Thumbnail Sketch of John Arn’s PAX Service from 1960 to 1962

An open letter from John Arn


Dear Cal,

I felt like the least of the PAX men to give a thumbnail sketch of my PAX experience, only being a Mennonite by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ; that is, by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.

I grew up in the Grace Mennonite Church of Lansdale, PA.  My father was a Methodist and my mother a Baptist.  They could not agree on which denomination to attend in Lansdale upon the death of my grandfather in 1943, so they decided to attend a new mission church in Lansdale, the Grace Mennonite Church of Lansdale.

Through the ministry of the church I grew in the grace of God, and when I was to join church, I was confronted with the call to be a conscientious objector in 1951.

Yet it was not until our new pastor came in 1954 that I began to understand what the Bible was saying about the peace position.

In 1957, he encouraged me to study at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas; and it was there that I learned about the peace club and Jim Juhnke, one of its leaders.

After attending it for three years, Rev. H. Schmidt encouraged me to apply for MCC service through the PAX program upon my graduation from Bethel College in 1960.

So from 1960 to 1962, I served in PAX service in Europe.

My first service assignment was working at the Karlschule in Vienna, Austria.  I worked there until the 8 year program ended in the spring of 1961, when most of our unit moved on to Salzburg, Austria, to build a Siedlung there.  I was there only 6 weeks, yet I did help to begin the site. In Soldiers of Compassion, there is a picture of John Driedger and myself laying block for a basement wall at the Siedlung near Salzburg.  After 6 weeks, I was sent on to Greece to work there for the summer plastering the newly built unit house in Aridea, Pella, Greece.  I worked there during the summer, returning to northern Europe in early fall.

While in Aridea, lots were drawn for who would bring the meditation to the North American gathering of Americans in northern Greece during some Sunday celebration and I won the lot.  Not having any experience in public speaking, let alone in bringing a short sermon, Peter Dyck gave me a New English Bible and a house mother at the Aridea unit guided me through several topics.  By the grace of God, I was able to prepare and to speak acceptably at the gathering that was between Thessaloniki and Edessa located beside a busy main road by the ancient site of Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great.  And it was after that I was encouraged to study for the ministry.

Peter Dyck also encouraged me to apply to study at AMBS Elkhart upon my return to the USA in 1962.  However, after I finsihed up in Greece, I helped Elfrieda Dyck wrap east zone refugee bundles for a month in Frankfort, Germany, and then I helped close out the Enkenback unit near Kaiserlautern, Germany, and then for the rest of my PAX assignment I worked on construction and maintenance at the European Mennonite Bible School near Liestal for about 10 months.

I returned back to the USA on the same ship that I went to Europe on, the Dutch Ship, THE WATERMAN.  And I did begin AMBS that fall, graduating in 1965 with an BD and exchanging it for an MDiv in 1974.  I served two churches as a full time pastor, the Herold Mennonite Church of Cordell, Oklahoma, and the Bethlehem Mennonite Church of Bloomfield, Montana.  It was at Bloomfield that I became a BK amputee, and in 1981 my wife Sarah (who just passed away May 10, 2011) and I served a 4 year term with the Commission On Foreign Missions of The General Conference Mennonite Church as missionaries in Taichung, Taiwan, Republic of China.

Upon the passing of Sarah’s father in 1985, we returned to North Wales, PA, and cared for her mother and my step-mother. And when my step-mother died in 1991, we moved into her house in Lansdale and have been there ever since while continuing to care for Sarah’s mother who passed in 2003.
At present, I myself have myeloma cancer and am in Lansdale.

So that is it, Cal.

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