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A New Understanding

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Jac. K. Schroeder remains thankful for the positive effect CO service had on his life.


“The CO experience, even with its hardships and disappointments, was a positive experience for me. It tested my values and thrust me into areas of service I would never have experienced otherwise. It brought me a new outlook on serving the country that was my home, namely that every able-bodied young person should give a year of “free” service to the nation in times of peace. Christians especially, need to volunteer such a year's service to the nation in areas of human welfare.


“I felt that God had shaped the events of my CO experience and guided me and my family through the time of serving the nation in positive, constructive ASW during a time of war.” [ASP, 177]


John E. Klassen also points to his time as a CO as a life-changing experience.


“As I reflect on this time of some three and a half years, I do not consider them to be wasted years. Camp days were a time of personal spiritual orientation and growth, building and preparation for going into full-time ministry. God has used that in my forty years of ministry and I thank him for it.” [ASP, 109]


Rev. H.R. Baerg spent a year in alternative service work camps. He gives a candid evaluation of the CO experience.


“Alternative Service constituted for us a program of submission. Ours was not to reason why, or to ask why, to argue or denounce. We were conscripted to spend the same amount of time under similar regulations as the boys in other branches of the Service. We now had an opportunity to confirm our faith by rendering a sacrifice, not of our lives but of our time. For some, time spent in camp was indeed boring and monotonous; however, for most of us this was a chapter in our lives when we could learn many lessons and gain worthwhile and meaningful experiences.


“Numerous citizens of our country could not understand our singular stand and mistrusted our motives, thinking that a lack of loyalty and courage was at the base. It was our duty to resolve the misunderstanding by living up to our message of love… A number of working projects were unrealistic and not exactly of ‘national importance'; some of the foremen were unlearned, unprincipled, and unsocial loggers or ‘bushwackers' a few of the superintendents were prejudiced; some of the fellow draftees were partisan, obstinate, and obtuse. Under these circumstances it was imperative that we who were attempting to give an affirmation of our faith be buoyant, courageous, resourceful, and confident.”


“It was an enlarging experience to maintain personal love and to create close friendship with the various individuals of different background and training … It was indeed an experience requiring self-discipline, self-understanding, and inter-personal and inter-group understanding.” [Toews, 103-104]

The experience of American COs was similar. Long time minister in the American Mennonite Brethren circles, Marvin Hein said “I shall never be sorry I spent those years in CPS. Much of what I am today is a result of those 33 months in CPS.”

Marvin Hein, My Lines Have Fallen in Pleasant Places: An Autobiography , (Fresno: Marvin Hein, 2005), 67.

When confronted with war, young Mennonite men had to make a choice. For those who became COs, that choice led to intense experiences and personal transformation. The alternative service work program was not perfect, but as the COs above know, good things can come out of difficult situations.

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