Author: Froese, Deborah
Date published: May 3, 2010
A website sharing the story of conscientious objectors (COs) in World War II helped to inspired Abby Landon to reexamine her own beliefs and connect with her family's Mennonite faith heritage.
Landon, who attends an Evangelical Missionary Church in Red Deer, Alta., discovered the alternative service websitean award-winning project of Mennonite Church Canada's Heritage Centre- in her quest for information for a social studies term paper.
"I decided to write about conscientious objectors at the suggestion of my grandma, who is a Mennonite," Landon said in a telephone interview.
Landon's maternal grandmother, Dolores Naumenko, was a young child living in Waldheim, Sask., during World War II. Naumenko recalled that her father remained at home on the farm during the war and that her uncle, a dairy farmer, gave the government a portion of his weekly income, indicators that the two men may have sought exemption from military service. She also remembered that just before Christmas one year, a family in Waldheim, Sask., lost a son who had engaged in alternative service as a medic overseas. Conscientious objection to war and its implications left an impression on Naumenko.
Landon began her research with a number of heavily detailed books. "I was having trouble getting an overall view," she said, when her mother offered to help and discovered the alternativeservice.ca website. "The vast number of sources [on the site] was incredible," she said. "Seeing the original articles, letters and pictures really helped me in writing my paper."
Before starting the project, Landon had never heard of COs. "I think the biggest thing [that impressed me] is the Mennonites' willingness to just completely separate from the rest of society . . . from worldly values," she said.
Before they were assigned to alternative service, those claiming CO status had to appear before a judge, who would determine the legitimacy of their declaration. Landon was intrigued by the website's wide range of CO testimonies about that experience. "They showed the different extents to which they were willing to go," she said. "Some would go to war as medics, while others wouldn't even wear uniforms."
Landon was so inspired by the website that she sent an e-mail of thanks to heritage centre archivist Conrad Stoesz, who is responsible for the website. "I found it very encouraging to hear how the Mennonites, my relatives, pursued a Christ-like life even when it was extremely difficult," she wrote. "It has made me consider the dedication of my actions for Jesus and my 'separation' from the influential aspects of this world, as well as the importance of having support and encouragement around me."
"I was very happy to receive Abby's email. It made my week," said Stoesz. "We usually do not get such personal notes of thanks for the site out of the blue - It was humbling to learn that the site helped her examine her own faith. The stories from the past encouraged her to dig deeper into what she believed and what Jesus means to her. I think this was the highest hope we had for the site, that young people would re-examine their faith in light of the examples of the conscientious objectors."
Stoesz had a later e-mail exchange with Landon concerning violence in the Old Testament: "I told her that God's fullest revelation to humanity was through the person of Jesus, who taught and lived a life of peace."
BY DEBORAH FROESE
Mennonite Church Canada Release