WINNIPEG, Man.—Stories of how their life journeys were shaped by voluntary service filled the room at a reunion of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) service workers who were part of the Pax program.
Among them was Abe Suderman of Parkhill, Ont. who began his two year term with Pax in 1960. He was assigned to work with Congo Inland Missions during the Congo crisis in what is now Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Looking down the wrong end of the barrel of a gun is very scary. But thank God I am here alive today.”
“Thinking back, nothing could have prepared us for what we would encounter, recalls Suderman. “People were dying because of starvation and needless killings. Just because you happened to be from the wrong tribe would make you a target.”
He also faced personal death threats. “Looking down the wrong end of the barrel of a gun is very scary. But thank God I am here alive today.”
Pax, a Latin word for peace, was an MCC service program started in 1951 in the U.S. as an alternative service program for conscientious objectors.
By the time the program ended in 1975, nearly 1,200 people, mostly men, had supported humanitarian, agriculture and community development projects in 40 countries. Just over 100 participants were Canadian.
Fifteen Canadian Pax workers and MCC staff who had provided administrative support gathered in Winnipeg for the Aug. 29th reunion organized by Arthur Driedger, Gerhard Neufeld and Henry Fast.
Suderman was attending Canadian Mennonite Bible College (now Canadian Mennonite University) in Winnipeg when he heard about Pax. Like other young men in the program, his experiences as a Pax worker deepened his commitment to peacebuilding.
Despite risks to personal safety, Suderman and others on his mission team ventured into the countryside to set up feeding stations for people who were homeless and without shelter. They also gave them agricultural and other supplies.
“We were credited with saving the lives of 250,000 to 300.000 people,” he says. “Do I feel richly blessed? Without a doubt.”
When he returned home, he earned a Masters Degree in Social Work, established a treatment program for children and a counselling practice.
My Pax experience has led me to the conviction that standing with the poor, be they in India or in Winnipeg, is not just humanitarian work—it is the Gospel.”
Over the years he recognized that he was experiencing post traumatic stress disorder and now plans to write a book about the Congo crisis and his personal experiences with trauma.
Gerhard Neufeld served in India, 1966-1969. He says: “My Pax experience has led me to the conviction that standing with the poor, be they in India or in Winnipeg, is not just humanitarian work—it is the Gospel.”
During a question period with Don Peters, executive director of MCC Canada, several alumni encouraged MCC to stand boldly as a peace witness in this world, even if there is a cost.
Peters says although funding allocations for MCC’s three priorities—sustainable community development, disaster response and justice and peacebuilding—are not equal, the three priorities are fully integrated in each program.
“We state them as three priorities but they are inseparable,” he says. It is like having a stool with three legs.”
We do this in the name of Christ,” says Peters. “That is foundational.”
MCC’s motivation for doing this work has remained the same since the organization was founded in 1920. “We do this in the name of Christ,” says Peters. “That is foundational.”