Licht den Indianern (Light to the Indians)

Jump to navigation Jump to search

1957 Article

Licht den Indianern, a missionary association organized on 17 September 1935 in the Fernheim Colony, Chaco, Paraguay, by 48 members of the various Mennonite groups. It took up work at once among the Lengua Indians with G. B. Giesbrecht as the missionary, who was assisted in the course of the years by others. Later work among the Chulupis was added. The association, feeling itself inadequate to carry the growing program alone, finally requested the Mennonite Brethren Mission Board of Hillsboro, KS, to take over the work, which it did in November 1945. However, the association continued in existence, representing the participation of the Chaco Mennonites in the Lengua Mission and contributing financial and other support to the work. -- HSB

1959 Supplement

"Light to the Indians" in the Paraguayan Chaco was started by missionary-minded members of the Mennonite churches of Fernheim, Paraguay. As early as 1932, soon after the European group of Mennonites settled in the Chaco, the evangelization of the resident aboriginals was conceived. The Chaco-Bolivian War delayed a formal beginning until 17 September 1935, when interested friends of missions of the three conferences represented in Fernheim, aided by the KfK (Committee on Church Relations), formed the Fernheim Mission Association and organized a mission under the name "Licht den Indianern." The newly organized mission employed missionary Gerhard B. Giesbrecht, who with subsidies from various church groups in North America and intermittent help hired from the Mennonite settlements kept the mission work going.

In 1937 Bernard P. Epp came from North America to assist Giesbrecht with the study and construction of the Lengua Indian language and the evangelization of the tribe. Other workers labored for shorter intervals. In order to induce the Indians to settle at one place, the mission set out to operate a farm on which employment and living room was offered them. An experiment of eight years proved that these roaming, unevangelized Indians could not be induced to reside at one place. It was only after the conversion and baptism of the first Indians in 1946 that these new Christians asked for permission to settle in the mission colony in order to withdraw themselves and their families from the pagan and shifting life of their tribesmen and to build a Christian community.

As early as 1943 definite requests were made by the missionaries as well as by the Fernheim Mission Association that the Mennonite Brethren Conference of North America assume the responsibility. The formal acceptance of the mission by the MB Conference took place in November 1945.

The staff was increased to include Mr. and Mrs. Jacob H. Franz from Mennonite Brethren churches in North America, Mr. and Mrs. Gerhard B. Giesbrecht, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Klassen, Mr. and Mrs. Dietrich Lepp, Mr. and Mrs. Gerhard Hein, Mr. and Mrs. David Hein, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Rennert, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kroeker, Mary Giesbrecht, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Enns from the Mennonite Brethren churches in Paraguay, and Mr. and Mrs. Kornelius K. Isaak from the Mennonite church in Paraguay. Isaak was killed by a Moro Indian in 1958.

The mission operated stations in Asunción in eastern Paraguay and the Chulupí stations in Filadelfia and Neuland, as well as the Lengua stations at Laguna Ipuna and Yalve Sanga in the Chaco. It operated two elementary schools, one for Lenguas and one for Chulupis. Short term Bible instruction is given to adults. Dispensary work was carried on by the nurses. Several Gospels and some doctrinal material and songs were translated into the Lengua and Chulupí languages. The total number of baptized believers in 1958 was somewhat over 200. -- AEJ

1987 Update

Licht den Indianern, a missionary association organized at a special meeting on 17 September 1935 in the Fernheim Colony of Paraguay. Forty-eight of the 97 mission supporters, representing all three Mennonite denominations (Mennonite Brethren, General Conference Mennonite, and Konferenz der Evangelischen Mennonitischen Brüderschaft) in Fernheim, were present for the founding and setting forth of the purpose of Licht den Indianern. Russian immigrants responded in mission out of thankfulness for having been led out of Russia into a challenging new situation, bringing them into contact with the Lengua Indian people in the Chaco of Paraguay.

With limited resources but wholistic goals in mind, mission work was begun among the Lengua people, with the dedication of the first mission workers, the Abram Ratzlaff family and Abram Unger in October 1935. It was necessary in the winter of 1936 to move to a more suitable "campo" (grassland), known to the Lengua people as "Yalve Sanga" (waterhole of the armadillo).

The first missionary to begin learning the Lengua language was the well-known Gerhard B. Giesbrecht, who began working among the Lengua people in 1937. The Giesbrecht family was joined in this difficult task in 1938 by a young missionary, Bernhard Epp, from Canada. Very slowly the Lengua Indian people responded to the Mennonite mission effort. After 11 years of dedication, proclaiming the Good News more and more clearly in Lengua, 7 young Lengua men turned their lives over to Christ. They were baptized on 24 February 1946, thus forming the first Lengua congregation.

The presence of Mennonite colonies in the central Chaco region attracted more and more migrating Indian peoples. Since 1936 Chulupí People from the south (Pilcomayo region) began moving into the area. In 1946, as a result of an official cooperation with the North American Mennonite Brethren Conference it became possible, to invite a missionary couple, Jakob Franz, from Canada, to begin mission work among the Chulupí People. In 1949 they were joined in the difficult task of learning the Chulupí language by two other young local missionaries, Kornelius Isaak and Gerhard Hein. After a sudden exodus in 1951-1952 the Chulupí returned with the fervor of having come into contact with the Pentecostal movement. Using this as a starting point the missionaries were able to give more biblical teaching to these people, resulting in the formation of the first Chulupí congregation in 1958 when 22 new members were baptized.

The work of Licht den Indianern extended also among other Lengua and Toba groups where new contacts were made. Thus it became possible in 1952 for Dietrich Lepp and Jakob A. Klassen to begin work among a group of approximately 500 Indians (mainly Toba people) who had settled on land belonging to the Fernheim Colony. Also near Waldrode in Neuland Colony, a young missionary named Alex Bartel began work among a Lengua group in 1952. Kornelius Isaak and David Hein, where also ordained to make contact with the warlike Ayoreo (Moro) people from the north. This became possible in 1958, but the death of Kornelius Isaak caused Licht den Indianern to pull back from this frontier which was later taken up by New Tribes Mission, who continued to work among the Ayoreo Indian people. Work was also begun among the Guarani Indian people resulting in the formation of a Guarani congregation in 1975.

One of the greatest challenges to which Licht den Indianern responded from the beginning was to translate biblical texts into the Indian languages. Two missionaries, Dietrich Lepp (Lengua) and Gerhard Hein (Chulupí), were assigned to this important task. After 10 years of pioneering work, the New Testament in Lengua and Chulupí was ready for publication in the early 1970s. These New Testaments, along with translated portions of the Old Testament, provided the basis and guiding force in Indian congregational life. The same two missionaries continued the work of translating the complete Old Testament.

The Indian congregations which were accompanied by Licht den Indianern have grown rapidly: the 5 Lengua congregations in 1987 had a total membership of ca. 1,300 and were joined together under the conference Convención de las Iglesias Evangélicas de los Hermanos Lengua. The 7 Chulupí congregations had a total membership of ca. 1,400, and were joined together under the conference Convención de las Iglesias Evangélicas Chulupí. The 2 Guarani congregations had a membership of ca. 300. These congregations existed among a total population of approximately 7,000 Indian people.

The work of Licht den Indianern in the 1980s changed from the early years of pioneer work. It became the joint mission work of the Mennonite congregations of Fernheim and Neuland. The priorities of Licht den Indianern lay in the areas of accompanying the Indian congregations and conferences in an advisory role, especially focusing on teaching and equipping Indian people for the many ministries within their congregations. The challenge in the mission work was stronger than ever in that it needed to find a way to build more bridges of trust, fellowship, and Christian community between two peoples, German and Indian, who lived side-by-side in the Chaco of Paraguay, a unique mission situation. -- EG


Esau, Mrs H. T. The First Sixty Years of Mennonite Brethren Missions. Hillsboro, KS, 1954.

Janzen, A. E. Glimpses of South America. Hillsboro, KS, 1943.

Licht den Indianern. Brochure, 1987.

Schartner, Sieghard and Wilmar Stahl. Wer ist mein Naechster? Indianermission im zentralen Chaco von Paraguay. Asunción, Paraguay: Imprenta Cromos S.R.C., 1986.

Stahl, Wilmar. "Mission und Indianersiedlung." in 50 Jahre Kolonie Fernheim. Filadelfia, 1980: 132-169.

Author(s) Harold S., A. E. Janzen Bender
Ewald Goetz
Date Published 1987

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S., A. E. Janzen and Ewald Goetz. "Licht den Indianern (Light to the Indians)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 17 Aug 2022.

APA style

Bender, Harold S., A. E. Janzen and Ewald Goetz. (1987). Licht den Indianern (Light to the Indians). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 August 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 334; vol. 4, pp. 119-120, v. 5, pp. 521-522. All rights reserved.

©1996-2022 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.