Monthly Archives: July 2015

Long-term ties in western Europe

In Enkenbach, Germany, Rainer Schmidt holds a photo of Pax volunteers walking down the same street where he and others continue to live in houses built by Pax.

A portrait of Artur Regier at 85.

At the the age of 85, Artur Regier vividly remembers the night he fled his family’s West Prussian farm.

It was 1945, and he was 15 years old. With gunfire from the Russian army less than two miles from their home, he, his mother and two brothers galloped away on horseback.

It would be nine years before they had a home of their own again.

They sailed on the Baltic Sea with more than 2,000 refugees on a boat built for 250, then spent three years living in a Danish camp.

Finally, in 1954, they moved into their own home in Enkenbach, Germany.

That home was built by young volunteers in Pax, an MCC program that provided Mennonites in the U.S. an alternative to military service and, in post-war Europe, helped to rebuild war-torn areas and to offer a bright spot of hope.

In Enkenbach alone, the efforts of Pax built 115 housing units and a building for the Mennonite church.

Enkenbach is full of stories like Regier’s — accounts of people who were forced to flee as youth and built new lives with the assistance of MCC and its Pax program.

There was Louise Sauer, who lived in a camp in Russia for two years, then in wooden barracks in Germany with no bathroom or running water. When her family moved into the new home, she says, “It was like heaven for us children.”

Edith Foth holds a photograph standing at a window.Edith Foth holds a photo of herself and her parents, Cornelius and Helene Foth, in the same window where the image was taken nearly 60 years ago.   Edith still lives in the home, built by Pax, that the family moved into when they came to Enkenbach after being displaced during World War II.

Or there’s Edith Foth, who left home with her family when she was just 10. “We thought in two days we’d be back home, but we never made it back,” she says.

Her family moved into a new Pax-built home on the first Sunday of Advent in 1954. “That was a great moment for us, and without MCC’s help, it would have never been possible for us to own a house again after World War II,” says Foth, who worked alongside Pax volunteers for several months.

Between 1953 and 1961, approximately 120 Pax “boys” went through Enkenbach. (Almost all participants were men, mostly young men, but a handful of women also volunteered in Pax locations.)

Their legacy lives on in more than just the physical homes they built. Children gathered at the Pax house for snacks and Bible study, listening to the radio and playing games of table tennis in the basement. Pax participants started their own choir, and refugee youth joined in—forming the seeds of what today is the Enkenbach Mennonite Choir.

Ervie Glick of Harrisonburg, Va., was a member of that choir while he served with Pax in Enkenbach, and he also remembers playing hockey in the winter with the youth from the Mennonite church. But his most vivid memory from that time is of Monday evenings when the Pax members went in groups of two to spend the evening with a family who had moved into one of the new houses.

The families would share photos and stories from the homes they fled and of the journey to Germany. “Airplanes would strafe their columns of refugees, their horses and wagons, and they would dive into the ditches and run to escape them, the airplanes. It was just awful,” he says. So families were very thankful once they could move into the homes built by Pax. “With the new homes, once they got established they could find meaningful employment and get their feet on the ground.”

Klaus and Greda Wiens smile standing in sunlight wearing jackets.Klaus and Greda Wiens stand outside their home in Enkenbach, which was built by Pax.  The Pax program provided an alternative to military service for Mennonites in the U.S. and helped rebuild war-torn Europe.

MCC relief in Europe wasn’t only in Enkenbach. Shortly after the war, food, clothing and relief supplies were distributed across Germany, and in the 1950s Pax built homes in several areas around the country.

France also received help rebuilding damaged areas. Many in the small town of  Geisberg remember 1946 to 1949, when MCC relief workers built houses as well as a nearby home for orphans.

Alfred Hege, left, Rene Hege, Jean Hege, Oscar Hege and Théo Hege walk around what was once a children’s home in Geisberg, France. This building is one of many that MCC helped to build in the small village in the late 1940s.

Here too, the memories are of more than construction. Though Théo Hege was only seven when the MCC workers arrived, he remembers having them at his family’s home on Sundays and receiving candy or stamps for his collection. “They introduced us to Christmas carolling as well as the sunrise service on Easter morning,” he says.

Now that he’s older, that relationship with MCC remains — though Hege is on the other side of the equation.

When Geisberg Mennonite Church collected relief supplies for Syrians, he helped contribute. “I think that program is an expression of Christian love to those who have less than we have,” Hege says. “We share what God gave us in his mercy.”

Agnes HIrschler and Jean Hege stand on the porch of a building watching a group of people load boxes into a container with a tractor in the foreground.Agnes Hirschler and Jean Hege, left, watch members of Geisberg Mennonite Church load a shipping container with relief supplies collected and packed by the church.

Sisters Agnes and Emma Hirschler, whose home was built by MCC, also helped put together kits and through that, Hege says, they “encouraged the younger generation not to forget the help we got when we were in need.”

The shipment, sent through MCC, was coordinated by the relief committee of the Swiss Mennonite Church (Nothilfe Gruppe, or Emergency Group) along with French churches. It contained 1,500 hygiene kits, 65 handmade comforters, 294 purchased blankets, 791 relief kits and 144 pairs of handmade socks along with supplies like towels and sheets.

In Germany, the Enkenbach Mennonite Church, where Regier, Sauer and Foth attend, also has donated money and supplies to MCC’s relief work through Mennonitisches Hilfswerk (Mennonite Relief), an organization of 60 Mennonite churches in Germany.

Now, 70 years after the war’s end, it’s a way that many whose communities received help through MCC can give back — passing on the blessing that they received to others whose lives have been upended by conflict.

“When Mennonitisches Hilfswerk calls for special offerings for MCC projects, I am always ready to give,” Regier says. “I always remember that I have received help from MCC when I was in need after World War II.”

Emily Loewen is a writer for MCC Canada. Nina Linton is a photographer from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

PAX service program, predecessor to the Peace Corps, recognized by Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence

From EMU News – Eastern Mennonite University website

By Steve Shenk

PaxGandhiCalCal Redekop, co-founder of Mennonite Central Committee’s alternative service organization Pax, accepts the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence Community Service Award from James Madison University Provost Jerry Benson (left) and Gandhi Center director Terry Beitzel (right) on behalf of MCC and Pax.   (Photo by Ervie Glick) Posted on May 4th, 2015

In 1951, Jay “Junior” Lehman, then a 21-year-old farm boy from Ohio, sailed by freighter to Antwerp, Belgium. He was among the first wave of conscientious objectors to participate in a new alternative service program called Pax. Reaching their eventual destination in Germany, Lehman and about 20 draft-age men labored to turn Nazi poison-gas bunkers into housing for World War II refugees.

In late April, Lehman, now 85, made another trip – not quite so far – from his home in Ohio to James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he and nearly 60 other “Paxers,” including organization co-founder and former leader Cal Redekop, received a community service award from JMU’s Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence.

Pax 1st project, Germany, 1951,

Pax, a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), was created in response to the reinstatement of the military draft in the United States after the start of the Korean War. Mennonites, Quakers, Brethren and other conscientious objectors could perform alternative service in Europe, and later in Africa and South America. Pax continued until 1975, three years after the draft ended. By the time the program closed, nearly 1,200 young Americans, and some Canadians, had served in 40 countries.

An ‘influential’ program

Nearly 300 people packed a reception hall at JMU to celebrate the organization’s legacy. Terry Beitzel, director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center, noted that Pax was receiving only the fourth award in the center’s 10-year history. The center gives a global nonviolence award, which has been presented to former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter and South African anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu, and also the community service award, past co-recipients of which include restorative justice pioneer Howard Zehr, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), and JMU nursing professor Vida Huber.

“Pax was chosen for the award because of its contribution to establishing alternative service programs and influencing the formation of the U.S. Peace Corps, but primarily because of the emphasis on service to others,” said Beitzel, who has taken courses and taught at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and earned a PhD in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University.

“Pax serves as an example of service and peacemaking for all of us today,” said JMU Provost Jerry Benson.

Redekop, now 89 and living in Harrisonburg, accepted the award on behalf of Pax and its volunteers.

“I’m only the handmaiden for Pax or handlanger – German for lackey,” he said, before calling up Ann Graber Hershberger ‘76, who chairs the MCC U.S. board. Hershberger, a nursing professor at EMU, spoke of the Pax legacy and how it affected her own MCC work, with husband Jim ‘82, in Central America.

Pax construction 1952 Germany

‘Paxers’ still connected

Redekop and Paul Peachey ‘45 dreamed up the new organization while the two were in Europe serving in post-war relief efforts with MCC. (Both Peachey, who eventually taught at EMU, and Redekop went on to academic careers in the field of sociology. Redekop is also a former business executive who has written widely on Christian ethics in business.)

Inspired by the Latin word for peace, the Pax program began in Europe with housing projects for war refugees, including German-speaking Mennonites from Ukraine, who were caught between the German and Soviet armies. Redekop, raised in the Midwest in an immigrant community of German-speaking Mennonites from Russia, was able to communicate in the low-German dialect.

The cultural exchange between Paxers and the people they helped was rich and rewarding. Lowell E. Bender ’67, current MCC board member and the evening’s master of ceremonies, was a Pax worker in Germany, Austria and Greece from 1961-63, where he witnessed the long-term devastation caused by the war while constructing new houses for families whose homes had been destroyed years before. Bender came back to the United States after his service and enrolled at EMU.

“We were all changed by our experiences,” he said, of the Paxers.

“Many of the Pax veterans still stay in touch with the people they served,” says Ervie Glick ‘62, whose interest in the German language and culture began with his Pax tour and eventually led to a teaching career as a German language professor (he retired from EMU in 2004). Reunions of the Salzburg Paxers, the unit Glick served in, have been held nine times since 1970, including once in Salzburg, Austria.

Paul M. Harnish ’64, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, visited a large, modern chicken processing co-op that he helped start years ago in an impoverished area of Greece. His little hatchery began with 500 chicks imported from the United States. Harnish remembers his delivery being complicated by the need to spend the night in a hotel with the chicks before he could return to the village.

Editor’s Note: The history of the Pax program is featured in two books: Urie Bender’s Soldiers of Compassion (1969) and Cal Redekop’s The Pax Story: Service in the Name of Christ (2001). A 2008 award-winning documentary Pax Service: An Alternative to War was produced by Burton Buller, Cal Redekop and Albert Keim, a former EMU history professor.

More photos here by Ervie Glick:

Pax Gandhi 2 Former Pax men and spouses gathered around tables to reminisce. Standing are Loyal Klassen, Mt. Lake, MN, and Henry Fast, Winnipeg, MB. Seated are Menno Riehl (PA) and Paul Harnish (PA), all having served in Greece.

Pax Gandi 3Upwards of 300 persons with connections to Pax gathered at JMU.

Pax Gandhi 4Pax men, Steven Stoltzfus (center) and Paul Wyse (right), swap stories from their time In Peru running large earth moving equipment for LeTourneau in the ’50’s.

Pax Gandhi 5-6Dr. Terry Beitzel (left), director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence, JMU. Lowell Bender, emcee(right), served in Pax, 1961 to 1963 in Germany, Austria,  and Greece.

Pax Gandhi 7 Cal Redekop transferred the award to Ann Graber-Hershberger, chair of the board of MCC USA.