The Pax Film Project

Working for peace: Pax documentary premieres on Hallmark 

The story of Pax, a Mennonite-based service program which ran from 1951-to 1975, premiered on Hallmark Channel in Nov. 2008 and is now available on DVD with bonus material. (LINK TO )

Walter Daggett, right, now of Bridgewater, Va., works on a stairway in the Karlsschule, Vienna, Austria, school building, with an unidentified volunteer. Walter appears in the Pax Service documentary.

Pax Service: An Alternative to War is an hour-long documentary produced by Mennonite Media about 1,200 young volunteers, who did relief and development work in 40 countries around the world (many paying their own way). The Mennonite Central Committee-run Pax effort also was part of the inspiration for United States President John F. Kennedy to launch the long-running Peace Corps program.

Burton Buller, left, and Cal Redekop discuss plans for the Pax documentary

Cal Redekop, author of the book The Pax Story: Service in the Name of Christ (Pandora Press, 2001), was one of the driving forces behind the Pax documentary and served as executive producer along with the late Al Keim. Former Pax volunteers Walter Schmucker, Orville Schmidt, Arlin Hunsberger, Arlo Kasper and Jim Bixler also participated on the planning committee. 

Pax Service began as a way to address the housing crisis in Europe after the destruction of World War II. The program was one of the alternative service programs available to conscientious objectors after the U.S. began a military draft in 1950. The draft continued from the Korean War through subsequent Cold War and Vietnam War eras. The TV show covers work in: 

  • Germany, building houses in rural, forested areas for refugees families from Russia;
  • Austria, rebuilding a bombed-out historic school building in Vienna (the only Protestant school in Austria);
  • Greece, helping people in the region of Panayitsa recover from civil war by building an experimental farm and other agricultural development projects;
  • Paraguay, working with the Paraguayan military to build the Trans-Chaco road from Asunción to the Chaco, which opened up markets for farmers;
  • Congo, building furniture and houses, and traveling to remote villages to encourage and assist villagers to raise rabbits as a source of protein. 
Burton Buller, left, of Mennonite Media, Harrisonburg, Va., meeting with Executive producers Cal Redekop, and the late Al Keim.

The program’s producer Burton Buller, director of Mennonite Media, worked at MCC during part of the Pax period. Buller noted that Pax “stands as a singular example of idealistic young men who refused to kill but were willing to put their lives on the line to make the world a better place. They still serve as an inspiration as the war in Iraq drags on needlessly.”

Many individual Pax volunteers funded production of the program. The Church of the Brethren; Faith & Values Media, now Odyssey Networks; and Mennonite Media, a program of Mennonite Mission Network, all contributed funds or in-kind staff or facilities.

RonalRonGoertzen001d Goertzen, of Henderson, Neb., is a farmer who served with Pax in Congo. “It was such a foundational experience … the rest of my life has been built on that foundation,” he said.

JamesJuhnke011James Juhnke, Pax volunteer in Germany from 1958 to 1960 and a retired professor of history at Bethel (Kan.) College explained his participation saying, “I had a strong sense that it was important for non-resistant followers of Jesus to do a kind of equivalent service to what was being asked of people who went into the military.”  

Beulah Heisey

Fremont Regier

Omar Lapp

Cal King

John Wieler

Arlin Hunsberger

Martin Harder


Orville Schmidt

Virgil Claassen

In the documentary, Redekop recounts one of the early Pax encounters with bureaucracy in Germany as they prepared to build houses for destitute refugees. He needed to secure a permit to cut down trees to make way for the houses. Redekop called the town office every day to ask if the permit had been granted. Nothing happened. Finally Redekop told the volunteers, “Let’s get the Dodge Power Wagon and just start pulling trees down.” So they did. Redekop called the town office and “reported” the guys pulling the trees down. The incensed town official came to the site almost immediately, but the trees were quickly removed so the Pax volunteers could go to work on the houses.

In 2003, 50 years after many of them had begun their Pax assignments, a group of  volunteers went on a reunion trip to Europe. Participants learned that they had made much more of an impression than they realized. Vivi Mavrides in Greece said of the Pax effort, “It was the first time that we saw people of another religion.  Even if it was very, very different, it affected my family because we were impressed by the way they lived.  We saw good, gentle, helping people.”

Burton Buller and Mary Buller prepare to tape an interview with John Wieler

The documentary shows how the young men, frequently with no more than high school education, cleaned up rubble, rebuilt homes, dug septic systems by shovel, made bricks and then laid them. Later the Pax program expanded to include projects designed to give people a boost through economic development programs.

 Along the way the young “Pax boys” as they were frequently called, “grew into men,” said Buller. “What struck me in the interviews was how they returned home with an expanded understanding of the world. The rest of their lives would be viewed through their Pax experience.” Many became pastors, administrators, educators in church schools. 

Walter Daggett also served as a cook for the men in Pax service in Austria.

The motive for the program’s sponsors was not simply to produce a “travelogue” of the Pax experience or a historical piece, but rather to encourage people, especially youth, to serve in similar programs.  

A DVD of the documentary with bonus material, a longer version of the documentary, and a discussion guide for adults or youth groups will be available in January 2009. For more information, call .

Karlsschule016 Karlsschule013
Ralph Warner, of Broadway, Va., squares up a corner wall for the Karlsschule school building in Austria. Ralph appears in the Pax Service documentary Walter Daggett, originally from Maine and now of Bridgewater, hauls flour bags at a warehouse in Austria to distribute to area needy. Walter appears in the Pax Service documentary

The Pax Film Project

This is the key project we are working on just now.  We have raised approximately $150,000 to date thanks to several sizable gifts from Pax men and the help of Mennonite Media and the Church of the Brethren.   Burton and May Buller will be producing the film — in fact they just made a trip to Paraguay to do interviews and filming.  If the film passes muster it may be shown on the Hallmark Channel.  If you can make a contribution to this project make your check to Mennonite Media, Harrisonburg, VA..  The gift is tax deductible.

Lloyal Klaassen, Mt. Lake Minnesota, and Mary and Burton Buller, at a Pax meeting at Goshen College, Ind.

Burton Buller has developed a plan to produce the film and that plan will be printed here in this space soon.  Suffice it to say that the project is going forward.  The goal ultimately is to do a 54 minute story of the PAX program. And then to use the rest of the 90 minute disk to produce some stories and questions related to the work of PAX which will be of use in MYF and other group gatherings.

Hallmark Channel Nov. 23, 2008 (7 a.m. ET/PT, 6 a.m. CT/MT).

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