from Galacia, Prussia, and Russia to Württemberg
Letters Home is a collection of letters written by a young Mennonite man from North Dakota who faithfully wrote home to his parents while spending two years in the early 1960s completing his alternative service through the Mennonite Central Committee Pax program. These letters recount the many adventures, cross cultural learning experiences, and connections he made with both the families whose homes he was helping to build in post-WWII Germany and Austria and the other young men he worked with.
March 28, 2019
Dear Pax survivor,
I have just finished reading “Eight Little Words: How God led a Mennonite farm boy to a remote town in Nepal” by Fern Horst and Alyssa Reitz (daughter and grand daughter).
Like Ervie, I could not put it down until I got to the end, which is not often the case for me. I will not attempt to review it here. It has too many interesting aspects and levels of information and meaning. But I will say that this is the first Pax book I have read where the story is told from being born on a rural Maryland farm in 1933 until the present moment where Otho is 86, living close here in Virginia! The story is a transcription by a daughter and granddaughter of Otho’s apparent amazing story telling ability. It rings true—many of the persons, names, places, events, and institutions I experienced, and thus it is especially helpful and meaningful for me. This is in part because his Pax term (1956-1959) was relatively close to my Pax life (1950-1952). It is virtually a textbook, with unlimited references and details. Sadly, it lacks an index; I predict the second edition will have one.
Otho’s book is available on Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1717219454/ or directly from Otho at 7725 Botha Rd, Bealeton, VA 22712, for $22, including shipping.
How might Otho’s book be used to encourage others to write their Pax stories? That someone of the next generations should pick up the story and present it in a loving and enthusiastic manner for present day readership leads one to think that more could follow. Who might write a review of the book and submit it to Mennonite World Review and The Mennonite? Introductory material has been posted to the website www.paxmcc.com. Do you know of a student who could develop a bibliographic survey and annotated bibliography of extant Pax literature as a senior project? Or of a PhD researcher who would focus on the tremendous variety of persons and the various roads they have taken subsequently to Pax? That would be most interesting.
Talk it up among your family and acquaintances, and send us your ideas.
Calvin Redekop Ervie L. Glick
1520 Hawthorne Circle 1532 Hawthorne Circle
Harrisonburg, VA 22802 Harrisonburg, VA 22802
I thought you may be interested in knowing about the book that my daughter Fern Horst and granddaughter Alyssa Reitz wrote about my life — Eight Little Words: How God Led a Mennonite Farm Boy to a Remote Town in Nepal. They used information from my diaries and the letters I wrote to my mother (who kept each one of them). They also asked me many, many questions as they wrote the book.
Otho Horst 7725 Botha Rd. Bealeton, VA 22712
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.
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By JOHN M. JANZEN
Initially published in
Mennonite Life, April 1961, 16, 2, p. 96
The Congo Pax program was originally
organized to relieve the missionaries of the
voluminous amount of incidental work that
had become necessary. During the pre-Pax
years the Congo missionaries had become
involved increasingly in building programs,
automotive mechanics, agricultural projects,
and other secondary, yet necessary, tasks. At
the same time the primary efforts of
education, medical work, and evangelism
had become more complex and involved.
In answer to this problem four young men
were sent to the Congo in 1953 under
Mennonite Central Committee auspices to
pioneer the Congo Pax program. It was an
immediate success. They were able to take
charge of many building projects, mechanic
duties and maintenance chores, so that the
full-time missionaries could concentrate
more thoroughly on their main work.
More Pax workers went out during the
following years till eventually an established
group of eight to twelve were distributed at
most of the eight Congo Inland Mission
stations. The East Africa Mennonite Mis
sion in Tanganyika also employed a number
of Pax workers. The schools, churches, and
hospitals built after the inception of the
Congo Pax program were largely a tribute to
efficient supervision by the young American
and Canadian fellows. Such things as
upkeep on mission vehicles and
bookkeeping also became their work.
As the program developed beyond the structure
and intent, the distinction between the
full-time missionary and the two-year Pax
workers became one of title rather than
effectiveness. John Hesse, experienced in
printing work, became the manager of the
Charlesville print shop. Larry Graber,
because of an interest in medical work, had
the opportunity to assist Dr. Jim Diller at the
Nyanga hospital. I found a chance to work
in the Kamayala school system as part-time
superintendent of the primary schools.
Robert Schmidt spent much of his time at
Kamayala in literature and educational
work. Others found unique opportunities
to fill in as ambulance drivers and at times
played the role of makeshift midwife by
necessity. Larry Bartel and Alan Siebert
lived in an African village for nine months
while constructing primary schools. More
recently, Paxmen Abe Suderman and Alan
Horst assisted in the combined United
Nations-Congo Protestant Relief Agency
food handouts following the civil war be
tween the Baluba and Lulua tribes. In short,
the Pax- men in the Congo could expect any
sort of assignment. Much of the
effectiveness of the program lay in this
flexibility, I think.
Specific skiffs were generally required to do
some of the more technical jobs such as
printing and mechanics. But all of the
fellows, I feel, contributed to an essential
quality in the effectiveness of the program
through prolonged personal acquaintances
with Africans in work and leisure. Often I
remember, the Paxmen had time to spend
with the Africans doing little things such as
hunting, swimming, and playing ball. Unlike
the senior missionaries, the Paxmen had no
family obligations, and could spend
evenings in African homes, chatting with
them around the fire. The real, though
intangible contributions of the Pax program
came through the long discussions with
Africans in their native languages, and
through a sincere empathy with their form of
life. Often this meant enjoying a meal of
grasshoppers or caterpillars; but at the same
time it meant vastly more. Such,
a seemingly insignificant gesture, was
evidence of a firm belief in their individual
value as human beings. The Paxmen who
got into the inner orbit of African affairs
through personal acquaintances, and became
noticeably interested in the culture of the
African peoples, contributed profoundly to
the cause of Christian brotherhood.
Incidentally, the Paxman who did this was
not at all homesick, either. One Paxman,
Larry Kaufman, gave his life for the cause.
Tentatively the program is reduced to a few
men because of the independence struggle.
Pax work of the future, however, will surely
create confidence and serve as a personal
expression of Christianity. I am convinced
that it is an effective one.
[See the following introduction of a related new book. –Admin.]
Introducing a new book by
John M. Janzen & Larry B. Graber
“Congo Pax” is today the name of an online chat group of Congolese, based in London, who are interested in peace in their country. It would be neat if these global citizens of Central Africa were in touch with those of us who associate Congo Pax with alternative service in the 1950s and 60s in the same country.
Two former Pax-boys, Larry Graber and I, decided, in the years after our retirement, to re-visit our Congo experiences of fifty years ago and to share them with our families and anyone else who might be interested. Our sources, beyond our memories, were our
letters home kept by our mothers, and our photographs. During 2015 we read, selected and
transcribed excerpts, and reconstructed chronologies.
The result is described in one blurb:
[In this book] Two young Mennonite Pax men chronicle work, adventure and travel in the
Congo from 1957 to 1959, and their journey home through Africa, the Near East, and
Europe. Their letters provide a poignant look into late colonial Congo on the eve of
independence. Eye-opening experiences changed their attitudes about the Africans with
whom they worked, and set the course for their futures in anthropology and social work.
Crossing the Loange shows a slice in time in the Southern Savanna, the Congo, and the Pax
program there. We write about our work in carpentry, bookkeeping, radio transmissions,
mechanical upkeep of vehicles, work in the schools, medical assistance, ambulance runs, and in the later stages of our term, heading up construction teams and serving medical assistant for a missionary doctor.
The final section of the book is about our journey home, a four-month trip by
car and boat across East Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Our letters reflect our youthful puzzlement at the culture and customs we encountered, the friendships we made with the Africans with whom we worked, and most importantly, our significant maturation through adventures, crises, and responsibilities. These are themes that emerge in most Pax memoires.
The Congo Pax story (or stories) are few and far between in the overall writing and filmmaking about the Pax program’s existence from 1951 to 1976, considering that we account for more than sixty of a total of 1,200 volunteers.
The Congo Pax story can be readily divided into several phases:
1. Paxers as missionary aides with some remarkable responsibilities (1955-60); 2.
carrying on amidst the chaos and opportunity of independence (1960-64); 3. working with the independent church and development programs (1965-1970s); 4. forging links and relations with Congolese and on-going programs (1980s to the present). Our book is definitely of the first phase of Congo Pax, although it echoes the 4thphase of ongoing relationships. We trust that it will find interested readers and stimulate further public recollections by more of you who surely have many stories to tell.
John M. Janzen
For a preview of the book, see www.issuu.com/mennonitepressinc ./docs/crossing_the_loange
The book is available at Newton bookstores: Faith & Life, Kauffman Museum Shop, and Book ReViews, which handles it for online orders through AbeBooks.com ISBN: 978-0-692-50291-4