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Mennonites have traditionally supported pacifism and non-resistance
instead of war. In the past, Mennonites have died instead of betraying
these principles. At other times, they left everything they owned
to move to a different country to keep their faith. In times of
peace and prosperity, however, Mennonites did not have to actively
practice these values. At the start of the Second World War in 1939,
young Mennonite men were tested for the first time. Would they join
the army to defend the country that had given them shelter and protection?
Or would they remain true to their centuries-old faith?
some choose to join the army, most decided to become conscientious
objectors. For them, this experience strengthened their faith and
turned out to be a time of personal
transformation. This was the case for Ben Bergen.
conscientious objector experience changed my life. Camp experience
has broadened my understanding of other denominations, their teachings
and beliefs. I learned to show more patience and to cooperate
with my fellow man.” [ASM, 55-58]
Dueck also sees the CO experience as pivotal in his life.
I look back, this experience was a turning point in my life. I
got to know Christian fellows from other districts and backgrounds.
Many of us had the same goal in life: to live for Jesus Christ
and to prepare for eternity. One thing that I appreciate tremendously
was, that we had ministers at camp to help us, give guidance,
and preach the Word of God… These ministers were willing to give
of their time to help us. It has been a highlight for me spiritually.
From a self-centered, self-righteous life, it changed to a more
broad outlook on life, and accepting my fellow brethren even though
they did not speak, think, and do exactly as I did. I realized
that God looks at the heart and not at the outward appearance.
This led me to have high regard for all believers and our church.”
David Jantzi felt his time as a CO was important in his life.
While he injured his leg at the camp the experience gave him more
understanding of others. He also experienced God at the camp.
Nickel, who served in the CO camps as a worker and as a religious
director, gave this evaluation of the experience.
did camp life do for the conscientious objectors? For one thing,
it taught those, who because of previous isolated church life
held the members of another denomination in narrow esteem, to
respect and love their brothers…. Through discussion and observation
these men had a wonderful opportunity to free themselves of denominational
bigotry. By the same means, they arrived at destinations in their
spiritual development in which they experienced in a broader way
what their religious leaders and teachers at home had often only
hinted at and some had in vain attempted to instill.” [Toews,
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