.jpgEvery healthy society has two primary institutions: the family and the church. And the health of each is important for the health of a society. The DNA’s conviction is that the local church is God’s primary instrument for social transformation. The church and development go hand in hand.

Edgar Stoesz agrees. In Like a Mustard Seed Stoesz states that the Mennonite colonies that transformed the wilderness into a garden were usually sponsored or founded by a church. The earlier settlers in the Chaco suffered hardship from lack of food, limited water, and poor shelter. They often lived in tents, suffering extreme heat, drought, and major diseases. In the early decades of the settlements, hundreds of these pioneers died from disease and starvation. The hardships to tame this land were immense. It was the church and the Mennonites’ faith in God and his call upon their lives to settle this land which enabled the colonies to persist through the hardships.

Stoesz lists seven reasons[1] the church was so critical in the transformation of the land:

  1. The church is a unifying force that contributes to group solidarity.
  2. The church lays an ethical foundation for the larger community by teaching biblical values such as honesty, hard work, and above all, love of neighbor.
  3. The church serves as the conscience of the colony and helps bring balance to the materialistic and secular tendencies inherent in all human institutions.
  4. The church teaches and practices mutual aid, whereby the strong help the weak, making it possible for all to survive.
  5. The church serves as a social coordinator where friends meet each other.
  6. The church brings a transcendental dimension to the harsh realities of pioneer living and invokes a divine blessing on the effort.

Each of these helps to create a community of people who have the ability to live beyond their circumstances, a people with a vision for the kingdom of God that can call them forward even in the most dire circumstances.

No wonder the church and development go together.

  • Darrow Miller

[1] Stoesz, Edgar; Like a Mustard Seed: Mennonites in Paraguay; 2008; Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa. pg. 121.


This post is second in a series of ten on the transformation of the Gran Chaco in Paraguay.

First in the series: A Wasteland Transformed to a Garden 

Related posts:

13 Differences In Serving With a Kingdom Perspective

Toowoomba: Churches Together Transforming a City

Haiti and Israel: A Study in Contrasts

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