the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

Photo of Donald VothTying 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 said.

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.