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The Plurinational State of Bolivia, a republic located in central South America, has an area of 1,098,581 km2 (424,163 square miles) and an estimated population in 2012 of 10,389,913. It is bordered by Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina to the south, and Chile and Peru to the west.

The Andrean region of what is now Bolivia was originally a part of the Inca Empire before it was conquered by the Spanish between 1524 and 1533. Bolivia became independent in 1825 and was named after Simón Bolívar.

Ethnically, the Amerindian or Indigenous population is at 60% while the remaining 26% are mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) and around 14% are white. Amerindians include the Aymaras, Quechuas, Guaraní, and Moxos. Whites are mostly descendants of immigrants from Germany, Croatia, Spain, Italy, Lebanon and Turkey. There is also a small population of Afro Bolivians, descendants of African slaves, and Asians.

In terms of religious affiliation, 78% of the Bolivian population follow Roman Catholicism, while 19% follow Protestantism, and 3% have different Christian beliefs.

1959 Article

In Bolivia a Mennonite settlement of 37 families was established 1954-1957 in the neighborhood of the city of Santa Cruz (pop. 143,600), in the fertile plain east of the Andes Mountains, by emigrants from the Paraguayan Chaco. Twelve families came partly (all five colonies were represented) from Fernheim Colony, the first six families arriving in 1954 and founding the colony Tres Palmas, 15 miles (25 km) northeast of Santa Cruz. The second group of 25 families, who settled three miles (five km) beyond Tres Palmas, were conservative families from Menno Colony. The first group came primarily for economic reasons. Nikolai Kröker serves as minister for both groups, although the former adhered to the General Conference Church, and the latter to the Chortitz Church; neither group was organized. The Bolivian government guaranteed to the Mennonites freedom of religion, exemption from military service, and the privilege of private schools. All such settlers were promised liberal credit from the government. The 1959 total population was 189. -- Harold S. Bender

1990 Article

Mennonite settlement in Bolivia began in 1954 when 11 families from the Fernheim Colony and one family from Menno Colony, both in Paraguay, located near Santa Cruz. Mennonite settlements in Bolivia are all located in the Santa Cruz region of the Bolivian lowlands and comprise the following:

(1) Descendants of the immigrants to Manitoba from the Bergthal Colony in Russia (Sommerfeld Mennonites, the Chortitzer Mennonite Conference-related Grünthal Mennonites—see Reinlander Mennoniten Gemeinden, and Saskatchewan Bergthal Mennonites) have migrated to Bolivia and form seven colonies (all statistics as of 1986): Canadiense (founded 1956, from Paraguay, 807 inhabitants and 329 church members belonging to the Grünthal Mennonites) and its branch colony Morgenland (founded 1975, 280 inhabitants and 104 members, Grünthal Mennonites); Bergthal (founded 1963, from Paraguay and Canada, 306 inhabitants and 127 members); Reinland (also called Las Pavas, founded 1963, from Paraguay and Canada, disbanded 1987) and its branch colony Rosenort (founded 1975, ca. 350 inhabitants and 140 members, including some recently arrived from Reinland); Sommerfeld (founded 1968, from Mexico, 419 inhabitants and 132 members); Nueva Holanda (founded 1983, from Reinland colony, 394 inhabitants and 157 members). In 1986 there were thus ca. 2,500 Mennonites from the Bergthaler-Sommerfelder Mennonite family in Bolivia (989 church members).

(2) Old Colony Mennonites are located in 9 colonies: Swift Current (founded 1967, from Mexico, 2,510 inhabitants with 840 church members in 1986); Riva Palacios (founded 1967 from Mexico, 5,686 inhabitants and 1,900 members) and its branch colony, Tres Cruces (founded 1982, 785 inhabitants and 285 members); Santa Rita (also called Paurito, founded 1967, from Mexico and Belize, 1,505 inhabitants and 482 members); Las Piedras (founded 1968, from Canada, 594 inhabitants and 218 members) and its branch colony Las Piedras II (founded 1984, 382 inhabitants and 115 members); Valle Esperanza, or Hoffnungstal (founded 1975, from Mexico, 1,400 inhabitants and 607 members); Colonia del Norte (founded 1980, from Mexico, 400 inhabitants and 143 members); San José de Chiquitos (founded 1974, from Mexico and Belize, 1,668 inhabitants and 543 members). Old Colony Mennonites in Bolivia thus numbered nearly 15,000 in 1986 (ca. 5,000 church members). -- Martin W. Friesen / Menno Ediger / Isbrand Hiebert

Most Mennonites came to Bolivia with more experience in colonizing than in similar ventures elsewhere. Some had sufficient money to purchase machinery helpful in carving a settlement out of the forest. Rainfall and temperature are especially favorable for soya beans, corn, and wheat, with Mennonites growing some 75 percent of Bolivia's soya crop in the Santa Cruz region, as well as producing a large percentage of Bolivia's cheese. Economic conditions worsened markedly in the mid-1980s. With the exception of a few small cheese cooperatives, Mennonites in Bolivia have not organized credit unions or colony-wide economic cooperatives, as is customary in many Latin American Mennonite colonies. Each group has, however, established a Waisenamt (orphan 's agency) to take care of widows and orphans. In some colonies organized mutual aid provides a type of storm and fire insurance.

Colony Mennonites in Bolivia have largely maintained an attitude of social distance from non-Mennonite Bolivians. One index of acculturation is the growing use of the host country's language, Spanish, especially to negotiate business. (Old Colony schools do not teach Spanish.). Children attend school about six months each year to the age of 12 (girls) or 14 (boys). Instruction is in high German, which is not used outside of church and school. There are no Bible schools. Church and colony leadership plan no specific youth activities and no sports are allowed. Church life remains a predictable, traditional source of deep strength and character for many. Social problems such as alcohol and drug abuse are not unknown. Church discipline is administered through the ban and excommunication, as well as corporal punishment in some instances. Health-care expense is an increasing concern for colony Mennonites. Both well-trained physicians and more informally trained practitioners of folk medicine are consulted. Marriages occur within the colonies; the consequences of genetic inbreeding have not yet been studied.

Bolivia, ca. 1987 Source: Mennonite Encyclopedia 5:91

Bergthal (Sommerfeld) and have lived in Bolivia for 30 years. Some signs of an exodus from Bolivia are apparent. The original colony, Tres Palmas, disbanded in 1985; Reinland colony is in decline. Some Old Colony Mennonites moved to Argentina and began the Remeco-Guatrache Colony there. Colony Mennonites have been challenged by difficult conditions to respond nonresistantly to violence and attacks on property. In spite of problems and an uncertain future, most Mennonites are content to live in Bolivia. The country has been good to them; they have been good for Bolivia. Bolivia has its own unique history—how the colonists will fare in that continuing history depends on their willingness and ability to relate to the larger Bolivian society. -- Menno Ediger / Isbrand Hiebert

Information about the Spanish-speaking Mennonite congregations in Bolivia is found in two related articles. The Iglesia Menonita de Bolivia ( Mennonite Church in Bolivia) resulted from mission work begun in 1971. It was officially organized in 1983 and had four congregations in 1986. In 1988 it is known as Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana (Bolivian Evangelical Mennonite Church). It is related to both General Conference Mennonite Church and Mennonite Church (MC) mission agencies. The Misión Evangélica Menonita (Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference) grew out of mission work begun by Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference radio broadcasts, 1965-68. It had ca. 125 members in two congregations in 1986.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) began work in Bolivia in 1960 in response to a request from the Mennonite colonies to assist in agriculture and health. A clinic constructed in the Tres Palmas colony operated until 1970. During the 1960s the program grew by loaning volunteers to other church agencies.

In 1968-1970, a rural-based, integrated development program involving village public health care, education, and agriculture development began in the Santa Cruz region and in the San Julian region (the latter in cooperation with the Methodists, Maryknoll missioners, and the Bolivian government). A farm located on the southwest outskirts of Santa Cruz has served since 1972 as a base for crop experimentation, appropriate technology shop, animal traction experimentation, and Heifer Project International (HPI) animal holding grounds. The farm also has facilities for week-long workshops, seminars, and retreats for a variety of organizations, including the two organized Spanish-speaking Mennonite groups.

In 1976 a conscientious effort to build relationships with the Mennonite colonies was augmented with the appointment of workers specifically for this task. MCC workers have also carried out a tuberculosis program (1975-80); promoted well drilling with hand equipment and placement of HPI animals; conducted nonformal education and a village teachers training program; distributed material aid; and organized disaster relief efforts.

Training materials developed by MCC for preventive health care workers and an orientation program for village colonists coming to the tropics from various parts of Bolivia were adopted by the Bolivian government in 1977 and 1976, respectively.

MCC volunteers have been instrumental in the formation of the Iglesia Menonita de Bolivia since its beginning. In many other communities MCC workers have strengthened struggling Baptist, Assemblies of God, Plymouth Brethren, and other congregations instead of attempting to start competing Mennonite congregations. In some settings dynamic Roman Catholic Bible study groups have also been supported. More than 300 North American and South American volunteers have served in more than 100 Bolivian communities, 1960-85, making it the largest MCC program in any country over that period—in terms of total volunteers.

Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) first became active in Bolivia in the early 1970s through MCC. After several smaller loans, including several to Mennonite colonists, in 1974 MEDA loaned $25,000 to La Merced Cooperative, the largest savings and loan cooperative in Santa Cruz. These funds were for small farmers from MCC-related villages who previously had been unable to obtain credit. The first MEDA overseas country director in any country was placed in Bolivia in 1976. MEDA seeks out funding for suitable projects; teaches economic, bookkeeping, and accounting principles on an individual and short course basis; promotes production-oriented cooperatives; gives economic counsel and supervision; and provides funds for small loans. MEDA works closely, although not exclusively, with MCC and has seen it-self as the "economic development arm of MCC in Bolivia." -- Gerald Mumaw

2013 Update

In 2012 the following Anabaptist groups were active in Bolivia:

Denomination Membership in 2009 Congregations in 2009 Membership in 2012  Congregations in 2012
Altkolonier Mennonitengemeinde 14,424    19,096
Bergthaler Mennonitengemeinde 199   557
Canadian Old Colony Mennonites 344   524
Conservative (Plain) Mennonites 70 2 105 2
Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana 450 7 450 7
Iglesia Misionera Anabaptista     90 4
Independent colonies 125   494
Kleinegemeinde 394   682
La Iglesia Evangélica Anabautista en Bolivia 630 13 630 13
Reinländer Mennonitengemeinde 147   203
Sommerfelder Mennonitengemeinde 2,065   2,157
Total 18,848 22 24,988 26


Fretz, J. Winfield. "A Visit to the Mennonites in Bolivia." Mennonite Life 15 (January 1960): 13-17.

Glick, Helen Liechty. Spiritsong: Mennonite Central Committee's Twenty-five Years in Bolivia. Akron, PA: MCC, 1985.

Lanning, James Walter. "The Old Colony Mennonites of Bolivia: A Case Study." MSc thesis, Texas A and M University, 1971.

Letters in Die Mennonitische Post, 1977-87.

Mennonite Weekly Review (8 August 1985): 12; (19 February 1987): 7.

Mennonite World Conference. "Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Churches Worldwide, 2009: Latin America & The Caribbean." 2010. Web. 28 October 2010. 2009/Latin America & the Caribbean Summary.doc.

Mennonite World Conference. World Directory = Directorio mundial = Répertoire mondial 2012: Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Related Churches = Iglesias Menonitas, de los Hermanos en Cristo y afines = Églises Mennonites, Frères en Christ et Apparentées.Kitchener, ON: Mennonite World Conference, 2012: 18-19.

Plett, Richard. The Colony Mennonites in Bolivia. Winnipeg: MCC Canada and Die Mennonitische Post, 1980.

Reimer, George. A Survey of Mennonites in Mexico, Belize, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Winnipeg: MCC Canada, 1980ff.

Wikipedia. "Bolivia." Web. 5 June 2013.

Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Martin W. Friesen
Menno Ediger
Isbrand Hiebert
Gerald Mumaw
Date Published June 2013

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S., Martin W. Friesen, Menno Ediger, Isbrand Hiebert and Gerald Mumaw. "Bolivia." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2013. Web. 2 Dec 2023.

APA style

Bender, Harold S., Martin W. Friesen, Menno Ediger, Isbrand Hiebert and Gerald Mumaw. (June 2013). Bolivia. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 December 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 1067; vol. 5, pp. 89-92. All rights reserved.

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