Beachys in Costa RicaBy John D. Roth
The village of Pitál de San Carlos — nestled in the shadow of Costa Rica’s most active volcano — is home to a small Beachy Amish congregation and the editorial offices of La Antorcha de la Verdad (The Torch of Truth), which boasts the largest circulation of any Mennonite publication in the world.
Beachy Amish missionaries first settled in Costa Rica in 1968. The community has since expanded to include a cluster of thriving congregations of Costa Rican converts, Kleine Gemeinde immigrants from Belize and a host of second-generation Yoders, Schrocks, Heisys and Nislys. Every two months the small printing press at Publicadora La Merced in nearby Santa Rita de Rìo Cuarto prints and distributes more than 200,000 copies of La Antorcha de la Verdad, a 34-page bulletin-size magazine that finds its way into Spanish-speaking churches, prisons, schools and homes in nearly 50 countries.
According to its longtime editor, Duane Nisly, the periodical began in 1987, intended primarily for Amish Mennonite communities in Latin America. After publication was temporarily disrupted by the wars in Central America, the editorial committee re-established the journal for a broader readership, with the goal of “promoting sound biblical doctrine with an Anabaptist orientation” and offering “counsel for a practical Christian life in Latin America.”
Today, the majority of its readers live in Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica, with a strong interest among Christians in Cuba. The vast majority of written responses to each issue come from readers in Cuba.
Each issue begins with a devotional reflection from Nisly, followed by a biblical teaching or sermon, and practical counsel for family life. A section devoted to youth — often a serialized story — a short Bible story, activities or stories for young children, a recipe and a memory verse or poem round out each issue. Many of the articles are translated from stories or devotionals that first appeared in a periodical from another Christian publisher, such as the conservative Mennonite Lamp and Light or the Old Order Amish Pathway Publishers.
La Antorcha clearly seeks to balance its Anabaptist-Mennonite roots with a broad evangelical readership. In the July-August issue, editors noted that readers had expressed an interest in learning more about the theological foundations of the periodical.
So, they initiated a new series of articles focused on “characteristics of the pilgrim church” that promised to include essays on: true Christian worship; separation from the world; Christians and politics; the gospel and wealth; the devotional cover for the Christian woman; the proper role of the Christian woman; and the concept of biblical authority.
In the first essay of the series, Marcos Yoder made a biblical case for orderly worship, which he described as “heartfelt, but restrained.” Singing should be done without instruments, and participants should be “quietly attentive” during prayer, the sermon and congregational sharing. Yoder recognized that “this point of view is something new for many of our readers, since the majority of congregations in Latin America have adopted a Pentecostal style.”
Situated at the intersection between an ethic of separation from the world and the call of the Great Commission, the ministry of La Antorcha offers an example of how living traditions are always being renewed and transformed.
John D. Roth is professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College, where he is also director of the Mennonite Historical Library and the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism.
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