Praise for CALLED

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“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


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


“I’m impressed by how accurately this book identifies and describes the way a Plautdietsch Mennonite feels, thinks, and does things. This is a history book written as a fascinating adventure story. It’s about true love and the whole truth and how simple and also complicated both can be.”

Siegfried Elmer Ratzlaff Voth, Fernheim Colony, Chaco, Paraguay


CALLED is a book well worth reading. It features a newly minted Mennonite 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 North American sponsors that it threatened to shut down his work. 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


“This book will keep you moving! From Kansas to Paraguay, from WWII to the present day, from certainties to uncertainty, and from old ideas about “leper colonies” to the most enlightened medical and social practices in the treatment of leprosy.

As you move, you will also reflect: can love co-exist with childhood beatings, with Platonic passion, with prejudice, with stubborn egos? How much love is sacrificed in the fulfillment of impossible dreams? And how does love always find a way home?”

Shirley Showalter, PhD, former professor and president, Goshen College; former foundation executive, The Fetzer Institute; and author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World


“As the son of John Schmidt, a pacifist who was determined to make this world a better place. I find CALLED 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 this book, Marlena and Ed present an unvarnished and accurate accounting of the work and lives of John and Clara. 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


“I was born on the Km. 81 leprosy station. As a child, I came to know the Schmidts and their passion for the healing and destigmatization of “lepers,” and also their perseverative vision that we Christians are called to serve as a demonstration of love in action. My call to dedicate my life to service as a physician occurred at this leprosy station, in large part inspired and motivated by knowing the Schmidts. CALLED offers valuable historical information, anecdotes, and true stories filled with frustrations and hopes, failures and successes, and fights and reconciliations.”

Dr. Carlos Wiens, staff physician at Km. 81 1988-1991 and medical director of Km. 81 1994-


“’Dokta Schmidt’ was a household name in my family, who lived in the Fernheim Colony of the Chaco of Paraguay. My mother was in the first group of student nurses that John and Clara trained in 1943. And as a young couple, my parents went to Km. 81 for a year of voluntary service at the newly founded leprosy hospital. Decades later, the Schmidts chose to spend their last years with the old folks of the Fernheim Colony, and to be buried among the very people they once served. John and Clara would have been the last ones to claim sainthood, and yet they were a beacon of light and hope for thousands.”

Gundolf Niebuhr, archivist, Fernheim Colony, Chaco, Paraguay


“CALLED is a fantastic sweeping tale that provides a striking contrast to the intimate memoir from the same author, Nothing Bad Between Us. So happy to be following the story of these incredible people across their lives and times through such different lenses. What a journey! What a pleasure to read.”

Terri Griffith, PhD, Keith Beedie Chair in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University


CALLED is a story of how a deep and durable faith inspires and sustains a true visionary. But then this inspiring story takes a turn when we read it alongside Marlena’s earlier book, Nothing Bad Between Us. Together, they remind us that no matter how holy, visionary, and transformative we may be, we are all mortal. Do yourself a favor and read both books. They will help you grow the confident humility it takes to live well – both with and for others.”

James Walsh, PhD, former President of the Academy of Management, and professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan


CALLED is a sweeping historical saga depicting the heroic work of two medical pioneers in Paraguay, South America. Having visited the leprosy station they established at Km. 81, and driven on the trans-Chaco highway, I can attest to the enduring legacy of John and Clara Schmidt. But behind the glorious triumphs, the book reveals three under-appreciated lessons. First, while the popular press may glorify “having a calling,” true callings involve deep sacrifice not only of those who have the calling, but of those who must live with them. Second, dramatic change often involves being unreasonable, and even successful change will not necessarily win you friends. Third, there is transformative power in promoting the human dignity of others. Although in this book applied to those with leprosy, this lesson could be easily applied in our polarized times to everyone we consider to be the “other.” I recommend the book to anyone wanting to make the world a better place, or to better understand and help those who are.”
Michael G. Pratt, PhD, O’Connor Family Professor, Carroll School of Management, Boston College


CALLED is a well-researched and well-told story of two very ordinary persons who accomplished extraordinary things. We get to know John and Clara Schmidt in all their humanness, with both strengths and weaknesses. Dr. Schmidt could have accepted the world-wide understanding of how patients with leprosy were cared for, but his heart and mind told him there was a better way more in line with his Mennonite understanding of how humans should be treated. At great costs to themselves, Dr. John and Clara Schmidt pulled together a varied group of people to help them establish a revolutionary system of caring, not for lepers, but for persons with a disease called leprosy. The genius of their approach was that they saw people, not disease; they sought ways to let love and acceptance touch the lives of folks rejected by all of society. This is a very good read!”

M. Albert Durksen, retired minister, Mennonite Church Canada



“Dr. John Schmidt was a man of integrity – headstrong and determined – and the relationships of those close to him were sometimes strained and difficult.  His wife Clara was strong, loyal, haunted by self-doubt while full of compassion and love for others. Together they revolutionized established practices for the treatment of leprosy and reduced the prejudice and fear surrounding the disease. All this, while battling difficult living conditions in Paraguay, anxiety regarding continued funding, constant negotiating with Mennonite colony leaders, and raising a large family. Working through these complications and uncertainties makes John and Clara’s story well worth reading.”

Lori Wise, U.S. Records and Library, Mennonite Central Committee


“I was fortunate to be one of the early readers of this book based on the lives of John and Clara Schmidt. It captures the essence of two selfless but very human folks who made a difference. If you are drawn to historical sagas, as I am, make certain that you do not miss this captivating work. Rudyard Kipling said that “if history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. A literary view of the human experience of the past invites readers into a real, living historical moment, so that the experience of lives and moments distant in time and space become their own.” He could have been referring to this book. Get it, sit back, and travel to another time and space.”

Thomas M. Stamm, Lebanon, Pennsylvania


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