From 1961-1963, Larry Landis from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, served with MCC’s Pax program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). At the age of 21, his assignment was to work with the Congo Protestant Relief Agency (CPRA), MCC’s first project in DR Congo and a partnership with the Congo Protestant Council. CPRA assisted churches and missions in providing relief supplies in various areas where local populations were displaced by political unrest following DR Congo’s independence from Belgian rule in 1960.
Read a selection from his memoirs below.
One of the projects I worked on as a Pax volunteer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) was a live chick program, “Chicks-for-Congo.” Congo Protestant Relief Agency (CPRA), in partnership with Moyer’s Hatcheries in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, and other hatcheries across the U.S. and Canada, sent newly hatched chicks to Léopoldville [renamed Kinshasa in 1966], the capital city. I became involved in administering the program.
Ernest Moyer, head of Moyer’s Hatcheries, and my father Abe met in a Civilian Public Service (CPS) camp in Virginia in the 1940s. They became good friends and during CPS reunions their friendship was passed on to his son Ivan and me. Years later, we decided to be roommates for our sophomore year at Eastern Mennonite College, now Eastern Mennonite University. Through our friendship, we were able to provide one connection for the live chick program.
The newly hatched chicks were placed in special cartons, 100 chicks each, and shipped on the Belgian airline, Sabena Airlines. The chicks flew from New York to Brussels and then transferred to a flight to Léopoldville, DR Congo.
MCC photo/Ernest Lehman
Chicks can survive 72 hours without food and water, so we had a short timetable. When they arrived, we immediately placed them on flights to their various destinations around the country via Air Congo, Mission Aviation Fellowship planes, or if local, by truck.
It was my job to meet the chicks, clear them through customs and arrange for their transport to their respective destinations. Ideally, the chicks never left the airport. In one flight at the beginning of the program, unknown to me, Air Congo staff placed them in the baggage hold. They all died due to the aircraft compartment being inadequately ventilated.
The next flight, as they were about to place the chicks with other luggage, I surprised myself by rushing into the plane. I pushed past the security officer and explained to the pilot, “These chicks must ride with the passengers, not in the hold where they will die!” He agreed and had the chicks moved and that shipment was successful.
Another time the connecting Air Congo flight was canceled, and I had to take the chicks home with me and keep them in my bedroom. With lights for warmth and food and water, I had to nurse them for four weeks until they were ready for reshipment. The peeping noises were no problem, but constantly changing the paper on the floor was! Ernest Lehman, MCC’s administrative assistant of CPRA, and I quickly built a small chicken coop outside the house to handle any future problems.
Chicks would usually come in shipments of 1,000 to 4,000 which meant all preparations would have to be done before they arrived. Our program often partnered with American Baptist mission stations. In one village, staff and church members constructed a chicken house where the chickens could be safely housed.
The local chicken varieties in DR Congo were generally small and not consistent in egg production. We were happy to have the Moyer’s chicks and others for our program. It was wonderful to see the Congolese children playing with the chickens as they grew. Most of the chickens were used for breeding and the local people could not believe the size and beauty of a Rhode Island Red chicken. Sharing our chickens with those who were especially vulnerable was truly satisfying.
Photo courtesy of Larry Landis
In 1961, MCC began “Chicks-for-Congo,” a chick shipment program in DR Congo that assisted refugees in the Bakwanga area (now called Mbuji-Mayi). Working closely with Heifer Project (now Heifer International) and American Baptist mission stations, the program expanded, and the chicks went to help those in need across DR Congo. This contributed to the economic development of many communities across the country. Chicks were donated by interested groups in the U.S. and Canada with the last recorded shipment in August of 1967.
Inaugurated in 1951, MCC’s Pax program provided varied service opportunities for hundreds of young men (and some young women) in many contexts around the world, including post-World War II relief and reconstruction projects in Europe, humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees in the Jordanian-controlled West Bank, the construction of a highway through Paraguay’s Chaco region and community development work in Greece, Bolivia and DR Congo. The last Pax workers concluded their service in 1976.
For most Pax workers, participation in Pax fulfilled alternative service obligations through the United States’ I-W program. Yet MCC sought for the Pax program to be not only an alternative to military service, a program for “conscripted Christians,” but a proactive form of Christian peace witness staffed by “willing second-milers.”