Chaco Mission (Paraguay)

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The Spanish conquest of lower and western South America in the 16th and 17th centuries included east Paraguay, but not the Chaco region (west Paraguay). A 17th-century Jesuit attempt to establish mission stations in the Chaco failed. The first continuing missionary presence in the Chaco began ca. 1890 with the work of the South American Missionary Society of the Anglican Church. The first missionary, Barbrooke Grubb, who entered the Chaco opposite the town of Concepcion, was eventually successful among the South Lengua people, though he endured many hardships, including an attempt on his life. During the 1920s the Roman Catholic church also established mission stations in various parts of the Chaco.

In 1927 the first Mennonite settlers from Canada entered the Chaco in the region of the North Lengua people. Fred Engen, an American pacifist, had earlier established himself in that region and cultivated friendly relationships with the Lengua. In introducing the Mennonites to the Lengua tribes, he identified them as people who, like himself, would not kill other people. This was soon understood and appreciated by the Indians, whose contacts with other white people had not been positive. The Mennonite settlers initially had no intention of carrying on missionary activity. They assumed that the government would place the Indians into reservations, as had been the pattern in Canada. This did not take place, however, and Mennonites and Indians continued to live side by side.

As contacts with the Lengua people continued, some Mennonite young people learned to speak the Lengua language, which had not yet been reduced to writing, and a low-key witness did take place. Planned missionary activity, initiated by Menno Colony people and supported by the General Conference Mennonite church of North America, began only in the 1950s. Early in the 1960s the various Mennonite groups in the Chaco united to form the Mennonitisches Missions-Komitee für Paraguay (Mennonite Missions Committee for Paraguay), acknowledging John M. Funk, who had already begun his work in 1952, as missionary. He was soon joined by Bernhard W. Toews. By 1986 this work also included the Toba tribe, which, together with the Lenguas, comprised ca. 1,500 baptized members in six congregations (Convención . . . Lengua). The congregations are autonomous and select their own leaders. Small mission congregations have also arisen among the native Paraguayan people at various places.

Meanwhile the Mennonite immigrants from Europe attempted to begin missionary work soon after their arrival in 1932, but were prevented by the Chaco War. By 1936, however, they were able to proceed and had organized the mission agency Licht den Indianern, initially supported primarily by Mennonite Brethren, but eventually including other Chaco Mennonite groups also. In addition to the Lengua people the Chulupí people were also included. By 1986 they had ca. 1,500 baptized members, organized into independent, autonomous congregations (Convención ... Chulupí).

In 1951 the New Tribes Missions also began work in the Chaco, particularly with the Ayoreo (Moro) people located north of the Mennonite settlements. New Tribes Mission personnel worked closely with the Mennonites, including Kornelius Isaak of Filadelfia, who was killed in his attempt to establish contact with the the Ayoreo people. Both the New Tribes Mission and the Mennonites continued their work with the Ayoreo people after 1986, accompanied by considerable success.

See also Giesbrecht, Gerhard Benjamin (1906-1977)


Friesen, Martin W. Neue Heimat in der Chacowildnis. Altona, MB: D. W. Friesen; Menno Colony: Chortitzer-Komitee, 1987.

50 Jahre Kolonie Fernheim. Fernheim Colony, 1980.

Graber, C. L The Coming of the Moros. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1964.

Grubb, W. Barbrooke. An Unknown People in an Unknown Land. London: Seeley Service and Co., 1913, 1932.

Hunt, R. J. The Livingstone of South America [B. Grubb)]. London: Seeley Service and Co., 1932.

Kanadische Mennoniten bezwingen eine Wildnis: 50 Jahre Kolonie Menno. Menno Colony, 1977.

Wer ist mein Nächster? Indianermission im zentralen Chaco von Paraguay, 1936-1986. Fernheim: Licht den Indianern, 1986.

Author(s) Martin W Friesen
Date Published 1987

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MLA style

Friesen, Martin W. "Chaco Mission (Paraguay)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 20 Jan 2021.

APA style

Friesen, Martin W. (1987). Chaco Mission (Paraguay). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 January 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 132-133. All rights reserved.

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