Introducing a new book by
John M. Janzen & Larry B. Graber
“Congo Pax” is today the name of an online chat group of Congolese, based in London, who are interested in peace in their country. It would be neat if these global citizens of Central Africa were in touch with those of us who associate Congo Pax with alternative service in the 1950s and 60s in the same country.
Two former Pax-boys, Larry Graber and I, decided, in the years after our retirement, to re-visit our Congo experiences of fifty years ago and to share them with our families and anyone else who might be interested. Our sources, beyond our memories, were our
letters home kept by our mothers, and our photographs. During 2015 we read, selected and
transcribed excerpts, and reconstructed chronologies.
The result is described in one blurb:
[In this book] Two young Mennonite Pax men chronicle work, adventure and travel in the
Congo from 1957 to 1959, and their journey home through Africa, the Near East, and
Europe. Their letters provide a poignant look into late colonial Congo on the eve of
independence. Eye-opening experiences changed their attitudes about the Africans with
whom they worked, and set the course for their futures in anthropology and social work.
Crossing the Loange shows a slice in time in the Southern Savanna, the Congo, and the Pax
program there. We write about our work in carpentry, bookkeeping, radio transmissions,
mechanical upkeep of vehicles, work in the schools, medical assistance, ambulance runs, and in the later stages of our term, heading up construction teams and serving medical assistant for a missionary doctor.
The final section of the book is about our journey home, a four-month trip by
car and boat across East Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Our letters reflect our youthful puzzlement at the culture and customs we encountered, the friendships we made with the Africans with whom we worked, and most importantly, our significant maturation through adventures, crises, and responsibilities. These are themes that emerge in most Pax memoires.
The Congo Pax story (or stories) are few and far between in the overall writing and filmmaking about the Pax program’s existence from 1951 to 1976, considering that we account for more than sixty of a total of 1,200 volunteers.
The Congo Pax story can be readily divided into several phases:
1. Paxers as missionary aides with some remarkable responsibilities (1955-60); 2.
carrying on amidst the chaos and opportunity of independence (1960-64); 3. working with the independent church and development programs (1965-1970s); 4. forging links and relations with Congolese and on-going programs (1980s to the present). Our book is definitely of the first phase of Congo Pax, although it echoes the 4thphase of ongoing relationships. We trust that it will find interested readers and stimulate further public recollections by more of you who surely have many stories to tell.
John M. Janzen
For a preview of the book, see www.issuu.com/mennonitepressinc ./docs/crossing_the_loange
The book is available at Newton bookstores: Faith & Life, Kauffman Museum Shop, and Book ReViews, which handles it for online orders through AbeBooks.com ISBN: 978-0-692-50291-4