Pax Work in Congo


Initially published in
Mennonite Life, April 1961, 16, 2, p. 96

The Congo Pax program was originally
organized to relieve the missionaries of the
voluminous amount of incidental work that
had become necessary. During the pre-Pax
years the Congo missionaries had become
involved increasingly in building programs,
automotive mechanics, agricultural projects,
and other secondary, yet necessary, tasks. At
the same time the primary efforts of
education, medical work, and evangelism
had become more complex and involved.
In answer to this problem four young men
were sent to the Congo in 1953 under
Mennonite Central Committee auspices to
pioneer the Congo Pax program. It was an
immediate success. They were able to take
charge of many building projects, mechanic
duties and maintenance chores, so that the
full-time missionaries could concentrate
more thoroughly on their main work.

More Pax workers went out during the
following years till eventually an established
group of eight to twelve were distributed at
most of the eight Congo Inland Mission
stations. The East Africa Mennonite Mis
sion in Tanganyika also employed a number
of Pax workers. The schools, churches, and
hospitals built after the inception of the
Congo Pax program were largely a tribute to
efficient supervision by the young American
and Canadian fellows. Such things as
upkeep on mission vehicles and
bookkeeping also became their work.

As the program developed beyond the structure
and intent, the distinction between the
full-time missionary and the two-year Pax
workers became one of title rather than
effectiveness. John Hesse, experienced in
printing work, became the manager of the
Charlesville print shop. Larry Graber,
because of an interest in medical work, had
the opportunity to assist Dr. Jim Diller at the
Nyanga hospital. I found a chance to work
in the Kamayala school system as part-time
superintendent of the primary schools.
Robert Schmidt spent much of his time at
Kamayala in literature and educational
work. Others found unique opportunities
to fill in as ambulance drivers and at times
played the role of makeshift midwife by
necessity. Larry Bartel and Alan Siebert
lived in an African village for nine months
while constructing primary schools. More
recently, Paxmen Abe Suderman and Alan
Horst assisted in the combined United
Nations-Congo Protestant Relief Agency
food handouts following the civil war be
tween the Baluba and Lulua tribes. In short,
the Pax- men in the Congo could expect any
sort of assignment. Much of the
effectiveness of the program lay in this
flexibility, I think.

Specific skiffs were generally required to do
some of the more technical jobs such as
printing and mechanics. But all of the
fellows, I feel, contributed to an essential
quality in the effectiveness of the program
through prolonged personal acquaintances
with Africans in work and leisure. Often I
remember, the Paxmen had time to spend
with the Africans doing little things such as
hunting, swimming, and playing ball. Unlike
the senior missionaries, the Paxmen had no
family obligations, and could spend
evenings in African homes, chatting with
them around the fire. The real, though
intangible contributions of the Pax program
came through the long discussions with
Africans in their native languages, and
through a sincere empathy with their form of
life. Often this meant enjoying a meal of
grasshoppers or caterpillars; but at the same
time it meant vastly more. Such,
a seemingly insignificant gesture, was
evidence of a firm belief in their individual
value as human beings. The Paxmen who
got into the inner orbit of African affairs
through personal acquaintances, and became
noticeably interested in the culture of the
African peoples, contributed profoundly to
the cause of Christian brotherhood.
Incidentally, the Paxman who did this was
not at all homesick, either. One Paxman,
Larry Kaufman, gave his life for the cause.

Tentatively the program is reduced to a few
men because of the independence struggle.
Pax work of the future, however, will surely
create confidence and serve as a personal
expression of Christianity. I am convinced
that it is an effective one.

[See the following introduction of a related new book. –Admin.]

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