Monthly Archives: March 2016

“The Path of Return Continues the Journey”

                                                                            (Quote by Thich Nhat Hanh)
By Doug Hostetter
                           [As published in FOR, Fellowship of Reconciliation magazine,  Spring, 2014]
"The Path of Return Continues the Journey"

Vietnam Christian Service house in Tam Ky. Photo: Lance Woodruff

When I learned that Vietnam had invited a group of 15 U.S. antiwar activists to come to Hanoi in January 2013, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords that ended U.S. direct involvement in the Vietnam war, I realized that it was time for me to return to Vietnam.

I had first gone to Vietnam back in 1966, soon after graduating from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I had received conscientious objector status from the military, and then volunteered to do my Alternative Service in Vietnam, at the height of the war, working for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Vietnam with Vietnam Christian Service (VNCS). VNCS was a joint program in Vietnam of the Mennonite Central Committee, Church World Service, and Lutheran World Relief, but was directed by MCC.

The perimeter of the USAID compound in Tam Ky. (Photo: Doug Hostetter)

As a Mennonite I understood that I had no enemies, but was called to use the “weapons” of love and truth in the struggle to build a just and peaceful world. Our Mennonite vision of the world clashed sharply with that of our government. The United States had designated the North Vietnamese and the guerillas active in South Vietnam as the enemy – but those guerillas were the same Vietnamese peasants who had fought the French during the colonial era, when they were known as the Viet Minh. During the U.S. war, they were called the National Liberation Front (NLF); Americans sometimes called them the Vietnamese Communists (VC). Having visualized an enemy, the U.S. government deployed a vast array of weapons and troops against it. When I arrived in Saigon in 1966 there were hundreds of thousands of U.S. military personnel were already deployed on the air, land, and sea of Vietnam.

I was the first VNCS volunteer sent to Tam Ky, a village in Quang Tin Province in Central Vietnam, about 100 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone. Two years before I arrived, the U.S. military had lost control of most of the province. With the exception of Tam Ky and two other small towns near the coast along Route 1, the NLF controlled the entire province. The U.S. military strategy at the time was to drive the civilian population out of the areas controlled by the NLF and into the towns controlled by the U.S. military and the Saigon government. When I arrived in late 1966, Tam Ky was teeming with refugees.

I was surprised to learn that the primary interest of most of the refugee families was for their children to be able to go to school. After the NLF took over the rural areas of Quang Tin Province two years earlier, the U.S. military responded by destroying the infrastructure: the clinics, marketplaces, and schools. It was obvious to me that I was ill equipped to teach Vietnamese children. If I were going to organize classes for these young refugees, I would need to find local Vietnamese to be the teachers. I had started teaching English in several of the high schools in Tam Ky while developing my Vietnamese language skills. I was able to use contacts in the high schools to find students who would be willing to work as volunteer teachers for classes of refugee children. We started with sessions on weekends and during summer vacation, and later expanded to year-round classes. By the end of my three years in Tam Ky, we had 90 high school students teaching over 3,000 refugee children in villages all across Quang Tin province how to read and write.

Tam Ky was in the middle of the I Corps Tactical Zone, the much fought-over northernmost military section of South Vietnam. When I first came to Tam Ky a CIA briefer explained, “You can go a kilometer east or a kilometer west of Tam Ky. Beyond that you are in VC territory. We control Route 1 north and south of Tam Ky during the day, but at dusk, that also reverts to VC control.”  The U.S. government officials and military officers in Tam Ky all lived in heavily guarded military compounds flanked with guard towers, encircled by high walls topped with barbed wire, and surrounded by land mines.

I rented a small bungalow in the center of village, just across the street from a high school where I taught. When I first moved in, my landlady told me, “The National Liberation Front often overruns Tam Ky. I have only a four-foot wall around the house, but if you get yourself a few rolls of concertina wire, a sturdy steel gate, and a 50-caliber machine gun for the front yard, you should be able to hold off the NLF until the Marines can come and rescue you!” I explained to her that Mennonites as people of peace do not use weapons or even set up defenses for ourselves. “We try to live at peace with all peoples and trust in God,” I said. I did put up a sign with a peace dove, a cross, and the name of our organization in Vietnamese so people would know who I was and where I lived. But I never put a gate in that four-foot wall, and everyone knew that I didn’t have a weapon.

Refugee students in Tam Ky, 1967. (Photo: Doug Hostetter)

During my three years in Tam Ky, the NLF took over the village about a dozen times. Usually it would be for only an hour or so in the middle of a moonless night after a brief exchange of fire with the local Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) soldiers of the Saigon government. During the Tet Offensive in 1968, however, the NLF, with the help of North Vietnamese soldiers, took over and stayed in Tam Ky for more than a week. It was always terrifying during a takeover. There would be a fire fight in the street and you could clearly hear the ARVN soldiers firing their U.S. manufactured M-16 rifles and the NLF guerillas firing their Russian-made AK-47 rifles. In our houses everyone would crawl into a bomb shelter if they had one, and if not, get on the floor and stay as low as possible. After some time there were usually fewer shots from M-16s, and more from the AK-47s, and finally the M-16s would disappear completely and we knew that the NLF was in control of the streets of Tam Ky. The NLF would always then attack the heavily defended armed compounds at the edge of town where US government-related officials stayed: the US Agency for International Development, the Military Advisory Command-Vietnam headquarters, and the “U.S. Embassy” compound where three or four CIA agents lived.

The VNCS staff were the only Americans in Tam Ky who were not in a military compound, but our house was never attacked despite the fact that we lived in the easily accessible center of the village.

It is fear that drives much violence. In combat, soldiers often kill out of fear of being killed. When a peacemaker renounces not only offensive weapons, but even the capacity for self-defense, it can diminish the fear that propels violence. Yet volunteers in Vietnam knew that commitment to nonviolence was never a guarantee of safety. Three pacifists lost their lives during the Vietnam war. Daniel Gerber, a Mennonite, was abducted in Banmethuot, Vietnam, 1962, and never heard from again. Ted Studebaker, from the Church of the Brethren, was killed in Di Linh, 1971. Rick Thompson, a Quaker, died in a plane crash in Quang Ngai, 1973. In the end we knew that our survival depended on common sense, careful planning, and God’s grace.

I did feel very vulnerable in Vietnam. I realized that despite my good intentions, I looked very American to most Vietnamese, and I was in the middle of a combat zone in the middle of an American-initiated, ill-fated war against the people of Vietnam. I was very thankful to have survived during my time in Tam Ky, and quite frankly, by the end of my three-year assignment, I felt guilty that I had survived a war that had taken so many friends.

Three years ago, one of the high school students who had been a teacher in my literacy program in Tam Ky emigrated to the United States. When he came to New York, he filled me in on what had happened in Tam Ky when the war finally ended in 1975, six years after I had left. I learned of many friends who died, and others who survived, during that long and difficult war. But perhaps the most surprising bit of information was that my best friend in Tam Ky had had a few secrets.

Le Dinh Sung and Doug Hostetter, 1967. (Photo: Village photographer)

Le Dinh Sung, a local artist, had been my closest friend and advisor while I was in Tam Ky. His father, who lived 25 miles north of Tam Ky, had been killed while I was there by South Korean troops working with the U.S. military. Sung had introduced me to his younger sister and his mother, who had fled the violence that had killed his father. When the war ended, neighbors discovered that Le Dinh Sung also had an older brother who was a high-level official in the NLF during the war. At war’s end, the brother had returned and was appointed Province Chief in the new government. Le Dinh Sung himself had been named the new Education Chief for the province.

Through a Vietnamese acquaintance, I was able to get in touch with Le Dinh Sung’s family by email. I was saddened to learn from his daughter that my artist friend had died two years earlier, but she and her brothers remembered me well, and invited me to visit them when I was able.

* * *

I was invited to be part of the U.S. Anti-War Delegation to Vietnam in January 2013 because of work that I had done with the People’s Peace Treaty, and with Medical Aid for Indochina, after returning from my alternative service work in South Vietnam. It was a great honor to return to Hanoi with 14 other antiwar activists. Nine of us had participated in peace delegations to Hanoi during the war years. We were treated royally by the Vietnamese government. We were honored international guests at a grand celebration of the 40th aniversary of the Paris Peace Agreement held at the National Convention Center. A few of us were and were hosted by Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang in the Presidential Palace and invited to participate with him in planting a “peace and friendship tree” in the Hanoi Peace Park.

A Vietnamese young man at the Danang Center for Agent Orange Victims. (Photo: Doug Hostetter)

In addition to celebratory visits with mayors and provincial officials in many cities, we were also invited to visit the organizations and institutions that are dealing with the legacy of the Vietnam war: Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance.

The United States used over 15 million tons of bombs and explosive ordnance during the Vietnam war. Approximately 10% of the bombs and other explosives used during the war failed to detonate on impact, leaving thousands of tons of unexploded munitions scattered throughout the country, both on the  surface and underground. These deadly explosives have killed or injured more than a hundred thousand civilians in Vietnam since the war ended in 1975.

The other significant legacy issue of the Vietnam war is Agent Orange/Dioxin. Agent Orange is the name of one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the US military in Vietnam. Agent Orange was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. It contains an impurity, dioxin, one of the most toxic compounds known to science. Between 1961 and 1971 the U.S. military sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of chemical herbicides and defoliants in South Vietnam and the eastern portions of Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam estimates that four hundred thousand people were killed or maimed and half a million children have been born with birth defects due to dioxin in Agent Orange.

Le Thi Phuong Long and Doug Hostetter – 1968 and 2013 (Photos: Village photographers)

While in Vietnam, I also took time to return to Tam Ky for the first time in over four decades. There I visited two of the children of my artist friend, Le Dinh Sung. It was a deeply moving experience to meet with Phuong Long, who had been about 11 when I had left Vietnam, and her older brother Viet, who had then been 15. They both remembered me well, as I had spent much time in their home with their father. They are both grown now, and have children of their own who are the age that they themselves were when I left Tam Ky. Phuong Long is a classical musician who plays the 32-string zither with the Dang Xuan traditional music group in Hoi An, the ancestral home of the family. Her brother Minh is now a building contractor in Tam Ky.

It was a wonderful reunion after 43 years of separation. We reminisced about the war years, and about the times that I had spent them when they were children, during the height of the war. When I asked about their father’s older brother, I was astounded to learn that Le Dinh Sung actually had not just one brother, but four. All of them had fought with the NLF, but stayed in touch with their family living on the other side. Two of these brothers had been killed in the war. The eldest, who had returned to become Province Chief in Tam Ky when the war ended, was now too old and infirm to receive guests. However, I did meet the other surviving brother. He had spent the war years on the “other side,” as a cultural worker with the NLF.

My path of return to Vietnam was a continuation of my original journey to learn peacebuilding. As I relished the renewal of relationships from nearly half a century ago, I began to comprehend that a critical element of peacebuilding is authentic friendship. Peace is founded upon relationships that transcend the national, racial, ethnic, religious, and political boundaries that usually separate humanity. I came to realize that Le Dinh Sung and his family were true friends to a young American who had made a sincere attempt to live at peace in the midst of a bitter and deadly war. I also realized that on the many occasions when the NLF took over Tam Ky while I was there, God’s protection had received some assistance from Le Dinh Sung’s brothers on the other side.

1830 Doug Hostetter is director of the Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Office in New York City. As a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war, he did his alternative service working for Mennonite Central Committee in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969. He was a member of the National Student Association delegation to Saigon and Hanoi that negotiated the People’s Peace Treaty in 1970. Doug was executive secretary of  FORUSA from 1987–1973, and international/interfaith secretary from 1993–2001. Doug has published widely on the issues of war, peace, and nonviolence. 

The Pax story: service in the name of Christ, 1951-1976

by Calvin W. Redekop

Pandora Press, 2001



The Pax Story

Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax1

After a rough crossing over the Atlantic on the small Dutch Leerdam, twenty young American farm boys arrived on the shores of Europe on April 6, 1951.2  This was barely six years after the end of World War II which had severely damaged Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and especially Germany. The boys docked at Antwerp, which before the war had been one of the most picturesque harbors of Europe.

Peter Neufeld, a Paxer, noted, “We went through customs when they opened at 9:20. There to meet us were Cal Redekop and Paul Ruth with a fancy Dutch Bus.”3   The bus began to worm its way along winding paths through huge mounds of rubble of what had been the busy and beautiful city, and headed for Espelkamp.

Neufeld continues, “We arrived at Espelkamp at 8:45 p.m., got stuck in mud and had to get out and push the big bus out. The first night we had to sleep in an ammunition bunker without any heat.”4   This description of their arrival at the wharf and their primitive accommodations, illustrates that these young men had come to help to rebuild war-torn Europe.5

For the men and women who participated in it, the Pax story is one of the most significant experiences of their lives. When Pax is discussed, Pax men almost always say, “The Pax experience was the turning point of my life,” or “the Pax years were the most important years of my life.” But those not familiar with it may well ask, “What is Pax?” Or “Why should I know about Pax?” Ironically those of us who were in it, often have a difficult time explaining its nature and its importance, at least to us. Pax was so unusual, so personal, and so powerfully meaningful, that it is hard to put the experience into words.

Similarly, it is practically impossible to write a history of Pax because Pax was so varied. Each person’s perspective on Pax is different—the perspective of the first Pax men who helped build homes for German refugees in the early 1950s differs dramatically from the experiences of the men who served in Afghanistan, India, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s (some of the last countries to receive Pax service).

In between these periods there were men who worked in a vast variety of places. In the Congo, for example, Pax men underwent experiences that ran the gamut from eating grasshoppers to nearly being killed by insurgents. In Bolivia, Paxers helped move Quechua Indians from the Alto Plano to the eastern jungle.6

It is impossible to include every Pax man’s unique work and experiences in The Pax Story. A full history would have to include the experiences of each Pax fellow, of Pax men in specific units, a description of all the projects and what they accomplished, the names of all the Pax men, the unit leaders, the matrons, Pax pastors and the like. An overview of Pax can only be presented by generalizing and glossing over many differences and details.

So this book is not the history of Pax. Rather it is a brief, basic review of the various factors contributing to the origins of the Pax idea and a survey of how the Pax idea was realized through some 1,200 volunteers participating in projects in more than forty countries around the globe. It is also a discussion of the significance of a quarter century of extraordinary service, (1951-1976) and for the later history of volunteerism and efforts to bring peace to the world—in terra pax.

Hopefully this Pax history will provide the context and framework into which each Pax person can insert his or her own experience to round out and complete the picture. Others who were not privileged to participate in Pax directly may also want to know the story and evaluate its validity. Finally, this story is offered to the general reader with the conviction that it has a moral for the citizens of the world.

No Pax volunteer will deny that Pax was an exciting and noble phenomenon. Peter J. Dyck, long-time worker in Europe both during and after World War II, has said, “I have also experienced war, notably in England when the German Luftwaffe bombed the British cities. In Manchester, England, I twice faced the judge for refusing to serve in the military. If I were a young American of draft age today, I would go the way of Pax.”7

The challenging and heart warming story in these pages will lead most readers to reflect on the following questions: What were the consequences of the Pax idea for the participants and for the recipients? And for the rest of us, what impact did it have for the larger world? Additionally, what are the equivalent challenging needs and opportunities for the idealists of our day, whether young or old? Why did the idea end, or did it serve out its useful life? What are the functional equivalents for a Pax effort working for reconciliation and peace in our day, or will we need to continue to rebuild what future wars will destroy?
—Calvin W. Redekop, Harrisonburg, Virginia


1. “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to men of good will,” from the Latin Mass.
2. Actually only nineteen men and the Pax pastor, A. Lloyd Swartzentruber. Arnold Roth arrived several weeks later because all of his travel arrangements could not be made in time.
3. Peter Neufeld, Personal Diary, 1951, 1.
4. Ibid., 2.
5. Urie Bender, Soldiers of Compassion (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1969), presents a major early source of the Pax story. The present account relies partly on the author’s personal experiences in the early history, expanded in Appendix G. The author’s own experience helps to contextualize the Pax story along with an attempt to present an objective account. The term Pax boy was widely used in an informal affectionate way, especially in Germany.
6. Wilbur Bontrager stated, “Roasted caterpillars took a little getting used to, But really, they’re not bad” (Urie Bender, Soldiers of Compassion, 1969), 196. Jon Snyder’s co-worker Dr. Paul Carlson was shot and killed by the Simbas in the house where they were hiding (Bender, 195).
7. Bender, Soldiers of Compassion, 10.

The Pax Story orders:

Pandora Press U.S. Online Order Form
Pandora Press U.S., Herald Press, and other order options
Credit card orders through The Pax Story page, MennoLink Online Bookstore

Tribute to David Kulp

by Henry Fast

It must be 53 years ago since I last met David Kulp; that would be in 1962. We were part of a group on tour of the Holy Lands including Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel, with Italy and Greece tacked on for good measure. We were all volunteers of the Pax program working in Europe under Mennonite Central Committee.

When I heard from another Pax man friend this past August that Dave had asked about me, I sent him a short note asking what he had done in the ensuing years and telling him a bit about my life. Dave then called me by phone, since because of his macular degeneration, he found it easier to talk than to type on the computer. We had a nice chat. He requested a copy of my book which I happily sent him and which was read to him by his wife, Ruth Ann.  (Where the Pavement Ends: (Mis)Adventures in International Rural Development, Henry Fast, 2013.)

Besides failing eyesight, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer on April 20th, 2015. After fighting the cancer with chemotherapy, Dave passed away on October 11, just one month ago at the age of 75. He had three sisters, two sons, one daughter and seven grandchildren, of whom one 12-year-old granddaughter died three years ago after surgery to correct chronic epilepsy. Dave and his wife resided in Pottstown, PA, about 60 kms. northwest of Philadelphia.

I didn’t get to know him that well having spent only a few weeks together in the same place along with other guys—firstly for two weeks at orientation in Akron, PA, then onboard the ship crossing the Atlantic, at the work unit in Salzburg, Austria for ten days before I left for Greece and, finally, on the Holy Land tour. I just remember him as a tall lanky guy who was always out-going and who loved to joke around. For some reason one little incident has stuck in my mind which I thought was rather funny. It was during orientation in Akron that also included several young ladies preparing for various kinds of volunteer assignments. It seems to me us guys were housed on the second floor of the dormitory. Dave was standing at the window looking out when he saw some of those women walking nearby. He opened wide his arms and exclaimed, “Here I am you lucky girls!” Of course, they couldn’t hear him and I doubt they even noticed him in the window, but there was Dave just being himself.

A couple of weeks ago, Dave’s sister Rachel contacted me saying that she had borrowed my book from her brother and now would like to buy one for herself. She, too, has macular degeneration. Both she and Dave’s wife Ruth Ann commented that Dave had been so impressed with my international work that, as a long-haul truck driver all his life, he now questioned whether he had done anything of value with his life. He said, “what did I do to make a difference in the world.”   His wife said she tried to assure him that, besides providing well for his family, he had impacted a host of friends in the community, in church and among his truck-driving colleagues. He loved attending reunions with his former Pax friends whenever possible.

I responded in an email saying that I was sorry that my book had caused Dave to question his own life’s work. Besides his positive affect on family and friends, I wrote that one legacy they could all be proud of (including his children & grandchildren) is that Dave declared himself as a conscientious objector and chose PAX as an alternative avenue of service to military conscription. I’m sure the houses and community infrastructure he helped build was much appreciated by the victims of war and that it was also a life-changing experience for him personally, as it was for all other Pax men.

I find it interesting that former Pax men still feel some kind of bond with each other all these years later. For example, a good number of Pax men from as far away as Ontario attended Dave’s memorial service. And at the end of August last, a few of us organized a one-day reunion of all Manitoba “Pax boys”, as we were affectionately known, to hear each other’s stories. Fifteen guys, now grey-haired or bald, and their spouses showed up for the event.

On this Remembrance Day, it is fitting that we remember and honour our war veterans. As a Pax man, I like to think of ourselves as peace veterans. MCC’s Remembrance Day button says, “to remember is to work for peace.”

New book recommended

I just finished reading a new book by two Pax men who went to the Congo 1957-

59 (at the same time I was in Pax Europe). They are John M. Janzen from KS

and Larry B. Graber from OR.  The title is Crossing the Loagne — Congo Pax

Service and the Journey Home. Its publishing date is 2016. It is large, 8.5 by 11

inches and 237 pages printed on glossy white paper. It consists mainly of letters

John and Larry wrote home regularly to their parents who kept them. There are

scores of photos many of them in color.

They served with Congo Inland Mission, building, repairing, teaching, and

assisting missionaries and doctors. I was somewhat surprised at their

comfortable living arrangements and accommodations of the CIM personnel.

They of course suffered hardships of various sorts the two years too. They are

observant and interested in the culture of the African clans they encounter. This

was in the era of great unrest on the African continent and movements for

independence. It is interesting to note that these Pax guys were thinking that the

natives may be too impatient and not aware of the benefits they receive from the

colonists, although they agreed that national independence was coming and saw

exploitation everywhere. Most of their time in Africa was spent in rural and out of

the way places where political movements were less visible. But they went to

cities on business too. Because they were trustworthy, much of the time they

were on their own in assignments with little supervision. My impression is these

were two young men with high standards, conditioned by family and church,

ethical and hard working and with great motivation. A Christian witness, and true

“service in the national (and world) interest in lieu of the military.” They at times

took risks as youth tend to do.

The last third or so of the book tells the tales of their Sept. to Dec. 1959 travel

home by their Citroen car, and by ship; to East Africa, Egypt, Lebanon,

Jerusalem, other Near East countries, Greece, Austria, Germany, Italy, Paris,

Brussels, N. Europe, across to London, then sailing home from South Hampton.

They often sleep in their car, and whenever possible visit or stay at MCC or Pax

locations. Being used to Congo climate they didn’t bring enough warm clothes.

They knew more what to expect in Europe and found it more like home, so

conclude that the African and Asian portions of their trip were the best. They

both have returned to Europe and other overseas places many times, after Pax.

One question I have is how they managed to fly straight home from New York,

without stopping at Akron for debriefing which I thought all MCC workers

did en route home.

A word about the authors from page 232: Larry Graber, who I know, is from Dallas, OR, has

a B.A. from Willamette U., an MSW from U. of Utah, worked in Family Therapy, was

Manager of Family Based Services for the State of Oregon. Since retirement he and

his wife Karen have volunteered in over 30 overseas projects. Larry was a

speaker at our 2002 OR Pax conference.

John Janzen is from Newton, KS, has  B.A. from Bethel, and a Ph.D. in anthropology

from the U. of Chicago. He is an author and taught for 45 years at U. of KS and other places.

They both credit Pax with influencing their career choices.   Both have children and

grandchildren to whom this book is dedicated.

We are indebted to Larry and John for writing this gem. Anyone who served in Pax or MCC

will find it fascinating reading. And many others will too.

Ray Kauffman

Jan. 30, 2016