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Pax group, Illinois, 1959, Paraguay-bound. Front, l-r: Floyd Bauman, Ont.; Roger Haines, Ind., session coordinator; Harry Harder, Minn.; LaVerne Graber, S.D. Back, l-r: Herman Konrad, B.C.; Robert Ediger, Neb.; Pete Harder, B.C.; John Huebert, Neb. Mennonite Central Committee

Pax group, Illinois, 1959, Paraguay-bound. Front, l-r: Floyd Bauman, Ont.; Roger Haines, Ind., session coordinator; Harry Harder, Minn.; LaVerne Graber, S.D. Back, l-r: Herman Konrad, B.C.; Robert Ediger, Neb.; Pete Harder, B.C.; John Huebert, Neb. Mennonite Central Committee

Pax alumni invited to a reunion in Paraguay

Ferne Burkhardt
February 6, 2009

STRASBOURG, France – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Pax volunteers, including those who built 200 miles of road linking Asunción and the Mennonite colonies in the Paraguayan Chaco, will have the opportunity to travel "the lonely sliver of asphalt" during Mennonite World Conference's Assembly 15. In addition to this “Pilgrimage of memories” along the trans-Chaco highway, the reunion of Pax volunteers will include designated space at the assembly site for workshops, viewing a new DVD and visiting. All former Pax participants are invited to attend Assembly 15 and the Pax reunion.

MCC created the Pax (Peace) program as alternative service for U.S. conscientious objectors being drafted by the military to serve in the Korean War and later in Vietnam. More than 100 Canadians also served in Pax. MCC managed the program and appointed directors. The program called for volunteers to commit to two years of service and to donate $75 per month for their housing, food, etc. When the program was announced, applications poured in and all available units were filled within three months.

At least 1,100 Pax volunteers served in more than 40 countries between 1951 and 1976. Their projects included building houses for war refugees and doing agricultural development work to address hunger and poverty. A Greek woman described the men as "good, gentle and helping people."

In Paraguay, the project was building the trans-Chaco highway from 1956 to 1961. When Mennonite refugees first arrived in the Chaco, a sparsely populated subtropical region, they struggled to survive. There were few local markets for what they could produce and no road to reach the markets in Asunción or international markets.

MCC coordinated building the road, supported by the Paraguayan government; Paraguayan ranchers whose land the road crossed; the U.S. government, which provided heavy road-building equipment left from the Korean war; and the Chaco Mennonites. The Pax men completed the road to the Mennonite colonies in 1961, but it took several decades for the government to cover it with asphalt. Now one can travel from the colonies to the capital in four hours, a trip that 50 years ago took 10 days.

An overnight pilgrimage along the highway to the Chaco for Pax alumni will take place July 17 -18, 2009, during Assembly 15. While details need to be finalized, current plans call for a bus (or buses) to leave Asunción at noon, following the morning Bible study, stopping at key points along the road to recall experiences, visiting with Mennonites in the Chaco and heading back to Asunción on Saturday morning.

In preparation for the pilgrimage, MCC will conduct a workshop on the afternoon of July 16 at the Assembly Gathered site. Arli Klassen, MCC executive director; Ron Flaming, director of international programs; Herman Bontrager, MCC board chair; John Lapp, former executive secretary of MCC; and others will lead discussions on service. Service is also the key theme for the three-day Global Youth Summit preceding Assembly Gathered in Asunción.

Informal visiting during Assembly Gathered free time, recalling the experiences of Pax men wherever they served, will be a big part of the reunion. A new 30-minute DVD titled "Pax Service: An Alternative to War" also will be shown. The DVD is now available for purchase from Mennonite Media's store.mennomedia.org or by calling 1-800-999-3534.

Pax men and their families are encouraged to register for Assembly 15 and to complete the special Pax reunion form as soon as possible. Registration forms are available from MWC offices and www.mwc-cmm.org.