Providence, peace and prayer

Mennonite community comes to Craig

There's a new counter-culture in town -- new to Craig that is.

But instead of rebelling against the rules, adherents strive to follow a stringent set of guidelines passed down through many generations. They call themselves Mennonites and they've come here to teach the Gospel and build a church community.

They have a distinct dress based on modesty and simplicity. And their lifestyle differs dramatically from mainstream America: no radio, television or movie theaters to distract them from devoting their lives to God.

Dale Martin is the pastor of the local 45-member congregation, which is made up of six families.

"We have no radio or television, not because it's evil, but because those are things that can keep us from being the people God wants us to be," Martin said.

He said one thing that sets the Mennonite church apart from other Christian faiths is how literally they take the Bible -- and more specifically how important the New Testament is to modern life.

When Jesus said pray for your enemies, Martin said that's what he believes Jesus meant. Mennonites practice non-resistance even to the point of rejecting self-defense, he said.

"Jesus said the way you conquer your enemies is love them," Martin said.

He offered a hypothetical example of someone breaking into his home where he lives with his wife and 10 children.

"Our goal is to get to heaven and help other people get to heaven. If we killed someone who is doing wrong, we'd seal their fate ... that's not the goal," Martin said, meaning that he believes if the wrong-doer had not achieved salvation through accepting Christ, he or she would not get to heaven.

Martin said he appreciates government and the freedoms people enjoy in this country, but if laws clash with spiritual beliefs, values win out over laws every time. Mennonites would resist a military draft if the president instituted one, just as they have in the past, he said.

"We stay out of politics," Martin said. "We pray, but other than that, we stay out."

They don't vote.

And Pastor Martin and Deacon Brent Wenger said that Mennonites do not claim to be the sole source of truth.

Wenger said that he believes there are many paths to God and he is suspicious of any church that claims to have a monopoly on righteousness.

Even if church members don't agree with people in power or know why events happen the way they do, Martin said they have faith that God has a purpose for everything.

The Mennonites have their own church and school where their children go. They don't much care for higher education, and the men generally take jobs that are in keeping with their faith, such as carpentry or publishing religious materials, Martin said.

Mennonite men and women have different roles in life.

Lois Yoder, mother of seven with another on the way, said she would not be one to advocate for women's rights.

"It's not that women are less valuable, but that men and women have different places," Yoder said, explaining that women are expected to take care of the home and submit to their husbands, while both husband and wife submit to God.

Just as there are differences among congregations of any organized religion, Mennonite congregations also differ. One belief common to the Southwestern and Western Mennonite traditions is that 20 families is a good number to ensure enough social interaction and proper school atmosphere for the community, Martin said. Once the church grows beyond that however, they ask families to move to a new location and start a new congregation there.

That's what happened in Loma, a small community near Grand Junction, last fall. The school was at capacity and it was either time to build on to the building or send some families out into the world.

Wayne Miller, pastor of the Grand Valley Mennonite Church said even though it's harder to ask families to move than to put up more two-by-fours, Mennonites believe God wants them to fill the four corners of the world. He said families are not forced to move if they prefer to stay.

"We believe the Gospel is for all people," Miller said. "That's why we should (spread out) rather than be in a pile."

Although the Craig congregation is currently searching for land on which to erect church and school buildings, Martin said all are invited to attend services at Shadow Mountain Clubhouse at 10 a.m. on Sundays.

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