The desert of northern Mexico seemed so perfect when the Mennonites moved here 26 years ago: a place free from electricity, television or cars.
But then the government installed the first power lines.
And now, this deeply traditional, tight-knit community is divided between those who want to stay in Sabinal, their far-flung, dusty village, and those who soon will load their wagons, hitch up their horses and move to a new, even more remote home.
“When the power lines arrived, they decided to go,” says Sabinal resident Enrique Friesen, 37, who for his part plans to stay, with his wife and eight children.
“They don’t want electricity — just horses. They say electricity is a sin.”
The Mennonites of Mexico are the descendants of strictly conservative Protestants whose denominations emerged out of the 16th century Reformation in Europe.
Their ancestors fled persecution in Germany and the Netherlands for Russia, then Canada and finally Mexico. Today, the people of Sabinal live in the Chihuahuan desert almost like an isolated indigenous tribe — except that their skin is white, their hair typically blond, and their eyes blue.
Men traditionally wear handmade overalls, while the women opt for long, flowing dresses. Their native language is Low German. In a sign of their limited contact with the rest of Mexico, they often speak little Spanish. They generally reject cell phones, television, cars and even rubber tires for their horse-drawn carriages.