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.
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