Chaco Mennonite Mission (Argentina)

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One thousand miles (1600 km) northeast of Pehuajo, the first station of the Argentine Mennonite Mission, lies central Chaco where a Mennonite mission to Indigenous people is located. The Indigenous of the Chaco were nomadic collectors, fishermen, and hunters. While their way of life was modified by contact with the whites, they found it hard to cast aside their agelong superstitions and tribal customs, including witchcraft and quackery. A bit of haphazard farming, a lot of roving around, and the pursuance of occasional jobs on cotton plantations—this was the life of the remaining 10,000 or fewer Indigenous of the Argentine Chaco in the mid-1950s.

In government-controlled reductions for the Indigenous, such as Napalpi, 40 miles (65 km) from the Mennonite mission, efforts were made to aid them through cattle raising, farming, and elementary education, but nothing had been done for their moral and spiritual uplift. Even Catholic missions so vigorously developed in past centuries had all but disappeared. Protestant efforts of the past 60 years so nobly made in Paraguay and northern Argentina by the Anglicans and later by a few independent groups were still alive and growing in 1950, but were inadequate to meet the pressing needs of the Indigenous.

In March 1943 the Shanks and Holdermans, appointed by the Argentine Mennonite Mission, began their travels over the great northern region of Argentina in search of unevangelized groups of Indians. Finally by May central Chaco was chosen as the most strategic region for the new mission. Two months later work was begun in a Toba settlement of some 300 souls near Tres Isletas and within a month work on a church-school building was started. (The Toba people are also known as the Qom people.) Some months later land was purchased some 18 miles (30 km) farther south and nearer the thriving town of Saenz Pena. Here a new Indigenous colony was formed. This became the central station under the name "Nam Cum" (Qom), where the Mennonites aimed to emphasize preaching, Bible training, medical and nursing service, day school, better farming and industrial work. The third station 18 miles (30 km) to the east was opened in 1944. In rustic buildings of their own construction the Indigenous gathered for services and afterward brought their sick out under the trees for treatment.

The personnel of the mission during its first years was as follows: Calvin and Frances Holderman, 1943-1946; J. W. and Selena Shank, 1943-1950; John and Edith Tuck, 1947-1949; Una Cressman, 1948-1952; Samuel E. and Ella May Miller, 1949-52; Mabel Cressman, 1950-1953; Albert and Lois Buckwaiter, 1951-    ; John and Maryann Litwiller, 1953-    .

The 1953 membership was 82.

Author(s) J. W Shank
Date Published 1953

Cite This Article

MLA style

Shank, J. W. "Chaco Mennonite Mission (Argentina)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 5 Feb 2023.

APA style

Shank, J. W. (1953). Chaco Mennonite Mission (Argentina). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 5 February 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 545, 547. All rights reserved.

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