a knot: Voth's Vietnam service spans 40 years
by Ryan Miller
Donald Voth's '63 commitment to peace did not begin at Goshen College
- his pacifistic passions brought him here.
After graduating from Grace Bible Institute in Nebraska, Voth decided
to face Selective Service. Instead of applying for a ministerial
student deferment, he instead sought alternative service with Mennonite
Central Committee. He spent three years as a PAX volunteer in Vietnam
in 1958, administering the MCC unit in Banmethuot, and there met
his future wife, Elnora Weaver Voth '53.
Like so many North Americans of his era, Vietnam changed Voth's
life. But instead of receiving battle scars, he worked to heal the
wounds of others. Working with the Peacework Development Fund of
Blacksburg, Va., and the Vietnam Youth Movement for Cooperative
Activity, he and Elnora helped with a new hospital in the town of
Nhatrang; Elnora became the hospital's first volunteer nurse, working
closely with Pastor Pham Xuan Tin, the director of what became the
Hospital for the Evangelical Church of Vietnam. In 1997, 22 years
after the North Vietnamese government seized the Nhatrang medical
compound, Voth and a friend on a Vietnam visit hailed a taxi to
take them, unannounced, to the hospital. "We were even somewhat
unsure about whether such an unannounced visit, or any visit by
a couple of Americans, for that matter, was appropriate. Almost
immediately we found someone with whom we could connect," he
That visit laid the foundation for a collaboration between the hospital
and the Vietnam Youth Movement for Cooperative Activity. Voth, also,
has returned, leading three work camps to Nhatrang to build three
new buildings for the hospital compound. Another camp in January
2002 will help rehabilitate the original hospital building.
"The most important thing about this has been helping connect
Vietnamese with Vietnamese and helping strengthen the program of
the VN YMCA. This organization represents something quite new in
Vietnam - a nongovernmental organization through which young people
can find ways to express their desire to serve," Voth said.
Voth's Asian experience changed his life's path, moving from the
ministry to development work. He had graduated from a Bible institute,
but completed a second bachelor's degree at Goshen before earning
master's and doctorate degrees in rural sociology and Southeast
Asian studies, respectively at Cornell University. While at Goshen,
he also married Elnora.
Last March, six months after Elnora passed away after suffering
a stroke, Voth returned to Nhatrang with 21 others to build a new
building at the hospital. (They also built an elementary school
in the Mekong Delta.) In Nhatrang, the hospital dedicated a memorial
plaque honoring Elnora for her work and life.
Voth's desire to serve has also taken him to the Philippines and
Haiti. As a professor of rural sociology at the University of Arkansas,
he has helped design, evaluate and consult with participatory development
projects in Haiti, Rwanda, Burundi, the countries of the Southern
African Development Community (SADC), Kenya and Egypt. But the Far
East remains close to his heart. He returned to Vietnam for another
work camp this summer, and plans to continue taking students there
in the future.