The story we aired on the troubles rising out of the peaceful shipyard community has been the subject of conversation for many, especially since it came as a surprise to many Belizeans. Over the weekend, the media was able to speak with leaders of the Shipyard Community on accusations against their church and customs. They clarified these accusations but did not grant on camera interviews as they say it is against their religion but that the media could quote their side of the story.
To begin with, the leaders headed by former elected chairman George Wall and current chairman Cornelius Krahn, say the Mennonite community at Shipyard was first established in 1958.
The first Mennonites arrived in Belize from Chihuahua Mexico. The people bought land and established their church and have been here for over fifty years. After the story broke on the altercation between two groups of young men, the leaders say they heard the stories on the radio and say the stories are not accurate. The elder says that the fight broke out among young men.
George Petkau allegedly began the altercation with another young man, his distant cousin who had arrived and was apparently unwelcomed. George Petkau reportedly went for a machete and attacked the young man and others. His father, Franz Petkau was also reportedly driving his pickup in an intoxicated state and pulled out his shotgun. The young men reportedly picked up stones and stoned the pickup truck.
However, it appears that the chronological order of the fight and how it played out exactly is not well known by the elders who shared their stories. They contend though, that it has nothing to do with the church or that the Petkau family is excommunicated from the church. They add that for over fifteen years many have had problems with the Petkau family. The leaders say that they feel they should not linger on the situation since they have closed it and left it in the past.
When it comes to their community structure and religious practices, the elders started by stating that at the start of the community, each family was given the privilege to ask for land and buy the rights to work the land. At that time, the amount of land available to the people was 25 to 30 acres.
The land is not sold to outsiders. Any transactions are done with people from within the community. In reference to excommunication, the leaders say that those who had spoken with us left on their own, following their own plan. They say a pastor from Canada came into the community and is now leading those who have decided to leave the church and even though the land they work and have built their evangelical church on belongs to the church of Shipyard, they are left alone. They did say that they had attempted to buy the land from the families since they had decided to leave the church but that transaction was not made and that was the end of it.
They also deny reports that they have persecuted any of the families who have left the church. If anyone has been harassed or persecuted it was not by members of the church. The leaders did not elaborate much on the cases since these are cases of their church and did not know details of each.
As for their rules, once you misbehave it is known that they cannot go to the church and once they leave the church they can purchase their modern conveniences, and they are left on their own. The leaders reiterated that they do not mistreat anyone or any family who leaves the church. What they do is just avoid contact with whoever has been known to do anything against the teachings of the bible such as adultery or drinking. They do follow and uphold the old colony teachings by not allowing intermarriages and by upholding strict laws that govern their land system which as we mentioned can only be worked and bought by members of the community.
In regards to the community leaders bribing the police to get their way and maintain their own law within the community, the leaders rejected the allegations and say they are happy with the way the police have worked within Shipyard. They say they have tried to keep peace and order within the community without persecuting anyone.
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