The Mennonite Old Colony Vision:
Under Siege in Mexico and the Canadian Connection

by David M. Quiring, Crossway Publications, 2003, 190 pp.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

In this study, David Quiring purports to tell the story of the Old Colony vision and reality in a balanced way, taking into account perspectives of Old Colonists themselves. It is clear that he is trying to bring a corrective to a story that has, to this point, largely been told by non-Old Colonists who donít agree with their vision. While this is a noble goal, it is clear from the outset that Quiring is, in fact, writing a sympathetic defense of the Old Colony vision and history.

At itís core, Quiringís thesis is that if Old Colonists in Mexico had been able to sever ties with Canada more completely, and other more liberal Mennonites had left them alone, they would have been able to create their isolated utopia they had dreamed of when they first migrated there in the 1920s. The whole book basically provides documentation to substantiate this thesis.

For example, he argues that if Canada had been less receptive to Mexican Mennonite immigration, disgruntled Old Colonists in Mexico would have been forced to find local solutions to their problems in the context of a unified colony structure. With an easy escape to Canada available to church members when disagreements or economic hardships arose, Old Colony leaders were unable to keep their people focused on their utopian ideals. The problem was compounded by the many seasonal workers in Canada who brought worldly trappings with them when they returned to their homes in Mexico.

However, even greater blame for the continued disintegration of the Old Colony system in Mexico, Quiring believes, rests on other well-meaning but misguided Mennonites who refused to leave them alone. He notes that Old Colonists were opposed to help offered by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) during times of severe drought, for example, even though in some cases they benefited significantly from its help. Of course, they were also opposed to any Mennonite groups who offered their adherents an alternative religious and church experience. Indeed, when seen through Old Colonist eyes, it is understandable why they feared such interventions, because invariably they introduced elements into their milieu that challenged the underpinnings of Old Colonist ideals.

Quiring has done well in clarifying the vision of Old Colonists and documenting their unrelenting struggle to remain untouched by forces beyond their circles. Such an inside look provides the internal logic underlying their many defensive moves against the encroaching world. Whether the reader is sympathetic with Old Colonist ideals or not, it is helpful to understand what the world looks like standing in their shoes.

From my perspective, however, Quiring has chosen to minimize the negative dimensions of the Old Colonist dream. He fails to acknowledge that a closed colony system goes a long way toward eliminating voluntarism, for example, one of the foundational tenants of the Anabaptist vision. It tends toward nominalism as surely as did the church/state unions early Anabaptists fled and died opposing. Nor does he acknowledge the internal forces of decay that always flourish within closed, legalistic and defensive communities. Or that that decay is felt most keenly by the poorest and most powerless in their midst.

So while the book is enlightening with respect to Old Colony dynamics, in my opinion it does not do a credible job of defending the Old Colonist vision as being a viable, faithful and sustainable vision in a real world. Rather it documents the impossibility of pure isolationism and the perpetual necessity for Old Colonists to retreat and retrench in the face of a world they cannot live with nor without.