A new giving registry “Honoring Pax” has been established with Mennonite Central Committee. Contributions are tax deductible and will be used “where needed most” in MCC’s worldwide relief efforts. For online giving, https://donate.mcc.org/registry/honoring-pax directly to the page. Or mail check, menu Honoring Pax, payable to MCC, PO Box 500, Akron, PA 17501.
[Pax vets, especially Espelkampers, note reference to 1953 in the following, plus an alert to this story from ex-Paxer Harold Miller stating, “Karin was the daughter of Pastor Albert Bartel of the Espelkamp Mennonite Church during my time in Espelkamp.”]
[Reprinted with permission from MCC website]
At the age of eight, Karin Gerber-Bartel fled her home in Prussia as a refugee. She remembers the harrowing journey and what it was like to live in a refugee camp. MCC relief supplies brought her family joy then, now she makes comforters to pass on that feeling to other displaced people. MCC representative Naomi Enns visited Karin in March to hear her story and learn what motivates her to give back.
March 24, 2018 – by Naomi Enns
Naomi Enns is MCC’s representative for West Europe together with her spouse Doug Enns. They traveled to Switzerland to meet with Karin Gerber-Bartel who has made comforters for MCC for several years. The Ennses previously served as MCC representatives for Syria and Lebanon.
On a Sunday in April, I drove to a small rural village called Tramelan in the mountains of Switzerland. My husband Doug and I were driving to meet Karin Gerber-Bartel, an 81-year-old woman who makes comforters for MCC after having experienced life as a refugee herself.
I was curious about the story that was waiting to be told, how one woman’s own refugee story would impact her desire to help others displaced in countries at war. Karin has been part of the Mont Tramelan quilting group for five or six years. The women get together once a week in an old rural schoolhouse to make comforters they donate to MCC for distribution.
Fleeing violence is an experience that’s familiar to Karin. She was eight years old in January of 1945 when she fled her home in Unterberg, Prussia on a horse and buggy with her mother, siblings and grandparents. First, they traveled towards Danzig but the violence followed them on the road. “One day we were outside, and a bomb fell on us,” she told us. “I was eight years old. My finger, hand and hip were wounded by shrapnel from it. My three-year-old sister was with me.” Her young sister died from the injuries of the explosion. Today Karin still carries the scars from the bomb, she reached out her left hand to show me her fingers, the tips are missing, and they still bear the old scars.
Her family desperately wanted to get away from the fighting, so they got on a small boat without knowing where it was headed. “We had no idea where we were going—we just wanted out of there,” she told me. That boat took them to a larger ship in the middle of the Baltic Sea, eight-year-old Karin climbed a ladder up the side of the bigger ship which took them to Denmark. They lived in Denmark for the next three years in five different refugee camps without her father who was a prisoner of war at the time.
It was while living in those camps her family received relief supplies from MCC; it was a big joy every time Karin says. She remembers the “camp cake” her mom would make with the food they received, they would invite others to come share the cake and have some coffee. “I remember we made it, the coffee, very thin like water so it would last,” she told me.
In 1953, reunited with her father, her family moved into a home in Espelkamp built by participants in MCC’s PAX program, an alternative service option for people who didn’t want to serve in the military.
Years later, Karin now lives in Switzerland, and she helps give back by making the comforters for MCC. Recently she saw proof those comforters were making a difference. In a presentation I did to Mennonites in Switzerland, I had shared a photo of Rev. Ibrahim Nseir, one of the partners I worked with in Syria, holding up a quilt the Tramelan group had made. Karin has a copy of that photo printed out in her home that she shows us, smiling with pride. She can relate to the experience of the Syrians receiving the comforters she makes. “When I look at [the news about Syria], I see their pain, I see their suffering—I see the individuals in the reports and I ask myself, ‘what did this person experience?’”
When I asked her how it felt to see a photo of her group’s comforter being received in Aleppo and distributed by the MCC partners there, she was excited, she said “It feels so good, so nice to pass it on. I have learned in life that what we have we don’t waste and we must share …we are called to give back.” That is part of why she participates in the comforter group.
There are approximately 15 quilting groups that meet throughout Switzerland, Germany and Netherlands; together they made 364 comforters in 2017. Those comforters are then shipped around the world to support people displaced by conflict.
I told Karin that in my work in Lebanon in Syria I learned that sometimes the blankets are used to bring beauty to homes where people have lost much, maybe they put it in the living room, on the bed, or use them as wall partitions in collective shelters, the comforters bringing beauty and dignity to their space. Karin recalled similar situations from her own experience, “we made wall partitions in Denmark—there were so many people there too. We had simple partitions of thin cardboard.”
MCC, with the assistance of West European Mennonites and others, is sending another shipment to Syria filled with comforters, relief buckets and school kits. It was packed together by representatives from many countries during the Mennonite European Regional Conference in Montbéliard, France in May.
As I listened to Karin share graciously from the history of her life and deeply of the losses she has experienced, I could only think to myself, war is a terrible thing. It separates people from that which they love, it forces people to flee homes, friends and family, it leaves many lost.
Yet, I also felt the glowing embers of resilience in the human spirit, one that had survived her own terrors of life as a refugee and now passes comfort on to others. And I thought to myself, we have been given much. In the end, life is about giving back. About being faithful and focusing on what matters most.
By Harold Miller [Recently relocated from Kenya to Virginia, USA. __–A.K., Admin.]
After completing a three-year (1955-58) alternate-to-military service stint in Germany with the Mennonite Central Committee-sponsored PAX program, I was on my way home. It took the form of a road trip in my Volkswagen “beetle” from Espelkamp–the “refugee city” in northern Germany, to the sea port of Le Harve, France where the “beetle” was processed for shipping to the US, then an overnight venture by ferry to Harwich, England, on to London by train and from London by hitch-hiking to the British port city of Bournemouth where I boarded the ship from Le Harve for the ten-day onward voyage to New York where I was met by my father.
Some months prior to my departure from Germany, my father had lent me $1300 to buy a Volkswagen “beetle”. I had entertained this bit of vanity in part because of a general obsession with cars and partly because of the odd expectation that my siblings and youthful colleagues in Illinois would be impressed by a slightly larger-than-pocket-size souvenir from Germany. The purchase of a two-year old 1956 beige Volkswagen “beetle” had been facilitated by a member of Espelkamp’s Mennonite youth group whose brother managed a dealership in the not too distant city of Bremen.
Before the final ‘good-byes’ were said in Espelkamp, I had made two excursions with my “beetle”. One was a farewell sprint southward to youth-group friends in the Mennoniten Siedlung (Mennonite Settlement) in the Sachsenweiler suburb of Backnang, some 30 kilometers from the south German city of Stuttgart. There for a period of more than one and a half years I had participated in the construction of houses for Mennonite refugees who had come from the “east” in the waning days of World War II. Sachsenweiler had been my introduction to Germany, to the south German Schwaebisch dialect similar to my own Pennsylvania Dutch, to war stories from Mennonite refugee friends, and to the ravages of history.
A second excursion was pointed north-northeast from Espelkamp in the company of two friends from the Espelkamp Mennonite youth group. Our youthful excursion took us past medieval “fachwerk” farmsteads in lonely rural areas, through vast expanses of heather in the region approaching the North Sea. We stayed overnight in youth hostels and once or twice in open camp grounds. At one memorable moment we drove up to the East German border, fronted by a huge sign indicating its history and circumstance. Parents of my fellow travelers had fled to West Germany from regions far to the east of this border. They lived now in houses built by PAX boys. How long would this border reality serve as a post-war configuration?
Many years later (1990), only months after the East German border had been removed, my wife Annetta, our oldest son Keith and I motored from Brussels, Belgium to Berlin, Germany. As we crossed what had been the fenced and, in sections, the walled border strip stretching to the northern and southern horizons, we were reminded of the follies of hostile human initiative and its physical consequences .
For the home-bound section of travel from Espelkamp to Bournemouth, I had sensed a strong need to travel completely on my own, for reasons which I can no longer recall. Except for the necessary formalities at the Le Harve seaport and several pre-arranged overnights with a family living in Wilton near Britain’s famous Stone Henge monument, every other aspect of this brief venture in Britain was unplanned, open-ended.
After disembarking from the overnight Le Harve, France-to-Harwich, England-ferry-trip, I was making my way toward the train station when a tall African American man approached me and asked in kindly fashion; “Are you headed for London?” After my answer in the affirmative, he offered: “Can I show you around; I am well acquainted with the city?” My answer again was in the affirmative; an unexpected question and an equally spur-of-the-moment answer.
After boarding the train together, the gentleman began to recount his past experience in London. After his birth and early childhood in the United States, his mother had determined that the country’s racially segregated education system was inappropriate for her children. So she packed up her children together with necessary belongings and moved to Britain. There he and his siblings attended school, grew to adulthood and variously married. As an adult, my friend found his way back to the US where he landed a job within the New York harbor area in the import/export sector. At the time of our encounter he was retired, retracing some of his childhood trails and visiting siblings who had married and settled in Britain.
True to his word, my newly-found guide to London showed me around the big city, paid for my ‘teas’ and ‘tubes’ (underground railway) and took me to the home of his sister for overnight lodging. There I became acquainted with family members, some of them clearly of African American and others of Caucasian British origins. Their careers and life stories reflected, in many ways, readily recognizable North Atlantic middle class trajectories. Except for one striking feature. My guide explained in considerable detail that he was an adherent of the Muslim faith and that his family’s Muslim-African ancestors had been subjected to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
During the several days we spent together exploring London, I kept wondering just why he was extending such generosity toward me. When his comments regarding his religious commitment and its origins reached my ears, there were no ready slots within which to lodge or to digest what seemed to be highly unlikely information. We corresponded for some years after this unexpected encounter, but did not touch any further on the religious theme.
To this day I try to comprehend why a tall African American gentleman, of Muslim-African faith, would choose to bestow random generosity onto a youthful Mennonite Christian stranger, like myself. I could not have imagined at the time that 50 years of my adulthood would be lived out on the African continent where wanton generosity crossed my path repeatedly and where the Islamic faith was much in evidence.
In the reception area of the New York harbor I was embraced by my father who had made a special trip from Arthur, Illinois to welcome and accompany me on the road trip to our home. Along the way there was an overnight stay on my Amish aunt’s farm near Middlebury, Indiana. My “beetle” was parked, for the night, in one of the farm buildings. On the following morning the “beetle’s” battery was too weak to ignite the engine. So my Amish uncle harnessed up his team of horses and towed the “beetle” into a “kick start”. That little episode had the effect of removing some of the shine off my “beetle”. Between Indiana and Illinois, the weather was cold; I discovered that the heating system of the “beetle” was severely deficient. Another dent in my German souvenir.
Upon arrival in Illinois, I quickly discovered that mine was one of the very first “beetles” to appear in the community. I learned as well that it was considered to be only slightly more than a pocket-size souvenir from Germany, not really to be considered as a car. I was warned, furthermore, that such mini pretend vehicles tended to get sucked into the exhaust systems of real cars!
Months later, I made my way to Harrisonburg, Virginia in the “beetle”, for purposes of embarking on a four-year academic venture at Eastern Mennonite College/University. In addition to my packet of clothing and toiletries, the “beetle” was carrying the hand tools associated with the drywall trade. I was prepared to embrace a full schedule of courses at the College, interspersed with drywall jobs to cover the annual tuition costs.
In addition to earning a BA in History at Eastern Mennonite College, I met the wonderful lady who agreed to become my wife. Beyond the substantive values and aspirations that brought us together, there was the subliminal factor of the mini flower vase mounted on the dash of the “beetle”. The scent and sight of a fresh rose on our dates was delightful.
After several years of marriage and teaching at Eastern Mennonite High School, Annetta declared: “I want to go home.” She had been born and raised in the little village of Mugango on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanganyika (Tanzania after 1964). After due processing, we moved in mid-1965 to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to take up our respective assignments. Thus began a 50-year sojourn on the African continent.
One day, many years after arrival in Tanzania, I was traveling on assignment from Liberia via Congo, Brazzaville to Nairobi, Kenya where we lived at the time. In Brazzaville there was a day-long layover before the evening departure by air to Nairobi. So rather than sitting in the airport waiting room all day, I made my way into the city center by public transport and then walked to the shore of the River Congo, in full flood at the time. Kinshasa, the capital city of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo could be spotted on the far horizon. I stood on the riverbank mesmerized by the astonishing vista.
Suddenly my reverie was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. When I turned to see who was touching me, my eyes met a young man who asked: “Are you ok? Do you need any assistance?” My reply: “I am just fine, I am a one-day tourist enjoying your city and this beautiful river.” Apparently satisfied with that answer, he left.
Later I was again tapped on the shoulder by the same young man, but this time he said: “The gentleman sitting in the car over there wants to talk with you.” As I sauntered over to the gentleman in the Peugeot car, I noticed that he was dressed as a policeman, in full uniform. My mind raced quickly in search of any offence that I might have committed. The man greeted me with a friendly hello and asked: “Are you ok; do you need assistance of any kind?” Again I replied: “I am just fine, I am a one-day tourist enjoying your city and this beautiful river.” Then he responded: “Can I show you around town?” “I would be delighted,” I replied.
The uniformed policeman then took me on a tour of the city of Brazzaville, explaining the sights and sounds, all in excellent English [in a French-speaking city]. After an extensive circuit through the inner city, including a state house drive-by, he invited me to lunch at his house in the suburbs, served by his fine-spirited Romanian wife. After lunch he returned me in his car to the point on the Congo River where we first met. With a friendly farewell wave he said: “Have a good day in our city.”
Over the intervening years, those two gestures of random unsolicited and totally unanticipated generosity, offered respectively in London and Brazzaville, have returned again and again in my memory. Indeed, they seem to become more poignant with each recall. With those gestures, the two gentlemen, separated by geography and history, exercised the loftiest of human values; a welcome and an acknowledgment of the stranger, of “the other” on the periphery.
Within category Publications find the newspaper page plus an English translation and commentary. [For those without magnifier app — or old-fashioned magnifying glass — watch for our expected/hoped enlargement of the page. –Admin.]
As published in Neue Westfälische newspaper, Germany
[See English translation by Ervie Glick and commentary by Calvin Redekop below this page from the newspaper — possible enlargement of page yet to be posted.]
BEARERS OF HOPE IN TIME OF NEED
Espelkamp Yesterday and Today (28): When the Pax boys helped to build the city
The foundation stone for the present day Mennonite congregation was laid
By Manfred Steinmann
Espelkamp. The church was never a peripheral structure, but rather an initiative for the establishment of the town following the trauma of World War II. Faced with great need in post War Germany, the town and church together agreed to take on responsibility for building a town, and on October 4, 1949, they founded the “Aufbaugemeinschaft GmbH” (construction society) as supervisor of construction and planning. From the beginning, the Mennonites belonged to it, and they functioned as bearers of hope during war-time need as is described in “Mennonite Church of Espelkamp, John Gingerich Street.” It is the oldest Mennonite congregation in Espelkamp.
“You may believe it or not, the most difficult problem in Espelkamp was how to make clear to the people who we were. It was most difficult among the workers.
Many had lost so much in the war, their children, women and parents, their homes and possessions. For many of them, we were the hated Americans.”
These words from John Gingerich articulate well the problems that the so-called Pax Boys had to deal with when they arrived in December, 1948. They were young Americans of the Mennonite faith whose members had rejected military service ever since the founding of their movement during the Reformation, and now they, without pay, had committed themselves to love of their neighbor.
Among the 15 European voluntary service projects, Espelkamp was the only one in Germany, and it was included in the building program for two years. Equipped with trucks and the required tools, which in the post war years were extremely hard to come by, these young men went to work helping to renovate the existing war munitions halls into dwellings for refugees.
In the evenings, they gathered for Bible study. Most popular were the Bible retreats, the first ever vacation programs in Espelkamp, which attracted children in droves. The selflessness and commitment of these Pax boys underpinned the work in Espelkamp both ideally and materially.
It gave John Gingerich special joy and pleasure to be able to bring his family, which came in 1949 to Espelkamp and remained until 1967– with short interruptions—dedicated to the building of Espelkamp. At the initiation of the town, a segment of Stolper Weg, where the buildings of the Mennonite church now stand, was renamed to John Gingerich-Straße.
Men and women took turns washing and cooking
The first Mennonites lived in the barracks of Hedrichsdorf. Since the Pax boys lived in equally primitive conditions as the German refugees and displaced persons, they contributed significantly to the development of positive relations among them. The local Germans were astonished to find that the huge amount of laundry, food preparation, and housekeeping done in such primitive conditions was accomplished by both men and women in alternating shifts. The house parents were William and Ruth Dick, affectionately known as Uncle Bill and Mommy Ruth. Long after their return to the States, these dear “early Espelkampers” nurtured friendships and acquaintances in Espelkamp.
An example of the value bestowed on the Pax boys and their work, Mennonite Central Committee’s main office in the US decided to end the volunteer work in Espelkamp after two years in order to perform the same kind of service for refugees elsewhere in Europe. However, at the urgency of Pastor Plantiko of the Evangelical Church office, which was in intensive conversation with Mennonite Central Committee in Frankfurt, the service in Espelkamp was extended for another two years.
The number of Pax boys had grown to about 25, so the Munahalle (munitions hall) MH 37 on the corner of Isenstedter Straße/Kantstraße (the central bus station today) was used from December, 1950, for housing them. However, that arrangement lasted only a short time, as the hall was intended to become the Evangelical (Lutheran) prep school for Espelkamp-Mittwald (later the Söderblom-Gymnasium) with boarding facility. So they moved to Munahalle MH 56 “Under the Oaks” on Stolper Weg. Here the new center for the Espelkamp Mennonites was created in two decades of intense construction activity.
Captions to Photos
Photo top left: The Hedrichsdorf Barracks. The first Pax boys lived here. During the day
they helped with clearing the land and remodeling the munitions halls into
apartments. Evenings and Sundays they invited the town’s residents for Bible study.
Photo top right: John Gingerich with his “matchbox.” Since practically no one in Espelkamp owned a car, this vehicle was a great help in remodeling the munitions halls.
It was used not only for hauling building materials, but also for clearing tree stumps.
Center photo: Bible Study. John Gingerich with his flannel graph in Sunday School. Here
he relates the Passion story.
Bottom center photo: Munitions Hall 37. Here on the corner of Isenstedter Straße and Kantstraße stood the home for the Pax boys.
Translated by Ervie Glick, 4/14/ 2016
– – – – – – – – –
Response and commentary by Calvin Redekop
“Bearers of Hope in Time of Need” is a charming story of a significant period for many of those living through World War II and post war reconstruction. By now having been almost totally forgotten, it revives the nostalgia of that period for those volunteered in the Espelkamp story. It is a unique and helpful perspective provided by those who were the beneficiaries and witnesses of the commendable service the Espelkamp Voluntary Service program provided. This is a story of how one community interprets the motivations and actions of another set of total strangers.
One of the perspectives of the essay is the close connection between the MCC voluntary program which began in Espelkamp in 1948 and the Pax program, whose origins in 1951 are closely tied to the Espelkamp experiment. The article, however, understandably has factual errors and inferences of the relationships of MCC Voluntary Service and Pax which I will not correct, because it would become a bit tedious and detract from the essay’s positive view — namely the fresh, positive, and naive (in the good sense) perspective the local community experienced of voluntary service in early post-war German recovery.
For a a more expansive perspective on the early Espelkamp history, several sources are of signal importance:
First, Emily Brunk: Espelkamp: The Mennonite Central Committe shares in community building in and Settlement for German Refugees, (Karlsruhe: Heinrich Schneider, 1951). The Voluntary Service office in Frankfurt, Germany directed by Paul Peachey, and Calvin Redekop, assistant director, agreed that the basic events of the Espelkamp experiment were too important to leave in MCC files, possibly to be forgotten. Among many volunteers, Johnny Gingerch and Milton Harder loom large as very important leaders. Harder survives and resides in Oklahoma. The photos in the book are priceless, depicting the “cultural and social” milieu” of those pioneer times.
Another work, entitled Espelkamp on the German Frontier (ed. by Ruth Abraham, self published, 2005) is by William O. Dick (who is pictured in the Brunk book). It traces the story of William and his wife Ruth’s arrival at Espelkamp with the challenging, if not appalling, primitive situation that confronted them. Partly composed of daily diary entries and topics such as the almost totally despondent refugees they learned to know as neighbors and then friends, even with understated emotions it is moving even to today’s readers. Interspersed are 58 pictures which give the story a concreteness that words alone can not provide.
Finally, several sources by this author provide fuller context for the story of Espelkamp, the early origins of European Mennonite Voluntary Service and an early source of the Pax Program. One is The European Mennonite Voluntary Service: Youth Idealism in Post-World War II Europe (Telford, Cascadia, 2010). This begins with MCCs voluntary service program at Akron and the exportation of the concept via the Council of Mennonite and Affiliated Colleges summer study-work activities. Espelkamp was one of the first sites of MCC voluntary service in Europe, headquartered at Frankfurt. A personal example illustrates: Not knowing what to do with unmarried volunteers for foreign service, MCC sent Redekop to help Peachey run the emerging summer work camps in Europe. “I arrived (from the US) in Espelkamp, Germany on January 28, 1950. It was a cold, primitive and austere introduction. Espelkamp was in a deep forest, hidden from other German villages. The army barracks got so cold at night ice formed on our faces. Sleeping in bunks two tiers high, we hit the floor in the dark, tiptoed to several wash basins….and to the kitchen area, where a fire was already roaring.” (Footnote 44, p. 114). The voluntary service connection with Pax began casually and episodically but cooperation continnued, with volunteers switching to serve in activities of either.
The other source is The Pax Story: Service in the Name of Christ: 1951-1976. (Telford: Pandora 2001) This book, initiated by the Pax editorial group which was preparing for the 50th anniversary of Pax, also describes the variety of times and places where Pax and European MVS collaborated and exchanged personnel.
With respect to the fine recent essay [in Neue Westfälische newspaper] about German WWII victims and refugees at Espelkamp, there are undoubtedly many additional sources describing the emergence and evolution of the Pax idea with voluntary service and how it affected the beneficiaries. But testimonials by participants in an event are usually the most authentic and convincing.
Calvin Redekop, April 15, 2016
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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 FOR–USA from 1987–1973, and international/interfaith secretary from 1993–2001. Doug has published widely on the issues of war, peace, and nonviolence.
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:
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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.”
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.
Jan. 30, 2016
Today’s News: Announcing the addition of a significant category of postings. With the advent of the Janzen and Graber book, it became obvious that the site has failed to highlight new and earlier publications relevant to Pax. Several previous works will soon appear in the ‘Publications’ category also. Please send notice of any additional books or articles, past and future, to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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