In Enkenbach, Germany, Rainer Schmidt holds a photo of Pax volunteers walking down the same street where he and others continue to live in houses built by Pax.
At the the age of 85, Artur Regier vividly remembers the night he fled his family’s West Prussian farm.
It was 1945, and he was 15 years old. With gunfire from the Russian army less than two miles from their home, he, his mother and two brothers galloped away on horseback.
It would be nine years before they had a home of their own again.
They sailed on the Baltic Sea with more than 2,000 refugees on a boat built for 250, then spent three years living in a Danish camp.
Finally, in 1954, they moved into their own home in Enkenbach, Germany.
That home was built by young volunteers in Pax, an MCC program that provided Mennonites in the U.S. an alternative to military service and, in post-war Europe, helped to rebuild war-torn areas and to offer a bright spot of hope.
In Enkenbach alone, the efforts of Pax built 115 housing units and a building for the Mennonite church.
Enkenbach is full of stories like Regier’s — accounts of people who were forced to flee as youth and built new lives with the assistance of MCC and its Pax program.
There was Louise Sauer, who lived in a camp in Russia for two years, then in wooden barracks in Germany with no bathroom or running water. When her family moved into the new home, she says, “It was like heaven for us children.”
Edith Foth holds a photo of herself and her parents, Cornelius and Helene Foth, in the same window where the image was taken nearly 60 years ago. Edith still lives in the home, built by Pax, that the family moved into when they came to Enkenbach after being displaced during World War II.
Or there’s Edith Foth, who left home with her family when she was just 10. “We thought in two days we’d be back home, but we never made it back,” she says.
Her family moved into a new Pax-built home on the first Sunday of Advent in 1954. “That was a great moment for us, and without MCC’s help, it would have never been possible for us to own a house again after World War II,” says Foth, who worked alongside Pax volunteers for several months.
Between 1953 and 1961, approximately 120 Pax “boys” went through Enkenbach. (Almost all participants were men, mostly young men, but a handful of women also volunteered in Pax locations.)
Their legacy lives on in more than just the physical homes they built. Children gathered at the Pax house for snacks and Bible study, listening to the radio and playing games of table tennis in the basement. Pax participants started their own choir, and refugee youth joined in—forming the seeds of what today is the Enkenbach Mennonite Choir.
Ervie Glick of Harrisonburg, Va., was a member of that choir while he served with Pax in Enkenbach, and he also remembers playing hockey in the winter with the youth from the Mennonite church. But his most vivid memory from that time is of Monday evenings when the Pax members went in groups of two to spend the evening with a family who had moved into one of the new houses.
The families would share photos and stories from the homes they fled and of the journey to Germany. “Airplanes would strafe their columns of refugees, their horses and wagons, and they would dive into the ditches and run to escape them, the airplanes. It was just awful,” he says. So families were very thankful once they could move into the homes built by Pax. “With the new homes, once they got established they could find meaningful employment and get their feet on the ground.”
Klaus and Greda Wiens stand outside their home in Enkenbach, which was built by Pax. The Pax program provided an alternative to military service for Mennonites in the U.S. and helped rebuild war-torn Europe.
MCC relief in Europe wasn’t only in Enkenbach. Shortly after the war, food, clothing and relief supplies were distributed across Germany, and in the 1950s Pax built homes in several areas around the country.
France also received help rebuilding damaged areas. Many in the small town of Geisberg remember 1946 to 1949, when MCC relief workers built houses as well as a nearby home for orphans.
Alfred Hege, left, Rene Hege, Jean Hege, Oscar Hege and Théo Hege walk around what was once a children’s home in Geisberg, France. This building is one of many that MCC helped to build in the small village in the late 1940s.
Here too, the memories are of more than construction. Though Théo Hege was only seven when the MCC workers arrived, he remembers having them at his family’s home on Sundays and receiving candy or stamps for his collection. “They introduced us to Christmas carolling as well as the sunrise service on Easter morning,” he says.
Now that he’s older, that relationship with MCC remains — though Hege is on the other side of the equation.
When Geisberg Mennonite Church collected relief supplies for Syrians, he helped contribute. “I think that program is an expression of Christian love to those who have less than we have,” Hege says. “We share what God gave us in his mercy.”
Agnes Hirschler and Jean Hege, left, watch members of Geisberg Mennonite Church load a shipping container with relief supplies collected and packed by the church.
Sisters Agnes and Emma Hirschler, whose home was built by MCC, also helped put together kits and through that, Hege says, they “encouraged the younger generation not to forget the help we got when we were in need.”
The shipment, sent through MCC, was coordinated by the relief committee of the Swiss Mennonite Church (Nothilfe Gruppe, or Emergency Group) along with French churches. It contained 1,500 hygiene kits, 65 handmade comforters, 294 purchased blankets, 791 relief kits and 144 pairs of handmade socks along with supplies like towels and sheets.
In Germany, the Enkenbach Mennonite Church, where Regier, Sauer and Foth attend, also has donated money and supplies to MCC’s relief work through Mennonitisches Hilfswerk (Mennonite Relief), an organization of 60 Mennonite churches in Germany.
Now, 70 years after the war’s end, it’s a way that many whose communities received help through MCC can give back — passing on the blessing that they received to others whose lives have been upended by conflict.
“When Mennonitisches Hilfswerk calls for special offerings for MCC projects, I am always ready to give,” Regier says. “I always remember that I have received help from MCC when I was in need after World War II.”
Emily Loewen is a writer for MCC Canada. Nina Linton is a photographer from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
From EMU News – Eastern Mennonite University website
By Steve Shenk
Cal Redekop, co-founder of Mennonite Central Committee’s alternative service organization Pax, accepts the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence Community Service Award from James Madison University Provost Jerry Benson (left) and Gandhi Center director Terry Beitzel (right) on behalf of MCC and Pax. (Photo by Ervie Glick) Posted on May 4th, 2015
In 1951, Jay “Junior” Lehman, then a 21-year-old farm boy from Ohio, sailed by freighter to Antwerp, Belgium. He was among the first wave of conscientious objectors to participate in a new alternative service program called Pax. Reaching their eventual destination in Germany, Lehman and about 20 draft-age men labored to turn Nazi poison-gas bunkers into housing for World War II refugees.
In late April, Lehman, now 85, made another trip – not quite so far – from his home in Ohio to James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he and nearly 60 other “Paxers,” including organization co-founder and former leader Cal Redekop, received a community service award from JMU’s Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence.
Pax, a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), was created in response to the reinstatement of the military draft in the United States after the start of the Korean War. Mennonites, Quakers, Brethren and other conscientious objectors could perform alternative service in Europe, and later in Africa and South America. Pax continued until 1975, three years after the draft ended. By the time the program closed, nearly 1,200 young Americans, and some Canadians, had served in 40 countries.
An ‘influential’ program
Nearly 300 people packed a reception hall at JMU to celebrate the organization’s legacy. Terry Beitzel, director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center, noted that Pax was receiving only the fourth award in the center’s 10-year history. The center gives a global nonviolence award, which has been presented to former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter and South African anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu, and also the community service award, past co-recipients of which include restorative justice pioneer Howard Zehr, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), and JMU nursing professor Vida Huber.
“Pax was chosen for the award because of its contribution to establishing alternative service programs and influencing the formation of the U.S. Peace Corps, but primarily because of the emphasis on service to others,” said Beitzel, who has taken courses and taught at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and earned a PhD in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University.
“Pax serves as an example of service and peacemaking for all of us today,” said JMU Provost Jerry Benson.
Redekop, now 89 and living in Harrisonburg, accepted the award on behalf of Pax and its volunteers.
“I’m only the handmaiden for Pax or handlanger – German for lackey,” he said, before calling up Ann Graber Hershberger ‘76, who chairs the MCC U.S. board. Hershberger, a nursing professor at EMU, spoke of the Pax legacy and how it affected her own MCC work, with husband Jim ‘82, in Central America.
‘Paxers’ still connected
Redekop and Paul Peachey ‘45 dreamed up the new organization while the two were in Europe serving in post-war relief efforts with MCC. (Both Peachey, who eventually taught at EMU, and Redekop went on to academic careers in the field of sociology. Redekop is also a former business executive who has written widely on Christian ethics in business.)
Inspired by the Latin word for peace, the Pax program began in Europe with housing projects for war refugees, including German-speaking Mennonites from Ukraine, who were caught between the German and Soviet armies. Redekop, raised in the Midwest in an immigrant community of German-speaking Mennonites from Russia, was able to communicate in the low-German dialect.
The cultural exchange between Paxers and the people they helped was rich and rewarding. Lowell E. Bender ’67, current MCC board member and the evening’s master of ceremonies, was a Pax worker in Germany, Austria and Greece from 1961-63, where he witnessed the long-term devastation caused by the war while constructing new houses for families whose homes had been destroyed years before. Bender came back to the United States after his service and enrolled at EMU.
“We were all changed by our experiences,” he said, of the Paxers.
“Many of the Pax veterans still stay in touch with the people they served,” says Ervie Glick ‘62, whose interest in the German language and culture began with his Pax tour and eventually led to a teaching career as a German language professor (he retired from EMU in 2004). Reunions of the Salzburg Paxers, the unit Glick served in, have been held nine times since 1970, including once in Salzburg, Austria.
Paul M. Harnish ’64, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, visited a large, modern chicken processing co-op that he helped start years ago in an impoverished area of Greece. His little hatchery began with 500 chicks imported from the United States. Harnish remembers his delivery being complicated by the need to spend the night in a hotel with the chicks before he could return to the village.
Editor’s Note: The history of the Pax program is featured in two books: Urie Bender’s Soldiers of Compassion (1969) and Cal Redekop’s The Pax Story: Service in the Name of Christ (2001). A 2008 award-winning documentary Pax Service: An Alternative to War was produced by Burton Buller, Cal Redekop and Albert Keim, a former EMU history professor.
More photos here by Ervie Glick:
Former Pax men and spouses gathered around tables to reminisce. Standing are Loyal Klassen, Mt. Lake, MN, and Henry Fast, Winnipeg, MB. Seated are Menno Riehl (PA) and Paul Harnish (PA), all having served in Greece.
Upwards of 300 persons with connections to Pax gathered at JMU.
Pax men, Steven Stoltzfus (center) and Paul Wyse (right), swap stories from their time In Peru running large earth moving equipment for LeTourneau in the ’50’s.
Dr. Terry Beitzel (left), director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence, JMU. Lowell Bender, emcee(right), served in Pax, 1961 to 1963 in Germany, Austria, and Greece.
Cal Redekop transferred the award to Ann Graber-Hershberger, chair of the board of MCC USA.
The Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Non-Violence will host a ceremony at James Madison University to present the Gandhi Community Award to Pax. All former volunteers and related service personnel are especially invited to attend Sunday afternoon, April 26, 2015, in the Festival Highlands Room. Unite with friends and former colleagues in honoring a significant past contribution made in the name of peace and service. Please inform your Pax colleagues of this event. Time and space available for reunions and conversation.
A reunion of the Salzburg, Austria, Pax unit was held September 18-21 at Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre in Niagara Falls, Ontario. PAX, the Latin word for “peace,” was the name given to Mennonite Central Committee’s overseas voluntary service for men of draft age in the middle of the twentieth century. From 1961 to 1963 Pax men built six houses and a church building in Hallein-Rif, Austria, for refugees from then Yugoslavia, most of whom had German roots.These refugees belonged to the Nazerener or Neutäufer church, an Anabaptist group.
The refugees were living in old World War II barracks in Salzburg since the War ended in 1945. The Pax men also lived in the barracks until the new houses were ready for occupancy; then they moved in with the families while the church building was being completed.
Attending the 2014 reunion in Canada were 15 Pax men and 14 spouses, coming from Ontario, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado, and Idaho. In a Sunday morning worship service Rick Cober Bauman, Executive Director of MCC Ontario, spoke to the group regarding current programs in Canada.
Previous reunions of the Salzburg Paxers, starting in 1970, were held in Goshen, IN; Hesston, KS; Mountain Lake, MN; Vineland, ON; Salzburg, Austria; Williamsburg, VA; Monterey, CA; Akron, PA; and Boise, ID. The group agreed to meet again in two years.
Pax men attending the reunion were Ervie Glick, John Arn, Robert Unrau, John Driedger, Wilmer Weaver, Dave Kulp, Allan Mast, Gilbert Friesen, Wayne Yoder, Lowell Bender, Lester Yoder, Corney Klassen, Glen Showalter, Merle Brenneman, and Dick Boschart.
400 S. Streeter Ave.
Hesston, KS 67062-9058
REUNION OF THE SALZBURG, AUSTRIA, PAX UNIT
September 8-11, 2006 Asilomar Conference CenterMonterey, CA
Fifteen of the former PAX volunteers who served at the Salzburg project,along with 13 of their spouses, reunited at the beach-side convention center located at Asilomar on Monterey Bay Peninsula in California from Friday evening, September 8, to Monday noon, September 11, 2006. David Gerber,current MCC representative located at Newton, Kansas, himself a former Greece PAXer, was invited as a special guest. Arrangements were capably handled by John Loewen, Reedley, CA, and Merle Bitikofer, Dallas, OR, and their spouses, with Merle Brenneman developing the program.
As other units do as well, the Salzburg Unit members have enjoyed a special close association with each other over the years since the late 1960’s. In the early years, we attempted to meet every five years, including one time in 1995, when we met at the project site in Austria. However, recently we have met every three years. Each one would testify to the profound impact that our experiences of working and living together intensely during formative years of our lives has had on us. It is the memories, the values instilled in us, and the purpose given to our subsequent lives that draws us to each other still, perhaps even more in our advancing years.
The Salzburg project was a lesser known effort lasting just three years from the spring of 1961 to the winter of 1964. In the waning months, the unit dwindled to just a few men as wrap-up and finishing tasks brought it to a close, but it had reached as high as a dozen men at times. Both the
Enkenbach project and the Karlschule of Vienna project were concluding in1961. PAXers working on those projects were then brought together to start the Salzburg project. Six houses, some of them single family dwellings and some for multiple occupants, and a church were constructed on land donated by Church World Service. The land was gravelly river bottom at the convergence of the Koenigseeache and the Salzach rivers and nestled among the first of Austria’s majestic alps, “Sound of Music” country. The recipients of these houses called themselves Nazarenes, an Anabaptist group with roots in Switzerland not unlike Mennonites but coming to Austria as refugees out of then Yugoslavia during WWII. For 16 years they had lived in barracks built for the German army, unable to afford proper housing. Their leaders learned of MCC and requested help. Peter Dyck was instrumental in arranging for PAXers to provide the labor while the Neutauefer offices in Switzerland provided funds for materials. PAX men lived among the families in those army barracks during the first 18 months of the project, then moved into the new houses as guests of the families until all work was done.
In 2003-4 major renovations and expansion was done to the church building.Four of our group were privileged to attend the dedication of the new assembly building and participate in festivities in June, 2004. Frequent contact with families of the community occurs yet today, as a close familial affinity with them has persisted over the years.
As all ex-PAXers will testify, reunions draw out stories of fun and escapades of every color from participants. Nearly forgotten events and attitudes are refreshed and sharpened. A strong sense of brotherhood had developed. Even our spouses have bonded together in unusual ways. That is why we meet.
Attendees are pictured in the photo that accompanies this writing. They are:
John Arn, Lansdale, PA
Lowell Bender, Bittinger, MD
Merle Bitikofer, Dallas, OR
Richard Boshart, Lebanon, PA
Merle Brenneman, Arvada, CO
John Driedger, Gowanstown, ONT
Gilbert Friesen, Mountain Lake, MN
Ervie Glick, Harrisonburg, VA
Corney Klassen, Jordan, ONT
David Kulp, Pottstown, PA
John Loewen, Reedley, CA
Allan Mast, Hesston, KS
Robert Unrau, Boise, ID
Lester Yoder, Belleville, PA
David Gerber, special guest, Hesston, KS
These fifteen represent approximately 70% of those who spent significant time at Salzburg, not a bad representation.
Key sessions began with a meditation and singing followed by sharing from four couples about significant events and developments in their lives. Blocks of free time on Saturday and Sunday allowed for special activities,including whale watching on Saturday and a stroll through Cannery Row and the marina of Monterey Bay on Sunday. Of special importance to all of us
was input from David Gerber on Saturday evening on “MCC Today: Challenges in a Broken World,” and on Sunday evening on “45 Years Later: What is Our Current Peace Witness?” In the first, David reported with the aid of photos about his MCC work in response to the tsunami of 2004 that devastated the coast of India.
At another session, Ervie Glick reported about discussions held in March of 2006 at Akron regarding a possible launching of a kind of “PAX II”, more than likely to be called “International Voluntary Service” in response to a gift from the Bob Histand estate. Al Keim, Calvin Redekop and Ervie Glick met with David Worth and Ron Flaming of MCC, as well as Orval Schmidt and Owen Hess of Goshen, and John Lapp, former MCC executive. MCC executive director, joined via conference telephone. A feasibility study will be conducted by Mennonite World Conference. Much work remains to be done.
Dear Pax men. The page you see reprinted from the Mennonite Historical Bulletin(July, 2011), the official journal of the Mennonite Historical Committee, tells us that Pax is considered one of two important events that began in 1951. What more can be said abut that it was your labors that allowed it to thrive and make such an impact. Please tell others about at this recognition and to check the Pax website.
If you can’t read it the lower 1951 article reads “Mennonite Central Comittee starts the Pax program, sending volunteers to Europe to work on post-war reconstruction projects. Pax soon expands to Africa, South America and Sougheast Asia. ( with an arrow pointing to Pax worker Dean Hartman at Bechterdissen, Germany
Dear Pax men:
My hope is that you will not be irritated with my insistent pleadings. Roger Hochstetler’s call some days ago triggered this letter. He asked me if I knew Howard Landes, of the first Pax group had died. I had heard of his passing, but the question Roger raised points to a major item. It seems Pax men are not immortal, and all of us will die but what we are doing with our pictures, letters and other evidence of the experience now becomes doubly important. Roger indicated that Howard had intended to write a history of the Greece Pax, but did not get it done. Howard had collected numerous sets of letters from Greek Pax men, but the statues of these is not clear but need to be made available to others interested in Pax, which illustrates the urgency of the problem.
As you know, Mennonite Archives at Goshen College is the official custodian of Pax materials, it is already large, and is being heavily used. The issue is, how can we get Pax men to send their letters, pictures, documents etc. to the archives? The Pax website is the best way to share information, but how many of our Pax Men use it? Tom Sawin, (bless his soul) is servicing the site, and Arlo Kasper is paying for the costs, (bless his soul as well) So we need to inform Pax men to check it, for all the information it contains. What are your suggestions. Can you help in this? Should we make this mailing list simply the general mailing list? If so, you have to help expand it, etc.. I do not have time to do this, plus other things pertaining to it….
Apropos, the Mennonite Historical Bulletin for July cites the Pax program, started in 1951 as the major event for that year. With Pax men going to the great beyond in increasing numbers, we need to act.
Lets make the Pax web site a major source of information. Have you all seen the wonderful account of the Pax activities at MWC in Asuncion last year? The pictures are great.
I felt like the least of the PAX men to give a thumbnail sketch of my PAX experience, only being a Mennonite by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ; that is, by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.
I grew up in the Grace Mennonite Church of Lansdale, PA. My father was a Methodist and my mother a Baptist. They could not agree on which denomination to attend in Lansdale upon the death of my grandfather in 1943, so they decided to attend a new mission church in Lansdale, the Grace Mennonite Church of Lansdale.
Through the ministry of the church I grew in the grace of God, and when I was to join church, I was confronted with the call to be a conscientious objector in 1951.
Yet it was not until our new pastor came in 1954 that I began to understand what the Bible was saying about the peace position.
In 1957, he encouraged me to study at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas; and it was there that I learned about the peace club and Jim Juhnke, one of its leaders.
After attending it for three years, Rev. H. Schmidt encouraged me to apply for MCC service through the PAX program upon my graduation from Bethel College in 1960.
So from 1960 to 1962, I served in PAX service in Europe.
My first service assignment was working at the Karlschule in Vienna, Austria. I worked there until the 8 year program ended in the spring of 1961, when most of our unit moved on to Salzburg, Austria, to build a Siedlung there. I was there only 6 weeks, yet I did help to begin the site. In Soldiers of Compassion, there is a picture of John Driedger and myself laying block for a basement wall at the Siedlung near Salzburg. After 6 weeks, I was sent on to Greece to work there for the summer plastering the newly built unit house in Aridea, Pella, Greece. I worked there during the summer, returning to northern Europe in early fall.
While in Aridea, lots were drawn for who would bring the meditation to the North American gathering of Americans in northern Greece during some Sunday celebration and I won the lot. Not having any experience in public speaking, let alone in bringing a short sermon, Peter Dyck gave me a New English Bible and a house mother at the Aridea unit guided me through several topics. By the grace of God, I was able to prepare and to speak acceptably at the gathering that was between Thessaloniki and Edessa located beside a busy main road by the ancient site of Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. And it was after that I was encouraged to study for the ministry.
Peter Dyck also encouraged me to apply to study at AMBS Elkhart upon my return to the USA in 1962. However, after I finsihed up in Greece, I helped Elfrieda Dyck wrap east zone refugee bundles for a month in Frankfort, Germany, and then I helped close out the Enkenback unit near Kaiserlautern, Germany, and then for the rest of my PAX assignment I worked on construction and maintenance at the European Mennonite Bible School near Liestal for about 10 months.
I returned back to the USA on the same ship that I went to Europe on, the Dutch Ship, THE WATERMAN. And I did begin AMBS that fall, graduating in 1965 with an BD and exchanging it for an MDiv in 1974. I served two churches as a full time pastor, the Herold Mennonite Church of Cordell, Oklahoma, and the Bethlehem Mennonite Church of Bloomfield, Montana. It was at Bloomfield that I became a BK amputee, and in 1981 my wife Sarah (who just passed away May 10, 2011) and I served a 4 year term with the Commission On Foreign Missions of The General Conference Mennonite Church as missionaries in Taichung, Taiwan, Republic of China.
Upon the passing of Sarah’s father in 1985, we returned to North Wales, PA, and cared for her mother and my step-mother. And when my step-mother died in 1991, we moved into her house in Lansdale and have been there ever since while continuing to care for Sarah’s mother who passed in 2003.
At present, I myself have myeloma cancer and am in Lansdale.
I recently published a memoir titled Small Steps Toward the Missing Peace: A Memoir. Chapter three of the book tells about my Pax experience in Germany, 1958-1960. I have attached the text, in case you want to add it to the Pax web site.
The book is available from http://www.createspace.com/3657895.
Expanding horizons, cautiously.
I was twenty years old in the summer of 1959 when I went to West Germany to fulfill my Selective Service obligations in the MCC-Pax program. I was hardly stepping out on my own. Moving from Kansas to Europe was another small step, akin to the smaller transition from Lehigh Rural High School to Bethel College. In West Germany, as in Kansas, I lived and worked in the warm and disciplined embrace of Mennonite community. For two years, 1958-1960, I was part of the MCC unit of about eight workers in the MCC offices in Frankfurt. When I left Frankfurt for travel or for vacation—to the Pax Peace Conference in Austria or the “Pax Palestine Pilgrimage” to the Holy Land—it was nearly always together with other Mennonites.
At the outset I was grateful for my Mennonite cocoon. It was good to be together with friends who could help me learn the language, make change, and negotiate streetcar traffic. Then when a member of our fifteen-man orientation group had a mental breakdown and was sent home before going out on a work assignment, the rest of us worried if the same thing would happen to us. Would we overcome our culture shock and do our assigned jobs without falling apart? I had my secret doubts. I confessed my fears to another group member and discovered that he too was anxious about his ability to survive. We needed a community of support.
I had expected to be a construction worker in West Germany, building houses for refugees. In my luggage were new leather work shoes and coveralls. To my surprise, I was assigned an office job as secretary or administrative assistant to the director of the Pax program. The job suited my abilities and interests. Working out of the MCC headquarters in Frankfurt I had opportunities to visit the Pax units in Germany, Austria and Greece. I enjoyed opportunities to meet church leaders such as Harold Bender and Orie Miller, Old Mennonite church leaders, and William Snyder, MCC executive secretary. Miller complimented me for an editorial I had written in a Pax newsletter. Snyder saw I was reading William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, and warned that James did not have the last word. When General Lewis B. Hershey, director of Selective Service, visited our Frankfurt office we were impressed both by his informal story telling and by his spit-and-polish deferential military aides. My weekly letters to home were invariably upbeat about the rich experience I was having.
Once my feet were on the ground in Frankfurt, I began to have second thoughts about being so enclosed in the center of things Mennonite. We spoke English in our unit at work and at play. I did not learn the German language as rapidly as I had hoped. I envied a fellow Pax man who was on his own as director of an ecumenical refugee center in West Berlin that hosted recently arrived refugees from Communist East Berlin. In a diary note dated Dec. 29, 1959, I reflected: “Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of my Pax experience is that it hasn’t been a wilderness experience. I have not gotten away—alone where I had to think for myself without the tradition of generations bearing down on me.” I asked Ray Kauffman, the Pax program director, if I could be transferred to a more isolated and challenging post. Ray said I was needed where I was. So I stayed in Frankfurt until the end of my two-year term.
American in Germany
In Germany I gained a new sense of who I was as an American. In the fall of 1958 some of us visited the World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, in the fall of 1958. The exhibits of the United States and the Soviet Union reflected their Cold War competition. The Russians put their “Sputnik” missile on prominent display to show that they were ahead in the space race. The Americans countered with exhibits of middle class consumer culture that demonstrated the good life which was still unavailable to ordinary people in the Soviet Union. I found both the Russian and the American propaganda annoying. But I was unexpectedly hooked by the Disney “Circarama”—a film tour across the United States projected onto large screens on the walls of a circular theater. The film showed the grandeur of America from the east coast to the west coast. When it arrived in Kansas and showed waving fields of ripe wheat, tears came to my eyes. I was not as immune from American national sentiment as I had thought. Surely I was a bit homesick, but I did not want to admit that to anyone–even to myself.
It was hard to avoid other Americans. Across the street from the MCC headquarters in Frankfurt was the “PX” store where American military personnel shopped for American goods. The streetcar line to downtown went past the massive I. G. Farben complex that had housed a German chemical company before the war, but then was taken over by the U.S. army. We often passed military convoys on the German autobahn, the superhighway. I made it a point never to go into the PX store. Early in language study we learned to pronounce the formidable German word Kriegsdienstverweigerer—conscientious objector to military service. In our relationships with German people, we strove to differentiate ourselves from the military Americans. Our “Pax Handbook” contrasted our peace mission with the military mission of our country. “This is a program to construct, not to destroy. It is a positive international effort toward peace. The armed fist is replaced by the hand of love.” I wanted at least to be able to explain that mission in the German language.
When people asked, I could say that the Pax program was sponsored by the Mennonite Church, not by the government. In fact, my Pax service was substantial project in family benevolence. Pax depended on financial support from families and local congregations. My parents sent MCC a monthly check for $75 (about $575 in 2011 dollars). From that amount I received a monthly check of $10 for “incidental expenses” such as postage, toiletries and camera film. One German official to whom I explained the spartan Pax financial arrangements was a judge who was deciding how much I should be fined for my culpability in an accident involving my bicycle and two cars in downtown Frankfurt. I was clearly guilty for driving my bicycle too fast and too close behind the cars, but the judge suspended the fine. He said that Germany too was working on a program for conscientious objector alternative service.
In West Germany I discovered the continuing relevance of the letter my father had prompted me to write in 1949 warning about the militarization of Europe through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Fifteen years after the end of World War II, the American military presence in Germany was substantial and growing. In 1958 the United States pushed for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in West Germany. Nuclear weapons in West Germany had been excluded both by international agreements and by a domestic West German War Weapons Control Act. I was interested to see German peace movement anti-nuclear displays on the main square in downtown Frankfurt. I attend a number of sermons by the German pacifist, Martin Niemöller, at the Dreikönigskirche (Three Kings Church) in Frankfurt. I struggled to understand Niemöller in Germany as much as I had struggled to grasp his lectures at Bethel College in Kansas.
Andre Trocme, a French Huguenot pacifist who had saved thousands of Jews who fled from Germany, was the main speaker at a Pax Peace Conference in Austria. Trocme introduced us to the Old Testament concept of the Jubilee—a time each fifty years when the land was to be redistributed and justice restored. When Jesus in the New Testament came to announce the “Acceptable Year of the Lord,” said Trocme, he was recalling the Jubilee and announcing a great reversal of social and economic fortunes. I was intrigued with this new biblical rationale for Christian social involvement, in part because I had a role on a panel of Pax men who offered various viewpoints on Mennonite separation from the world. On the panel I argued that Anabaptist separation and nonconformity may have been valid in the sixteenth century, but that in modern American democracy Mennonites needed to bring their gospel of peace to the political order.
The idea of Jubilee came to have significant influence on Mennonite thinking in subsequent decades, in part through the writing of John Howard Yoder. I was again moved by Trocme’s story through a book by Philip Hailie, a Jewish ethicist, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There (1979). Hailie’s book told about the World War II ministry of Andre Trocme, his wife, Magda, and their community of Huguenot dissenters. Hailie used the story of the Trocmes’ self-denying witness in behalf of persecuted Jews to explore the roots of human goodness. I found Hailie’s analysis to be a refreshing antidote to the preoccupation of modern history and literature with expressions of human alienation and evil behavior.
While in Pax I read Mohandas Gandhi’s book, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, and Martin Luther King’s account of the successful Montgomery bus boycott, The Montgomery Story. I spent the better part of one month’s Pax allowance to buy my own hardback copy of King’s book. It was worth every penny. His argument against Reinhold Niebuhr’s “realism” was the clearest and most convincing I had read. The success of the Montgomery boycott proved that nonviolent resistance could change oppressive political and social systems. It seemed obvious to me that such nonviolent campaigns should be a natural outgrowth of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. Why did this witness have to come to us from people outside our heritage? It was time for Mennonites to wake up to the relevance of their peace heritage.
In West Germany I learned about other Mennonites, both American and German. As a child of the Kansas Mennonite heartland I was startled to learn that other Mennonites from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana thought that they were from the heartland and that the Kansas Mennonites were on the margins. Harold S. Bender, historian and church leader from Goshen College, happened to be in Frankfurt when our orientation group arrived there. He gave us a ninety-minute lecture on Mennonite history. We new Pax men were spellbound by Bender’s grand drama of Anabaptist-Mennonite history and by the affirmation that we now had a special role in that ongoing story. He began by going around the group and asking for each person’s name and home congregation. He told each one where his ancestors came from in Europe, their likely date of immigration, and something about their home community. It was a stunning performance until he came around the circle to me—a General Conference Mennonite from Kansas. Bender apparently had never heard the name Juhnke, nor did he bother to ask me about it. He quickly moved on to his next topic.
Bender’s account of Anabaptist-Mennonite history began with the Swiss Brethren in Zurich in the sixteenth century and culminated in America in the twentieth century. I found his story very exciting, and waited eagerly for my own people to be included—the 1870s immigrants from Russia to the Great Plains. Alas, Bender didn’t get around to my people until the last five minutes. He said it was unfortunate that these belated immigrants didn’t join together with those who were already established in America and were most directly connected with true Anabaptist origins in Europe. Instead, my people had joined a smaller separate group, the General Conference Mennonite Church. Alas, if the great Harold S. Bender was right, my people were not heartland Mennonites after all. We were a marginal footnote to Mennonite history, and a deviant one at that. I sensed that Bender was wrong, but worried that he was right. It was a totally new experience for me to be an outsider among Mennonites, completely helpless in the face of someone else’s authoritative master narrative.
My office-mate in the Frankfurt Pax office was Gerald Bender (no relation to Harold Bender). Gerald was from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and had graduated from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. We argued at length about religious and political issues, including nonviolent resistance and the payment of war taxes. Gerald disagreed with some of the restrictions on dress of his people (popularly known as Old Mennonites, but calling themselves The Mennonites). But he was proud of his location, as he saw it, in the center of the Anabaptist/Mennonite continuum, between the conservative Old Order Amish on the right and the liberal General Conference Mennonites on the left. I and my people were somewhere out in left field.
Learning to know German Mennonites was another rich experience in self-definition. At first it was easy to be critical. German Mennonites by World War II had largely given up the teaching and practice of nonresistance. Their church life was different from what I had known back home in Kansas. They had no adult Sunday School classes. Their singing was a weak unison, missing the vigorous four-part harmony that I had assumed was definitive of Mennonitism. Many churches did not even have worship services every Sunday. Local congregation youth groups were very small—although I did appreciate good times with youth from a Janzen family in Frankfurt.
As I learned to know some German Mennonite families and young people personally, I moderated my criticism. The heart-rending stories of families who had lost members and treasure in the war overwhelmed my inclination to negative judgments. I spent Christmas vacations with the Paul Showalter family at the Weierhof (near Marnheim, 1958), and with the Ernst Landes family at Lautenbach (near Neckarsulm, 1959). Both had large families including children my own age. I benefitted from their generous hospitality. I also learned that they did not appreciate American arrogance and aggressiveness any more than other Germans did. Admiring Pastor Showalter’s extensive personal library of Anabaptist and Mennonite books, I asked him, “Does Cornelius Krahn know about these books?” Showalter frowned and said, “Cornelius Krahn and Harold Bender have taken more than enough old books out of Germany!” Indeed, as I later learned, Krahn and Bender had competed with each other to take advantage of postwar German poverty and gather up hundreds of volumes at cheap prices to enrich the Mennonite historical library collections at Bethel College in Kansas and Goshen College in Indiana.
At a regional Mennonite “Freizeit,” or weekend youth conference at the South German retreat center Thomashof, my roommate was Hans Adolf Hertzler, a graduate student in theology at Heidelberg University. Late into the night we talked earnestly about the problems of reconciling traditional belief with modern critical thinking. We discussed the difficulty of communicating with younger and older folk in the church who were not bothered by these questions. We also compared boy-girl relationships in the United States and Germany—an inevitable topic given our stage in life. I was immensely impressed with my new friend’s intellect, with all the books he had read, and that his single-minded pursuit of academic studies did not allow any extracurricular activities. When I return to Bethel College, I told myself, I will dedicate myself to the life of the mind—not get sucked into athletics, debate, clubs and student governance issues.
From German Mennonites I also gained a new sense of history. The greatest historical celebration of my youth had been the seventy-fifth anniversary in 1949 of the immigration to Kansas. In Germany I learned that seventy-five years was a short blip in time. We visited places and buildings that had stories going back many centuries. On one tour of a Mennonite cemetery, the German leader identified so deeply with stories from centuries earlier that his voice broke and tears came to his eyes as he spoke. I was moved. I gradually realized that the history textbooks I had glided through in college actually dealt with human reality. In preparation for the Pax Palestine Pilgrimage of 1960 I wrote home to my parents and asked them to send me the copy of my history textbook by Wallbank and Taylor, Civilization Past and Present. The lowest grade I had received in any class at Bethel had been a C+ in History of Civilization class. Now I found the readings on ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Holy Land—places we would visit in person–to be alive and exciting. I returned to Bethel College resolved to major in history.
My Pax experience in Europe was an immense enrichment for my self-understanding as both American and Mennonite. Although I had not become as fluent in speaking the German language as I had hoped, I had gained reading skills that were essential for my future career as a Mennonite historian. The prospects for that career, however, had not taken clear shape in my mind. Back at Bethel I enrolled in education classes with the thought that I might become a high school social studies teacher, following the steps of my father. My resolution to concentrate on academics and to avoid extracurricular social involvements lasted less than one month. Later that school year I was elected president of the student council. Not until the spring of my senior year in 1962 did I decide to go on to graduate school. By that time I had met Anna Kreider from Wadsworth, Ohio, a student at Bluffton College.
I was but a simple farm boy from Saskatchewan when, at age 19, I boarded the train in my hometown and embarked on my first overseas assignment as a young volunteer. I can only imagine how my dear mother must have felt as the train pulled out of the station knowing that we would not see each other again for two years. The year was 1961, long before the advent of the internet, e-mails and cell phones. Even long-distance international phone calls were prohibitively expensive.
It was also a time when crossing the Atlantic was still cheaper to go by ship than by air. So after about two weeks of orientation in Akron, PA with more than a dozen other MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) volunteers, I and six guys boarded the 38,000 ton S.S. Rotterdam, flag ship of the Holland American Line, bound for Rotterdam.
What a luxury liner. I was amazed at the fine darkly finished wooden décor, spiral staircases between different levels, high-end gift shops, bars, a huge dining hall and even a movie theatre. At every meal we could choose from at least two kinds of appetizers, main course dishes and desserts. The trouble was my digestive system was used to the terra firma of Saskatchewan, not the constant rising and falling of the floor beneath my feet. Fortunately, I managed to keep things down for the entire 8-day voyage; a few of my companions were not so lucky. (Ira & ?? Landes)
The MCC van picked us up in Rotterdam and took us to Frankfurt, Germany. Following another week of orientation, each of us were assigned to different project sites in post-WWII Europe. I was told that I’d be going to Greece but that since they first had to obtain a visa for me, I would be taken to the work unit in Salzburg, Austria. It only took about a week for my visa to be issued. I then boarded the train in Salzburg for a 36-hour journey through what was then Yugoslavia and on to Thessalonica, Greece.
In preparation for my trip, our cook in Salzburg packed a few sandwiches and an apple or two but they were long gone before we reached our destination. While I had a few dollars in my pocket, I was afraid to get down off the train at one of our stops along the way to search for something more to eat in case the train started up without me. I couldn’t read any signs, I didn’t know if anyone spoke English, I had no local currency and didn’t know how I would go about exchanging my dollars. So I tightened my belt and suffered in silence.
Sharing my compartment was a young Turkish chap who took pity on me and offered me an orange if I recall correctly, and a drink of carbonated mineral water. That strange kind of drink was not something I had experienced in Saskatchewan. Funny how little things like this stick in one’s memory.
It was about mid-morning when we finally pulled into the station in Thessalonica. My large steamer trunk and a briefcase contained all I would supposedly need for the next two years. With the help of a porter, I proceeded to customs and immigration. The official spoke no English. The only Greek word I knew was agape from the Bible. He motioned for me to open the trunk, poked around the top layer of stuff and said I needed to pay $10. Okay, I thought, who was I to argue particularly given the language barrier.
Going on to the arrivals section, I fully expected someone there to meet me from the Greek MCC work unit but, alas, nobody came forward. Now what? I knew that the unit leader in Salzburg had sent a telegram the same morning I left to inform the unit in Greece of my coming. Why was there no one to meet me?
I had the name and address (in English, of course) of the unit located in Aridea, a village somewhere outside of Thessalonica but had no idea how far it was or how to get there. Mainly because of the language barrier, train station staff weren’t of much help. I ran outside and tried to find help. Soon a taxi driver who could speak a little German asked if he could help me. Since I also knew German I was able to explain to him my predicament.
We retrieved my trunk from the arrivals area, loaded it into his taxi and proceeded to the bus depot. There he talked to the ticket agent, purchased a ticket, sat me down in the waiting room and said I needed to wait until the next bus which left at 2:00 p.m., a couple of hours hence.
I had not eaten for some 15 hours and I was famished. I spotted a vendor holding what looked like large sesame-covered pretzels threaded onto a long stick. I must have gotten some drachmas in change when I paid for my ticket so I jumped at the chance and bought some pretzels.
The appointed hour of departure finally came and I along with other passengers boarded a green-coloured country bus whose seats were like those of a Canadian school bus—straight backs and little padding. All seats and luggage space quickly filled up. My steamer trunk was hoisted up onto the roof of the bus along with everyone else’s luggage, including a few live chickens. I was the only foreign passenger.
One hour passed, two hours and then three and I was getting rather worried that I may have missed my stop. The bus made many stops along the way in one village or town after another, passengers kept getting off and on, and I kept peering out the window to see if I could recognize any Greek road sign that looked like Aridea.
Sitting beside me was an elderly and friendly grandmother-type woman who kept motioning to me that I should just relax and remain seated. I’m sure everyone else on that bus knew where I was going except me.
Some four hours later we finally arrived in Aridea, at the very end of the bus run. The kind lady who had sat beside me, ordered a couple of young village boys to go fetch a wheel barrow. They loaded up my trunk and we hiked off to where the “Americans” lived.
I was greatly relieved to be welcomed by a bunch of American and Canadian guys standing around outside the entrance of the MCC Unit house, including the director (Larry Eisenbeis). In his hand he held up the telegram that had just arrived an hour earlier from Salzburg telling him of my arrival.
But there’s more to this story.
Aridea in northeastern Greece was not my final destination. Although that’s where the main group of MCC volunteers was located, I was being seconded to a Church World Service team in northwestern Greece. After a week or so of getting to know a bit about the agricultural work the guys were dong in that area, Larry the director, and I drove back to Salonika, where very early the next morning he put me on a bus that would take me to Ioannina. If you know anything about the country, you will know it is rocky and mountainous. (Legend has it that after God had created all the other nations, he had a pile of rocks left over which he threw over his shoulder, together with a piece of the rainbow, and that became Greece.)
It was a long 12-hour journey over a winding, bone-jarring road through the mountains, much of it not paved. Thoughtfully, Larry had supplied me with a piece of salami sausage, a hunk of bread and a bottle of water, which more or less sustained me for the duration.
It was after dark when we arrived in Ioannina, a city of about 30,000. I was relieved and excited that I had finally reached my destination. As I disembarked, I searched the crowd for a friendly face but, alas, again there was no one to meet me. How can this be, I thought, the second time in a row!
Naturally, bus depot staff could not communicate in English so finally one of them walked with me to a hotel nearby where they thought someone could speak English. I had to trust that my trunk would be fine, left sitting in the waiting room of the bus depot.
The hotel clerk looked up the phone number of the Church World Service office (again referred to as the Americans) and placed the call. Even though it was well past office hours, luckily one of the staff happened still to be there to answer the call. It didn’t take long before he arrived at the bus depot to rescue me. Christos was the Greek interpreter for the team, and it so happened that he had just been at the bus depot to meet someone else. Then it became clear that there was an error in the telegram Larry had sent. The date did not correspond to the day of the week, therefore, he thought I was arriving the next evening.
We have finally arrived home after spending time in the Chaco and Peru. Our time in South America was very meaningful and we are grateful for the experience and safe travels. Several of you asked for my report that was presented Thursday, at the conference on the Trans Chaco Highway. That report follows and I hope I am not excluding anyone who requested the report.
When I was 14 years old I recall our church minister making an announcement that farmers in our home community were encouraged to bring their donated horse drawn equipment to a central location to be shipped to refugees in Paraguay. Little did I realize that 5 years later I would be going to Paraguay.
When I came to Paraguay, I realized the difficult and discouraging situation of the Mennonites. I was reminded of the children of Israel in Exodus 16 during their resettlement where it says “and you, Moses and Aaron have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
I thought of the parallel situation of the Mennonites having been resettled in Paraguay. But the immigrants in Paraguay did not remain complacent. They followed the cloud and the pillar of fire. They built institutions of health, education and evangelism so that today their numbers have more than doubled and rather than the 3 original synods, you now have 8 synods to include the Spanish and the Indigenous and are cooperating together to host MWC, 2009. You are to be affirmed and we thank you.
In Paraguay I was sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee and for the purpose of this report I will use the acronym MCC. At that time MCC had a program called PAX. PAX was the latin word for peace and it was a program where young men would serve as conscientious objectors rather than being in the military. Over 1700 young men served in the PAX program in over 40 countries and Paraguay was one of those countries. In Paraguay one of the projects was to build the Trans Chaco Highway. When the Mennonites came to Paraguay, most of them were farmers by trade.
In the Chaco, they could raise crops, cattle and have dairy products, but the problem was they had no way to market the products. The construction of a market road from Asuncion to the Mennonite colonies seemed to be the answer.
Paraguay officials were skeptical that the project could be done but MCC was the driving force that took the initiative which sent the national highway into motion and brought it to its completion.
The construction of the highway took place from Asuncion to the colonies in the Chaco and from the colonies to Asuncion. It started at both ends.
Several facts about the Trans Chaco Highway:
Until the tsunami hit S.E. Asia in 2004, the construction of the Trans Chaco Highway was the largest single project for MCC, dollar wise and adjusted to inflation.
The length of the highway is 250 miles or 398 km.
It took 5 years for its construction.
Over 40 pieces of heavy equipment were used in the construction.
Approximately 50 PAX boys served 2-3 years during the construction.
Oct. 4, 1961 the remaining link from North to South was connected at km 219.
Today more than 50 % of all dairy products in the country of Paraguay come to Asuncion on the Trans Chaco Highway.
The Trans Chaco Highway was later extended by the government into Bolivia and is now a segment of the Pan American Highway.
Now a few of my memories:
I recall when Orie Miller, one of the founders of MCC, would come to visit the road project. His humble and gentle spirit reflected the MCC philosophy.
I recall when a PAX boy heard of the good hunting in Paraguay, he got on the airplane in Philadelphia, Pa. carrying a shot gun and a rifle. He did not have to go thro security. Times have changed.
I recall following ostrich down the highway at 35-40 miles an hour until they became exhausted and then ran out into the jungle.
I recall the close bond that we PAX boys had with each other and the worship experiences we had.
I recall shooting a wild hog and the rumor was that if the bullet only injured the wild hog, the hog could be dangerous and subject to attack. After shooting the hog and the dust had settled, I could not see the hog nor the other PAX boy who was with me. Then I heard the voice of the other PAX boy and he was hanging onto a tree branch about 6 feet off the ground.
I recall visiting a church service with an indigenous group of believers. We sat in A structure built with mud and a thatch roof and sat on logs. Following the service we walked to a pond where 32 of our brothers and sisters were baptized by immersion. Today that group of believers is now a part of a synod that is sponsoring MWC in 2009.
In closing, I will read part of a report written by Menno Wiebe, one of the PAX boys.
“Coordinated by MCC and Mennonite colony administrators, approximately 50 PAX men, many from the U.S. who chose “peace work” rather than serving with the military in Vietnam, teamed up with workers designated by the Chaco colonies and national soldiers. Their conversation while sipping terere (a kind of tea) during breaks did much to generate cross cultural understanding.
While operating an earthmover as one of the PAX men, I remember observing a wholesome paradox unfolding before my eyes. Next to me, a Mennonite peace worker, was a uniformed Paraguayan soldier name Roja. Together we worked at building a road in his country.
Harry Harder, a supermechanic from Mountain Lake, Minnesota, had left his work as a John Deere specialist. He was now inspecting the new road, driving a khaki-colored military jeep with a Paraguayan military official at his side.
The PAX guys were housed in military barracks next to the construction project. They slept on army cots and ate with soldiers in uniform, now their friends.
Paraguay was plagued by memories of vicious internal warfare. Its president at the time, General Alfredo Stroessner, came now and then to visit the project, giving the PAX men a rare opportunity to exchange ideas with an official of his military status.
Paraguay’s economy and that of the Chaco Mennonite has flourished since completion of the Ruta Trans Chaco. A greater mutual understanding between the Paraguayans and the once immigrant Mennonite likewise is on the increase.”
I am grateful to MCC and the Paraguayan Mennonites for my experience in Paraguay.
No, MCC is not a perfect organization because it is made up of humans including the former PAX boys which added to its imperfections. My hope and prayer is that MCC and the Mennonite fellowship in Paraguay will continue to follow the cloud and the pillar of fire and be deeply committed to the teachings and examples of Jesus.