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Three Lives Inextricably Intertwined:

A handsome physician obsessed with caring for the underserved

A shy and devout Mennonite nurse

And an Argentine revolutionary.

Against the backdrop of World War II, Nazi uprisings, political unrest in Argentina and Paraguay, and the scourge of leprosy left untreated, Dr. John and Clara Schmidt vow to live a life of service.

But at what cost?

Based on true events that span six decades, CALLED is an epic tale of adventure and love that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.



John Schmidt (1911-2003)

John grew up on a farm in a poor Low-German Mennonite community in central Kansas. Even as a child, he knew he wanted to do something more. Something important. Exciting. Something that would be of service to his Lord and to those in need.

Little did John realize that his dream to do “something more” as a kid would mean that he’d spend his life as a medical pioneer in the backwoods of Paraguay; and that medical experts around the world would recognize him as revolutionizing the treatment of a dreaded disease called leprosy.

But the journey from bare-footed Kansas farm boy to world-renown is fraught with obstacles, which John confronts with dogged perseverance that often verges on madness. Even in the face of intractable opposition, his stubborn righteousness – layered over a deep sense of worthlessness – drives him to tackle the seemingly impossible. His wife Clara quietly supports him in deflecting and overcoming one hurdle after another, while Ana, a fiercely passionate Argentinian woman, haunts John like demons, propelling him toward ever-greater risk-taking. 


Clara Regier (1914-2010)

Clara came from a strict and sheltered High-German Mennonite community on a Kansas farm not far from where John grew up. The oldest of four children, she shouldered the burden of caring for her siblings during her mother’s bouts of illness.

As a young woman, she had little time to date. Besides, Clara knew that marriage probably was not for her. When baptized at seventeen, she decided that devoting her life to serve her Lord was more important than marriage.

Destiny chose otherwise. Believing Clara will be a good Mennonite wife for John, his older brother, an eminent surgeon at her hospital, arranges for them to meet the day before John leaves for Paraguay in 1941. When John’s letters begin to arrive from Paraguay, Clara knows that marrying him and joining him in that heathen country is her chance to fulfill her commitment to God.

During their lifetime of service together, John’s intensity drives them to extremes that often leave Clara  lonely, anxious, and on her knees in prayer. Over time, sacrificing her own needs, she finds her place as a strong and calming presence by John’s side. 

Anastasia Brighton (1917-2006)

The child of a British father and Argentinian mother, born in a wealthy neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Anastasia (Ana) grew up as a pampered and precocious only child. By the time she went to Montevideo, Uruguay in 1935, one of the first women to study at the School of Law, she was a highly vocal political activist and feminist.

In 1939, Ana is invited for a post-JD at Yale. She returns home on the same ship that carries John Schmidt to South America in 1941. Their intense shipboard conversations about recent Nazi uprisings deplore what is occurring, but they disagree vehemently about what should be done in response.

Ana is powerfully drawn to this intense young physician, puzzled that he seems oblivious to her charms. On the surface, she and John are nothing alike. But they share a passion to make a difference in the world. Neither of them knows how this chance meeting will bind them together for the rest of their lives.

Amalia de Ayala (1903-1966)

Amalia, a dwarf thirty inches tall and almost equally wide, comes to live at John and Clara’s Km. 81 leprosy station in 1958, when she and her mother Josefina (both with advanced stages of leprosy) are cast out of their community.

In 1962, Amalia falls in love with and marries Nicasio Ayala, another leprosy patient at Km. 81. They move into their own hut, which Nicasio constructs on a small plot of land John and Clara purchased for them near the station.

Amalia organizes a bibleschool, and eventually hundreds of children from the surrounding villages gather in her yard under the trees. Her face and small body radiate such love that more and more people are drawn to be in her presence. Soon Amalia becomes a phenomenon. Visitors travel from all over Paraguay – and some from the U.S. – to see the little one.

All who come are touched by Amalia’s loving presence. Anastasia Brighton is one of those visitors. Their meeting in 1962 will change Ana’s life forever.



-Nazi uprisings among pacifist Mennonites

-Indigenous tribes with poisonous spears in the uninhabitable desert of the Chaco of Paraguay

-Political intrigue and revolution in Argentina and Paraguay


-Three lives inexplicably intertwined:

-A handsome physician obsessed with caring for the underserved

-A shy and devout Mennonite nurse

-And an Argentine revolutionary.

Compassionate Service

-Fierce battle against the stigma and shame of leprosy

-Social justice for the underserved

-Unorthodox and revolutionary medical practices in the face of intractable opposition


Click here for suggested book club discussion questions for CALLED. 





“As a biography and history of the complex South American political machinations of the period, Fiol and O’Connor’s narrative about John and Clara’s extraordinary accomplishments is replete with riveting details.” Kirkus Review

“An inspiring reminder of the implicit power of love, and the endless compassion that some people can mine from raw experience, this book is a stunning tribute to a pair of exceptional people.”— Self-Publishing Review

“CALLED is a decades-spanning story that is suffused with emotion. The prose is refreshingly tender and honest.” BookLife Prize

“Called is a powerful tale that deserves a spot in a wide variety of holdings, from historical fiction and memoir collections to those interested in missionary and medical challenges, South America in general and Paraguay in particular, and the drive to follow God’s calling to create and support better lives for everyone.” — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“The evolution of Clara is so beautiful, at first a shy, unassuming Mennonite nurse who blossoms into a strong, fierce wife, mother, friend, and community activist. Clara and John are heroes, but always felt they were just being obedient servants of God.” Donna Dreeszen, educator, NetGalley reviewer

“As the son of John Schmidt, a pacifist who was determined to make this world a better place in obedience to God’s calling, I find this book to be an honest depiction of who he really was. I was intrigued by the colorful thread depicting the calling of an Argentine contemporary attempting to change her world by force and violence. Both my father’s life and the Argentine history are amazingly well researched and accurate. There are many touching anecdotes that demonstrate the human side of a tough, no-nonsense crusader. This testimony will be passed to my children and their children for many generations to come, to keep us mindful of our heritage.”Dr. Wesley Schmidt, son of John and Clara, and medical director of Km. 81 1975-1978


“My wife Anni and I knew Dr. John and Clara Schmidt well and held them up as role models for our own mission work. In CALLED, Marlena and Ed present an unvarnished and accurate accounting of the life of her parents. It is a story of how their joint passion helped overcome many obstacles and misunderstandings, ultimately leading to extraordinary outcomes in leprosy and social work, while deepening their own intimacy.”Dr. Franz Duerksen, plastic surgeon and medical director of Km. 81 1971-1975 and 1978-1985


“CALLED is a book well worth reading. It features a newly minted doctor John Schmidt and his wife Clara, who accepted the challenge of treating people with leprosy in Paraguay, an often-forgotten land of intrigue. When they were asked to undertake this daunting task, conventional practice was to provide victims of this dreaded disease with palliative care in an isolated colony. There was no known cure. Dr. Schmidt chose instead to pioneer a new and more humane treatment premised on home care surrounded by family. Before there was time to prove the merits of this innovation, he encountered such strong resistance from sponsors that it threatened to shut them down. In the end, John and Clara’s revolutionary model became the standard for leprosy treatment around the world.”– Edgar Stoesz, former associate executive secretary, Mennonite Central Committee, and former chairman, American Leprosy Missions



Memories – Experiences – Reactions

What do you know about John and Clara Schmidt? What are your reactions to CALLED? Help us further reveal their untold story. We’d love for you to share your memories, experiences, and/or reactions by clicking the button below.





Globally recognized authors, scholars, and speakers.

Marlena and Ed are spiritual seekers whose writing explores the depths of who we are and what’s possible in our lives. They have devoted themselves to supporting others in identifying and removing the barriers to realizing their dreams. They consider every blog, essay, video, book or workshop an opportunity to share their insights with others, as well as learn more about their own transformational journey. 


Photos of the real people, places, and events in CALLED. 











2001 & Beyond