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Source: CIA World Factbook
Source: Wikipedia

The Federative Republic of Brazil (Portuguese: República Federativa do Brasil), is the largest country in South America and the only Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas. It is the fifth largest country in the world with an area of 8,514,877 km2 (3,287,597 sq. mi.) and and the fifth most populous country in the world with an estimated population in 2012 of 193,946,886. Brazil is bound by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and is bordered on the north by Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and the French overseas department of French Guiana; on the northwest by Colombia; on the west by Bolivia and Peru; on the southwest by Argentina and Paraguay; and on the south by Uruguay.

In 2008, 83.75% of the population was defined as urban. In that same year, 48.43% of the population described themselves as White; 43.80% as Brown (Multiracial), 6.84% as Black; 0.58% as Yellow; and 0.28% as Amerindian. Brown is a broad category that includes Caboclos (descendants of Whites and Indians), Mulattoes (descendants of Whites and Blacks) and Cafuzos (descendants of Blacks and Indians).

Brazil is the largest Roman Catholic nation in the world. In the year 2010, it was reported that 64.6% of the population followed Roman Catholicism; 22.2% Protestantism; 2% Kardecist spiritism; 3.2% Other; and 8% have no religion. The most common Protestant denominations are Pentecostal, Evangelical, Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, Lutheran and the Reformed churches.

Brazil became independent in 1822 after being a Portuguese colony since the year 1500.

1949 Article

The thousands of Mennonites who streamed into Moscow in the autumn of 1929 from all the settlements on Russian territory had only one goal in mind, namely, Canada. But only a small fraction of them reached this country. Escaping to Germany in November and December the refugees were temporarily sheltered in three camps, Mölln, Prenzlau, and Hammerstein, where over 5,000 were cared for. Previously efforts had been made, especially by B. H. Unruh in connection with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), to open the road from Moscow to Canada. When this plan failed, and the situation at Moscow demanded quick action, B. H. Unruh sent a passionately inspired appeal to the Mennonite world as well as to the German government. The German Reichstag provided a large sum of money for the care of the refugees in Germany for the time being, and a national collection was carried through for Brüder in Not. But it was impossible to settle them in Germany. In this need two South American nations opened their doors to them: Brazil through the negotiations of the German government, and Paraguay through the offices of MCC.

With the aid of the German government the immigration to Brazil was undertaken in early 1930. At that time the Hollandsch Doopsgezind Emigrantion Bureau (HDEB: Dutch Mennonite Emigration Bureau) also assisted, acting on the motto: "It is our task to aid our brethren." On the memorable date of 16 January 1930, the steamer Monte Olivia sailed from Hamburg with the first group of 33 families under the leadership of Heinrich Martins, and on 10 February they arrived on the land of the Hanseatic Colonization Company in the state of Santa Catarina near Blumenau. They were assigned to the valley of the upper Krauel River, beyond Hammonia, which is today generally known as Witmarsum. After three groups with a total of 150 families had settled here it was clear that the area was too small. The later groups, a total of 90 families, were then located on the Stoltz Plateau. In 1931 and 1932 a few additional families arrived. In June 1934 a group of 34 families from Harbin, China, was also brought to Brazil. These families formed the core of the Mennonite colonization in Brazil. There were about 280 in number.

In 1934 an emigration set in, at first from the Stoltz Plateau and then from Witmarsum. Most of those who moved went to Curitiba, the capital of Paraná, the state adjoining Santa Catarina to the north and west. By 1951 the last of the Mennonite families had left the Stoltz Plateau. Several families and some unmarried persons went to São Paulo and other cities.

In 1949 the Mennonites in Brazil were distributed as follows: Witmarsum about 120 families, in Curitiba 258, in São Paulo, Blumenau, Ponta Grossa, and elsewhere about 44 families, making a total of about 422 families, with about 2,300 souls. In 1949-52 the Witmarsum settlement also broke up, due to economic difficulties, about 70 families going to southern Rio Grande de Sul near Bage, and the remainder to a new settlement, Neuwitmarsum, northwest of Curitiba, individuals scattered in other places being lost to the Mennonite community.

Map of Brazil Mennonites, 1949
Source: Mennonite Encyclopedia v. 1, p. 409

The two original settlements, Krauel and Stoltz Plateau, tried to organize their communities along the traditional lines to which the Mennonites were accustomed in Russia. In Witmarsum this order was followed to the end, with an Oberschulze (leader of the colony), the Schulzen of the various villages, and the village or settlement meetings, which discussed and settled all matters of common interest. In Curitiba, on the other hand, the civil life was not so cohesive, since there was no closed settlement there, and no colony or village organization had been formed.

The economic life of both settlements centered around the co-operative. This co-operative was originally merely the point of distribution of food and equipment which the German government furnished the settlers the first year. Then it became firmly established with the aid of the HDEB to help the settlers make the transition to independence and to form a basis for a sound development, The Dutch Mennonites furnished a cow for each family, gave the money for two feed mills, and funds to help weak families to become established. The co-operative in Witmarsum did a considerable volume of business, not only providing the Mennonites with the necessities, but also serving as a trading post for a wider area. It supported many charitable, cultural, and civil undertakings. In Curitiba the chief function of the co-operative was to furnish feed for the dairy herds of the Mennonites without the service of the middleman.

The most important product of Witmarsum was corn, which furnished both bread and cattle feed. Then there were the tubers, especially aipim (manioc) rich in starch, which was processed in a factory financed by the HDEB. The most profitable products produced in Witmarsum were milk, aipim, wood from the forests, and pork. In Curitiba agriculture filled a less important place, and more stress was laid on dairying. The suburban Mennonites supplied about three fourths of the milk consumed by the metropolis (pop. 160,000). Some Curitiba Mennonites were engaged in other industries, such as sawmills and plywood factories, and still others were employed in factories. Thus the Mennonites in Curitiba no longer formed a compact social unit.

From the beginning the settlers tried to pattern their educational system on the traditions they had brought with them from Russia. They had among them an adequate number of teachers. From 1930 to 1938 they conducted their grade schools in this way and even established a secondary school (Zentralschule). Then the laws nationalizing all the schools of Brazil were passed; foreign teachers were abolished and Portuguese became the language of instruction in the elementary schools. Not until the close of the war (in Witmarsum to some extent before its close) could the children receive instruction in their specifically Mennonite heritage; school children were given religious instruction in the churches, and in both Curitiba and Witmarsum elementary Bible schools were opened for the older youth. The colony paper Die Brücke, which was issued 1932-1938, was suppressed by the laws of nationalization of 1938. In 1954 the Mennonites of Brazil had a periodical, Bibel und Pflug.

The lack of physicians was a serious deficiency in the colonies. To be sure, the German Red Cross had equipped the settlers with medications for the beginning, and there were some who had experience in nursing. In response to the request of the colonies Dr. Peter Dyck, formerly of Russia, arrived in Witmarsum in 1935. A temporary hospital was built, which also housed the doctor's family. The doctor's wife, who had been a deaconess in the hospital in Muntau in South Russia, took upon herself this function in Brazil. Dr. Dyck also brought with him a gift of the Dutch Mennonites, amounting to 20,000 milreis, for a new hospital, which was built in 1937 with many a contribution by the local Mennonites. Its 12 beds were of great benefit not only to the colony, but also to non-Mennonites, caring for 250 patients annually, besides those who came merely for treatment. All those who brought trachoma with them from Russia were healed here. Infant mortality was sharply reduced. The expenses for the care of the sick were borne by the colony as a whole rather than by the patients.

During the first 16 years all religious services were held in the schools. The Mennonites and the Mennonite Brethren worshiped together. And when the first two Mennonite churches in Brazil were built in Curitiba in 1946 the work was done in unity and services are still conducted as a unit. In Witmarsum, on the other hand, the Mennonite Brethren built a separate church in 1948, and the General Conference Mennonites built two churches in 1949. The membership of the two Mennonite Brethren churches in 1949 was 418, that of the three General Conference churches was 284. A serious question facing the congregations was the preservation of the principle of nonresistance. In 1949 the first Mennonite boys were called up for military service. For the two Witmarsum boys the colony leaders presented an appeal to the military authorities requesting release, which was granted. A similar step was not taken by Curitiba, but the two colonies planned to work together as a unit in this matter. A more intensive indoctrination was also planned. Action was made difficult by the fact that the Mennonite group in Brazil was so small. While the original colonies in Santa Catarina were economically a failure, the newer settlements promised to be permanently successful. Culturally the colonies were of necessity becoming Portuguese, both because of the national pressure and also the internal weakness (no schools, no literature, ecclesiastical strife). The most serious handicap, however, was the weakness of the church life. There has been at times a serious lack of cohesion and of a sense of group responsibility, with resulting evidences of disintegration. The future was by no means hopeless and there were signs of real strengthening. Plans were being made for a church high school and Bible school.

To assist in ministering to the religious needs of the unorganized Mennonites in the metropolitan center of São Paulo, the Mennonite Central Committee established a religious and social center in 1947, which continued to render a valuable service. At various times the MCC has also sent representatives to aid the colonies in various ways, sometimes special commissioners for briefer visits, and also ministers for a two-year period. However, neither the MCC nor the HDEB, nor any other organization except the German government ever had any administrative, financial, or moral responsibility for the Brazil colonies. In the late 1940s both church groups in Brazil (MB and GCM) joined the corresponding conferences in North America, which conferences in turn rendered financial and other assistance to their affiliated groups in Brazil.

During the Hitler period in Germany, the Nazi influence became very strong among many Germans in Brazil and also seriously affected the Mennonite colonies. A movement to return to Germany led to the emigration of over 100 persons, mostly young people, but also some families. A few of these were settled in the Warthegau (western Poland). A few returned to Brazil after the war. -- Harold S. Bender, 1949

1990 Article

Mennonites in Brazil, 1987
Source:  Mennonite Encyclopedia v. 5, p. 95

Two hundred forty Mennonite families found a new home in Brazil in 1930. Until 1960 these settlers were concentrated in the areas of Curitiba, Parana State; Colônia Nova (Bagé), Rio Grande do Sul State; São Paulo, São Paulo State; Witmarsum, Parana State; and the Krauel Valley, Santa Catarina State. The last named settlement dissolved in the 1950s, with settlers going to Colônia Nova near Bagé and Witmarsum in Parana State.

During the two decades from the 1960s to the 1980s, Mennonites scattered across Brazil establishing new settlements, business ventures, missionary centers, and other activities. Large plywood factories were established in Manaus and Para states as subsidiaries to the factories in Curitiba. Other Mennonites moved to Mato Grosso State. Mission congregations arose in Goias, São Paulo, and other states. In 1987 a new settlement was begun in the state of Bahia in NE Brazil, some 2,500 km (1,500 mi.) from Curitiba.

The largest concentration of Mennonites is in three suburbs of Curitiba: Boqueirão, founded in 1935; Vila Guaira/Agua Verde, founded 1934; and Xaxím, founded in 1936. The Witmarsum (Parana) and Colônia Nova (Bagé) are flourishing diversified agricultural colonies, with dairy production taking a central place in 1987. The Auhagen-Stolzplateau settlement (in Santa Catarina State), begun in 1930, had dissolved by 1935, with most settlers moving to the Curitiba area. The Guarituba (Parana) settlement has also been largely terminated (Witmarsum). The Clevelândia (Parana) settlement existed, 1953-60 (Witmarsum). A mission congregation remains active there. Colônia Médici is a daughter colony of Colônia Nova (Bagé). The most recent settlement is Concórdia, comprising an area of nearly 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares), located in the northern state of Bahia (Witmarsum). It was begun in 1986. Sinop in Mato Grosso state and Rio Verde (Church of God in Christ, Mennonite) in Goias State are small agricultural developments.

Belém, Manaus, and Xinguara in the Amazon region of northern Brazil are regional branches of the plywood factories of Curitiba. Recife (Pernambuco State), located in NE Brazil, is a development project center begun by Mennonite Central Committee and Brazilian Mennonites in 1968. The Mennonite Church (MC) began work in Brazil in 1954. The Associação das Igrejas Menonitas do Brasil (AIMB, Mennonite Church [GCM] of Brazil) has undertaken missionary activity since 1966 through the Associação Evangélica Menonita (AEM, Mennonite Evangelical Association). In 1975 the Mennonite Board of Missions (MC), the Commission on Overseas Mission (GCM), and the AEM began cooperative work. This included evangelism among existing congregations, founding new congregations in Portguese-speaking areas, developing leadership and Christian literature, and, especially, work with young people. In 1987, 25 congregations, with a membership of 1,001, were related to AEM, particularly in the state of Sao Paulo and the Amazon region. Related to the Associação das Igrejas Irmãos Menonitas do Brasil (AIIMB, Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Brazil, German-speaking, 13 congregations, 1,879 members) are 27 Portuguese-speaking congregations of the Convenção das Igrejas Irmãos Menonitas do Brasil (CIIMB, Convention Mennonite Brethren Churches of Brazil). Total membership in the CIIMB was 1,954. This work concentrated in southern Brazil, but also takes place in Mato Grosso State, and is done in cooperation with the Mennonite Brethren Board of Missions and Services.

The descendants of Mennonite immigrants from Europe have largely retained their social and community structures. They have relative autonomy in the administration of their economic and other institutions. Great emphasis is placed upon elementary and secondary schools, which are conducted in Portuguese with German as the first foreign language. Colégio Erasto Gaertner in Curitiba has an enrollment of 1,200 students in levels kindergarten-grade 11. Forty percent of the pupils are Mennonite. Colégio Fritz Kliewer in Witmarsum has 350 students enrolled at the same levels. Colégio Erasmo Braga operated in Curitiba from 1956-80, and since then is the location of Instituto e Seminário Bíblico Irmãos Menonitas (Mennonite Brethren Bible Institute and Seminary). The Centro Evangélico Menonita de Teologia por Extensão (Evangelical Mennonite Center of Theology by Extension, CEMTE) is the school of the AEM, which also cooperates with the Centro Evangélico Menonita de Teologia Asunción (CEMTA, Evangelical Mennonite Theological Center in Asunción) in Paraguay. Elementary and secondary schools are also maintained by Mennonites in a number of the other settlements in Brazil. As a result of this strong interest in education, Mennonites are active in many vocations throughout the land, as teachers, doctors, lawyers, technicians, business owners, industrialists, etc. In 1986 the total number of baptized Mennonites in Brazil, including those in mission congregations, was 6,000.

Mennonites have become well established economically in Brazil. All agricultural enterprises are fully mechanized. Various business and industrial enterprises are located in Curitiba and São Paulo, including three travel agencies. Mennonites have also founded the Associação Menonita de Assistência Social (Mennonite Association for Social Welfare), which carries on numerous projects, some also in cooperation with MCC, the International Mennonite Organization, and the Europäisches Mennonitisches Evangelisations-Komitee. Lar Betesda, a Mennonite retirement center, is maintained in Curitiba. The Bethel Bible Center at Araucária, near Curitiba, serves as a retreat, conference, and vacation center. Cooperatives have been operating successfully in Curitiba, Witmarsum, and Bagé, being responsible for all business activities of these settlements.

Mennonites feel themselves fully integrated into Brazilian society and are aware of their responsibilities as citizens for the development of the country. Much is being done in economics, socially, and culturally. The Anabaptist witness is present in 10 states of the nation.

Publications include Bibel und Pflug (AIMB), Informationsblatt (AIIMB), and Intercâmbio Menonita, a publication of AEM. Bausteine was published 1973-83 by the German-speaking Mennonite Brethren conference. -- Henrique Ens, Peter Pauls, Jr.

2020 Update

In 2020 the following Anabaptist groups were active in Brazil:

Denominations Membership

in 2009


in 2009


in 2020


in 2020

Aliança Evangélica Menonita 2,700 33 3,100 39
Associação das Igrejas Menonitas do Brasil 950 5 1,192 10
Church of God in Christ, Mennonite 339 5 355 6
Convenção Brasileira das Igrejas Evangélicas Irmãos Menonitas 5,969 55 9,498 103
Igreja Evangélica Irmãos Menonitas Renovada     3,350 37
Independent & Unaffiliated 1,100   16 1
Total 11,058 98 17,511 186


Bender, H. S. "With the Mennonite Colonies in Brazil and Paraguay, a Personal Narrative." Mennonite Quarterly Reveiw 13I (1939): 59-70.

Brepohl, F. W. Brasilien und die Einwanderung russlanddeutscher Mennoniten-Flüchtlinge. Ponta Grossa, Parana, Brazil, 1930?

Brepohl, F. W. Flüchtlinge in Brasilien. Ponta Grossa, Parana, Brazil, 1932. 20 pp.

Foreign Missions, Mennonite Brethren Mission, Brazil. Hillsboro, KS, 1948?.

Fretz, J. Winfield. Pilgrims in Paraguay. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1953.

Hiebert, P. C. Mitteilungen von der Reise nach Süd-Amerika. Hillsboro, KS, 1937: 18-31.

Janzen, A. E. Glimpses of South America. Hillsboro, KS, 1944: 117-123.

Kamerling, Z. De Doopsgezinden in Brazilie. Amsterdam, n.d., 19 pp.

Klassen, P. "Mennonites of Brazil." Mennonite Quarterly Review 11 (1937): 107-118.

Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 196-210.

Mennonite World Confernce. "Global Map: Brazil." 24 March 2021.

Mennonite World Conference. "Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Churches Worldwide, 2009: Latin America & the Caribbean." 2010. Web. 27 March 2010. [Broken Link].

Mennonite World Conference. "MWC - 2006 Caribbean, Central and South American Mennonite & Brethren in Christ Churches." Web. 20 October 2008. [Broken Link].

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: 19.

Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strasbourg, France, and Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 60-63.

Pauls, Peter. Jr., ed. Mennoniten in Brasilien: Gedenkschrift zum 50 Jahr-Jubilaum ihrer Einwanderung 1930-1980. Witmarsum: n.p., 1980.

Smith, Willard and Verna. Paraguayan Interlude. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1950: 109-23.

Wikipedia. "Brazil." Web. 5 June 2013.

See also the Brazilian Mennonite news journal, Die Brücke, 1932-37, and Die neue Brücke, 1938, both published at Witmarsum-Hammonia, Santa Catarina.

Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Henrique Ens
Peter Pauls, Jr
Date Published June 2013

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S., Henrique Ens and Peter Pauls, Jr. "Brazil." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2013. Web. 29 Jul 2021.

APA style

Bender, Harold S., Henrique Ens and Peter Pauls, Jr. (June 2013). Brazil. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 July 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 408-410; vol. 5, pp. 94-96. All rights reserved.

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