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Alternative Service website inspires student

   
 
   

March 5, 2010
-Deborah Froese

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — A website sharing the story of Conscientious Objectors (COs) in World War II helped to inspired Abby Landon to re-examine 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 web site– an award winning project of Mennonite Church Canada’s Heritage Centre – in her quest for information for a social studies term paper. The grade 12 International Baccalaureate student was invited to choose her own topic.

“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 WWII. Naumenko recalls 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 remembers that just before Christmas one year, a family in Waldheim, Saskatchewan lost a son and brother 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 says. Her mother offered to help and discovered the Alternative Service website.

Landon was so inspired by the vast number of references, original articles, letters and photographs she found there that she sent an email of thanks to Conrad Stoesz, Mennonite Heritage Centre Archivist.

“...I found it very encouraging to hear how the Mennonites, my relatives, pursued a Christ-like life even when it was extremely difficult. 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,” she wrote.

Before starting the project, Landon had never heard of Conscientious Objectors.

“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 says.

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 [COs] were willing to go. Some would go to war as medics, while others wouldn’t even wear uniforms,” she says.

“The vast number of sources was incredible; seeing the original articles, letters, and pictures really helped me in writing my paper.”

I was very happy to receive Abby's email – it made my week,” commented Conrad Stoesz, Mennonite Heritage Centre Archivist and leader of the Alternative Service web site project. “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 email exchange with Landon concerning violence in the Old Testament – as in the story of David and Goliath. “I told her that God’s fullest revelation to humanity was through the person of Jesus who taught and lived a life of peace.”

Landon, who attends high school in Red Deer, sent Stoesz a copy of her final paper and he commended her painstaking effort to pull all the details together.

To learn more about Conscientious Objectors in World War II, see www.alternativeservice.ca.