‘I founded strict Mennonite church — but banished for refusing to let kids die’

The founder of a strict Mennonite community has revealed he was banished from his own church after breaking their rules to stop kids being crushed to death.

Mennonites, a group of Anabaptist Christian church communities, can be found across the world and while more progressive Mennonite communities live fairly modern lives, some of the more conservative ones follow practices similar to the Amish.

This can include modest clothing and head coverings for women, the use of horse-drawn carts and buggies to get around as well as rules against using modern technology like electrical appliances and machinery.

Former Mennonite John started the group 40 years ago but had also worked with machinery as a teen before going on to help found one of these conservative Mennonite communities in rural Belize. Opening up about his experience in an interview with YouTuber Beyond The Frog, John revealed he was a member of the community for four decades and has "something like" 40 grandchildren, although he confessed to not remembering all their names.

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But despite being one of the founding members of the community, John was banished nearly a decade ago after using modern machinery, which was strictly forbidden in his former community. "They were very strict. They thought that was the only way to be, very strict that you don't touch the things," John said.

He explained they didn't have "so much concern" if someone from outside the community used modern machinery for them but saw it differently if a member used it themselves. "As soon as you do it with your hand, that was really something," John revealed.

John struggled to decide whether he agreed with the strict rules himself. He said: "I was quite on that side too, to protect that kind of belief, but I always found something is not right." But one day his mind was made up when he made a decision that would lead to him being kicked out of the community and separated from his family.

He explained how their rules meant the community would sometimes hire non-members to do machinery work for them and on one occasion an inexperienced bulldozer driver they'd hired left a the machine in a precarious position where it was at risk of tipping onto young Mennonite boys nearby.

Concerned, John informed other Mennonite men working near the bulldozer about the danger before leading them out of the work site, which he admitted was so he could do what he did next "conscience-free." John recalled how a second bulldozer sat next to the one in the dangerous position and he realised he'd easily be able to use it to pull the bulldozer that was close to tipping into a safe position to protect other members of the community.

"Nobody saw it from the Mennonites what I did but I had my plan because there was another bulldozer beside it. It was an easy thing to do but they were not allowed to do that," John recalled. But when other members returned to the site and saw the bulldozer had moved, they quickly figured out it must have been John who did it.

John said: "The boys thought 'Surely John has driven a bulldozer, that's almost for sure' and in two weeks' time the ministers came to my house and they said 'Is that true that you've driven a bulldozer?'"

He admitted it was him to the ministers, who claimed they wouldn't have seen it as a "big issue" if John had come to them straight away about what he'd done. Instead, the ministers had a big meeting about the incident and over the course of a year and a half they debated what to do about John.

John stood by what he did. "I don't feel that I did anything wrong," he said, adding: "They could not bring me to the same level of thinking as they had."

Eventually, the ministers decided to banish John from the church for good. "Just with driving a little bulldozer they put me out of the church. That's something that was not nice, it was a hard life for me," John said.

Despite his experience, John is still religious and believes that getting out of the community was all part of god's plan for him. He explained: "I think that's why god allowed me to do a mistake in their eyes and they threw me out and for a good while took me away from my wife and my family."

He confessed he can't be sure god is real, but still has faith, adding: "You don't know if it's true what we are believing, what we are doing here, I know there's a purpose that you and me and the others are here in this world. God has a plan for us."

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