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black and white image of palm trees

Primavera

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No citadel
no glimmering Jerusalem
no golden city

but it is first seen from afar.

And a long journey
and a steep way
and a treacherous, pain-weary,
siren-taunted voyage
lie between.

Jane Tyson Clement

The men were working as hard and as fast as they could to build shelters at Isla Margarita. They could not continue in Friesland much longer, as the Mennonite school year was about to begin, and they needed their classrooms back. Fritz’s wife, Sekunda, was one of the first to move out of the schoolhouse. Bringing her six children along, she set up house in the first hut that was ready – and began caring for the sixty men stationed there as well, especially those who were suffering from malaria and tropical sores.

Buildings under construction at the Bruderhof in Paraguay

Buildings under construction at Primavera. Even when finished, they provided spartan quarters: large halls divided into family rooms by means of sheets and blankets.

Rudi and Wolfgang dug a well: one lowered the other on a rope, to fill bucket after bucket with dirt; the other remained at ground level to haul up the filled buckets. It was hard, dangerous work: once the whole pulley contraption came crashing down, and Wolfgang was almost killed.

Other men were busy felling trees, hauling the logs out of the forest with oxen, and then cutting them into posts. Rafters were made from the long, straight mbavú trees and were carried out on the shoulders of three men. Laths were made of bamboo, which was felled and fetched from several miles away and then split into narrow strips. These were used to hold down small bundles of colorado grass, which were dipped in the red clay soil to form a thatch.

Alan and Roger split logs. One man stood at each end, and they worked in rhythm, each bringing his axe down or swinging it back up as his partner did the opposite. One morning Roger swung his axe, and it got stuck. Alan remembered: “The next swing was mine, and I came down toward Roger’s head. As soon as I saw that his axe was stuck, and that he was in the way of my axe, I turned it so that the flat of the head came down on Roger’s head. In the end there was not much damage done, but believe me, there were two weak and shocked brothers who went home right away and were put to rest for the balance of the day.”

At long last the sisters and children piled onto the wagons for the drive up to Isla Margarita – those from Village 3 on April 9, and those from Village 2 on April 23. As they bumped through the forest, they admired the palm trees and the wide view of green meadows edged by dark woods. Finally they saw the thatched roofs of Primavera! “How beautiful it is!” Trautel thought. “Now we will shoulder the burdens together. Now all the tensions will be dissolved.” There was Sekunda standing at a huge cauldron, stirring soup in a cloud of steam and smoke for their first meal together.

They lived in the Gallop Hut. It consisted of a corrugated iron roof on palm trunk supports. Four “halls” were still being built. These had thatched roofs on wooden posts sunk one meter into the ground. Neither the Gallop Hut nor the halls had walls to separate families. People used their luggage and mosquito nets to give an illusion of privacy and dressed before it got light. For the young people, this was part of the adventure; others needed to be encouraged to develop their sense of humor. “God wants the walls to fall!” Emmy quoted from a favorite hymn. Still, it was a trial for Irmgard and Anni. There was no time or place to mourn the loss of their little ones; Anni sometimes put her head under her pillow so that no one would hear her weeping.

Phyllis described their living conditions in a letter to her family in England:

Sometimes we get very heavy dews in the mornings, and anything that is not under cover is very wet. As we have no walls to our houses, it penetrates everywhere. We have no furniture yet so live in our trunks, so to speak, and that is not too easy. When they have been packed tightly to come, things don’t go back so easily. It is a real camp life for us all. We all sleep on bedsteads but no mattresses, and when there aren’t enough bedsteads, and there often haven’t been, people sleep on benches. We are all hardening and it is good. Civilization has become too soft, and comfort takes too high a place in one’s life to the detriment of one’s inner life. I am very glad to have experienced the poverty and need of these first weeks in Paraguay. I had taken too much for granted in the old life before I came to the Bruderhof. I always thought I would have sheets to sleep in and bread and butter to eat, or at least margarine, and a cup of tea to drink. I never thought that I could eat rice for breakfast, rice for dinner, and rice for supper (and not made with fresh milk, only water and some cheap dried milk). We have little cow’s milk, and that the children have. Bread is scarce, but we usually get a little once a day. Even so, I’m told we have better food than when the community was in Germany. I think that there they semi-starved.

Actually our chief difficulty is the sicknesses and having no doctor. So many (in fact, nearly all) our people and children have septic wounds on their legs and elsewhere. We are up against a very horrible kind of wound, such as one wouldn’t meet in England. Nearly all the wounds have live worms or maggots in them and give much pain. Some of the children have these wounds in their heads and must have their heads shaved. My first experience with this nearly sapped all my courage and made me feel very sick, as I had to extract one from a tiny child’s eye. I am nursing sick babies and children all day long.

When the group of 158 set out from England in February, they had left behind 70 men and women to negotiate the sale of the Cotswold Bruderhof and to work out the last passages to South America. But visitors continued to come and several asked to join. They found themselves in a quandary: should the entire Bruderhof movement leave Europe, or should they leave some behind to continue what they felt was work in God’s harvest field? Philip Britts wrote in his journal:

Philip Britts in a broad brimmed straw hat

Philip Britts

I thought, when our people left, that we should care no more for the offerings of England, and indeed, on that day, we heard and could see no birds except the Phoenix. But although we find that part of our hearts have gone across the sea, the handwork of God in England is still sweet. So is the task for God that Jesus has called us to take up. We long to be with our brothers who are in a land of blazing sun and flowers. But the chaste snowdrops comfort us, as do the modest English birds.

Again on March 11 he recorded:

About 250 of our people have crossed the sea, in five voyages, in these desperate times, and not one has been lost. We can never be sufficiently thankful to God for this.

Now we must seek to know what is his will for us who are still here. And on this day the Brotherhood will meet throughout the day, to seek together the answer to many questions.

The position here is this: Many new people are still coming to us, more than ever before at this time of year. Our guest circle numbers about twenty. These things hold us to this country, but our brothers call to us from the new land:

“Position necessitates that you come soon. Help us to build Zion.”

“Mission continues.”

“Paraguay ripe for our message.”

What shall we do? Shall we go or stay? Shall some go and some stay? How many shall go and how many shall stay? Who shall go and who shall stay?

And on March 13:

Today we received a cable from Paraguay. It contained good and cheering news: “Health good. Come immediately!” We felt that a direction had been pointed in our seeking. As we recalled the phrases that had kept recurring in the cables from the new land, we felt a great urge to take up this new task.

On April 23 the last group set out under the leadership of Hardy’s brother Heini, leaving behind three members to finalize the sale of the Cotswold. (As it turned out, the number of guests in England continued to increase daily. In the end, instead of coming to Paraguay, those left behind stayed and began a new community, Wheathill.)

The final group included Ruth and Margaret, the doctors mentioned earlier, both of whom had just finished medical school. Also in the group was Heini’s sister Emy-Margaret, who was dangerously ill with tuberculosis. Her son Ben, seven, had been sick for months with pneumonia and asthma.

The night before the group’s departure, they met for prayer and worship. Heini Arnold spoke:

This evening we are looking towards the reunion with our brothers and sisters in South America. The most important task that has been given us is that there be established on the earth a people of God, a people of love and of unity. It will be wonderful when we are able to experience again a real community, and also a real children’s community, in a circle of 300-350 people. What we need for the future in America and for the small group which remains here is that God himself strengthens us. It is very important this evening and for the future that the will of Jesus Christ is before our eyes.

When Jesus speaks of a city on a hill, he does not mean a religion of some kind. He really means a city from which the strength of God flows out. The character of this city becomes clear to us when we read the words of Jesus in his parting address to his disciples, in which above all, love and unity are emphasized.

It seems quite impossible that a kingdom of peace might come among us humans, yet precisely this is what we ought to expect from God. We should expect the doors of heaven to open, so that the strength of God streams down and works among people. It will be accompanied by judgment, but it will bring the love of God. When we feel how great the need and the suffering of the world is, when we see great cities laid in ruins, and all the death and sorrow, it can bring us to despair unless we believe that God’s love will ultimately triumph and rule everywhere.

We see in the prophetic words of Jesus that the closer love comes to the earth, the stronger is the hate and destruction that opposes it. It is into this struggle that we are now placed. Wherever we may be, let us ask and expect and pray that God’s love, strength, peace, justice, and righteousness might be revealed among us.

It is only in faith – faith that through judgment and suffering people draw nearer to God – that we can leave Europe tomorrow. We believe that there, in a new land, the building up of a city on a hill will be given anew.


From No Lasting Home: A Year in the Paraguayan Wilderness by Emmy Barth

Contributed By Emmy Barth Emmy Barth

Emmy Barth is a member of the Bruderhof communities and a senior archivist for the Bruderhof’s historical archives.

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