A farewell to the Brauns

The Braun family finishes its time in Bolivia. Left to right: Sebastian, Cornelia, Horst, Judith, Lars and Joel Braun. — MCC Bolivia

Horst and Judith Braun, along with their children Lars, Cornelia, Sebastian and Joel, are nearing the end of their second term serving with MCC in Bolivia. Judith and Horst have stewarded Centro Menno, a crucial resource for the Low German speaking community in Bolivia. Hailing from a Mennonite colony in Paraguay, and having experience living in Manitoba, Canada, the Brauns are people who build bridges between the different worlds that can exist within a single country like Bolivia.

At the end of May, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Braun family and hear more about their past five years serving with MCC. While we talked, we passed around tereré and shared cuñape. In the recording of our conversation, we can hear birds in the trees above us, a band practicing next door, someone selling food in the street, and a baby – my daughter – crawling around at our feet. Here is a summary of our conversation, featuring some insights into the impact the Brauns have made through Centro Menno and their family’s next steps.

When did you arrive in Bolivia for this service term? (And when were you here previously?)

For this term we arrived on July 27, 2019. Our first term was July 2004 – July 2007.

What have been some highs and lows of your years in Bolivia?

Some family highlights were a trip to Tarija in 2021 after Lars’s graduation and going to Cochabamba. For the kids, individual highlights were having grandparents nearby (Joel) learning and working with technology (Sebastian), being part of the worship team at church (Cornelia) and becoming a licensed private pilot (Lars). As for lows, the pandemic was the biggest one because it disrupted so much, but we felt blessed that we were in Bolivia and living at MCC. And the heat (says Joel, without hesitation)!

In our work with the Low German Program, we enjoyed visiting the colonies around Concepción and in the Beni with Kennert Giesbrecht (former editor of Die Mennonitische Post), and the Low German Learning Tour in September 2023. Another highlight was growing the readership of Das Blatt (Low German children’s publication) and Die Mennonitische Post (for adults). It’s a joy every time we sign up another school for Das Blatt, and we have had that joy many times. In the last month we have signed up two entire colonies. They came in and they said, “We want it for our schools.”

It’s also fun to set up new stores for selling the Die Mennonitische Post, but Das Blatt is particularly special because it is the only printed material that’s made outside of the colonies that the colonies accept. There were many highlights, but that one stands out.

What is something you have learned in working with the Low German community?

The most significant thing we have come to understand is how much the Mennonites are an oral society. Everything is learned and understood through stories. Keeping this in mind has really improved our communication with the colonies. We started sharing more details about our family and our plans; for example, we’d share that we were going on a trip to visit our parents in Paraguay. Later, people would remember and ask, “How are your parents?” and they’d share with us about their lives, too.

What have you appreciated most about being part of MCC?

We’ve appreciated the multicultural aspect — meeting people from different cultures, in different situations and being connected.

We’ve also found that MCC’s structure has given us access to people and places where it would have been much harder if we were not part of a larger organization. The stability of the organization is helpful when you’re coming from outside to serve here.

How do you imagine your future connections with MCC?

There is an MCC store in Portage La Prairie, the closest town to where we will live. It’s one of the larger MCC stores in Manitoba, and a place where you can find pamphlets and see pictures of MCC’s work around the world. They already know us quite well there.

If you could choose three words to summarize your time with MCC Bolivia as a family, what would they be?

Change, growth, connections (and hot).

The Brauns will conclude their time in Bolivia having completed eight years of service in Centro Menno – among the longest of those who have served in the Low German program. These years represent continuity of relationships, trust built over time and, said Horst, “a sense of tranquility about our job.”

“We have seen the good, the bad, the ugly, the exciting, the beautiful, the not-so-beautiful of the Low German culture,” he said. “Nothing surprises us. And that has really helped us connect to the people.”

Judith and Horst have each connected with people differently, according to their spheres of influence within Mennonite society. While it was primarily men who would come to Centro Menno looking for Horst, Judith found she had liberty to engage with women in the colonies about all kinds of situations of life and raising children. The couple have truly approached their work and ministry as a team.

As for next steps, the Brauns will be moving to MacGregor, a community in Manitoba located 130 kilometers west of Winnipeg. Horst will be returning to the same potato grain farm where he worked previously, but this time in a different position. Judith will be focusing on helping Joel and Sebastian integrate back into the Canadian school system. After that, she’s interested in using her diverse language skills in part-time work.

Cornelia will be moving to the Netherlands to attend university, studying to be an international primary school teacher. Lars will be the lone member of the family remaining in Bolivia, as he continues to work towards a culinary certificate and his commercial pilot’s license (what a combination).

A lot has changed for the family over these past five years. “We came with four dependents, and we leave with two,” said Horst. The family that arrived in Bolivia in July 2019 is not the family that is leaving.

How do you hope to be remembered in Bolivia?

We’ve occupied very different worlds in Bolivia between the colonies, the MCC team, school and church. We hope that in all these spaces, we’ll be remembered as authentic, compassionate and faithful.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Koinonia, the 0fficial newsletter of Mennonite Central Committee in Bolivia. Used with permission.

Anika Bauman

Anika Bauman is a program and team accompaniment worker for MCC Bolivia.

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