A Pax Story from 1967-1969
By Sam Miller
In 1967 after two years of study at EMC I decided not to ask for another student deferment and to fulfill my Selective Service obligation. It had long been my vision to apply for the MCC Pax program and head overseas. Since my qualifications were limited I decided to accept whatever was available. Having studied German for two years at EMC and having spoken Pennsylvania Dutch as a kid, German was in some form indeed my “Mutter Sprache”, may well have contributed to a placement in Frankfurt, Germany. All was indeed fortuitous. As it happened the office in Frankfurt needed an office worker to do whatever was needed by John Wieler and Peter Dyck. Times, however, were changing in many ways and Peter Dyck was also ending his role as the long term relief and service director in Frankfurt to assume similar duties operating from Akron, Pa. So I became involved in this transition which included chauffeuring Peter to South German, Switzerland, and France to say thanks and good by.
The Frankfurt office was by late ’67 no longer the hub for workers passing through who needed many things as they traveled to more distant assignments or who were on route their home. As my role in Frankfurt was diminishing I was asked to go to Kolymbari, Crete to a place known as “Kemptron Acrokticris Anoptisios” an Agriculture Development Center.
Not being an agriculturalist, as were most of my fellow workers, I was assigned to maintenance, building of farm building and directing work campers from Mennonite Voluntary Service with youth coming from northern Europe and around the world. It so happened that MVS’s headquarters were located in the Frankfurt office next to the MCC office and I was very familiar with this agency, its director and mission.
MCC work in Greece began in the early 50’s in northern Greece. Being well received and well done a Cretean named Alexander Papadoros, a doctoral student in Germany, informed Bishop Irineos also Cretean, about the work of MCC and of their expertise in ag development. The Bishop known as a visionary and seeing the regular exodus of men leaving for the factories of northern Europe, wanted to create reasons for men find work on the island. The Bishop invited MCC to become involved at his diocease at his home in Kastelli, a church center. So first, a Technical School was established with the help of two MCC volunteers, Klaus Penner (a German) and Roy Kaufman(an American). Then in 1964 after visiting MCC projects in northern Greece the Bishop asked for a full scale development center be established on Monastery land near Kolymbari, Crete. By the mid 60’s ten Paxers were recruited with expertise in dairy, horticulture, poultry, and hogs. A feed mill was established. All of this was done to introduce new breeds and demonstration farming. Of course, this Cretean project used the many lessons learned from northern Greece as well as repeating the structure and dimensions of barns, chicken houses, and hog barns. The milk house had a sign saying “Pinita Galia ya iyea su” Drink milk for your health. Produce was harvested from the fields and greenhouses for use in the dorms for boys who were learning technical trades.
Those days we didn’t know about the now famous “ Mediterianean Diet” or the reasons for the general health and longevity of our friends and neighbors. The essence of the MCC presents in Crete was more fundamental than food and better breeds of cows, pigs, and chickens, we learned slowly that while our work was useful in a development sense, in fact seminal, our being there offered all of us a huge learning experience. We became students of the Greek language, culture, and the Eastern Orthodox faith. We made lasting friendships which changed us all.
Nine years ago three of us Paxers(and wives) returned to Crete to reconnect after 37 years. We visited the Bishop who was then 94 year old and just retiring that month. His gift to us was his exemplary service to his diocease and his ability to set up numerous public/private agencies to better the region. He had also renamed all of us with Greek names. I was Stammatis. Otherwise the changes were huge, with many cars, trucks, and hardly any donkeys in sight. Olive trees had been planted on seemingly any available space. Our neighbor Kid, Gorgi, was now 45. Within several days the town was a buzz with our being there and so our farm workers and wives all had a wonderful party for us at a local restaurant. It was cow Johnny, sheep Johnny, George Markolakus, Vasilee, all with wives and children. We passed out our old pictures of the past which were an instant hit. We could hardly leave.
During our stay Vi, my wife, managed to burn up a hair dryer by not having the right conversion for electricity. So, on our way out of town we stopped in Chania a regional capital looking for another hair dryer. We found a good store. As we shopped a manager stopped me to ask how it was that I was speaking Greek. After explaining as best as I could he was overwhelmed in thanks. “You know” he said, “I was one those boys in the dormitory and went to the technical school which has lead me to this business”.
So the rewards are special. I always have a heart for all things Greek. While my language skills are very limited I try to engage even our local Greeks in town, they are still my people.
This short account was written for presentation at the Gandhi Center when Pax was presented a Peace Award by James Madison University. Note it was actually not given because so many others stories to tell. Here it is now 8/8/2015.
[Rec’d for posting 8/11/2015]