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Juhnke memoir traces ‘small steps’ in a journey of peacemaking

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – James Juhnke, Bethel College professor emeritus of history, has spent a significant part of the past five years working on family history – including, most recently, his own.

Juhnke has just published Small Steps Toward the Missing Peace – A Memoir, which he will be selling and signing at Bethel’s Fall Festival Saturday, Oct. 8.

Before that, his two most recent publishing efforts, which both came out in 2009, were Speaking for Herself – The Autobiographical Writings of Anna K. Juhnke (a collection of Juhnke’s late wife’s essays and articles, compiled with daughter Joanne Juhnke) and So Much to be Thankful For: The Bill and Meta Goering Juhnke Story, 1912-1996 (about Juhnke’s parents).

In significant ways, the impetus for Juhnke’s memoir came from his last full-length book manuscript, The Missing Peace: The Search for Nonviolent Alternatives in United States History (written with Carol Hunter of Earlham College). Pandora Press published the book, right before Juhnke retired in 2002 from more than 30 years teaching history at Bethel College.

He had retired early, at age 64, because the cancer with which Anna, his wife (who spent her career teaching English and literature at Bethel), had survived for many years was beginning to advance and they wanted to be able to do some things together while her health still allowed.

Anna died in 2005. In the years following, Juhnke put his “publishing energy” into the book of her writings and the biography of his parents. In 2007, he co-led a tour retracing the route of Russian Mennonites’ “Great Trek” into central Asia. That resulted in his being involved in establishing a relationship with a museum in Uzbekistan that has an important Mennonite collection, and with Walter Ratliff’s Great Trek documentary, Through the Desert Goes Our Journey (2008), and book, Pilgrims on the Silk Road (2010).

In that time, Juhnke also remarried, to Miriam Nofsinger, and moved from North Newton to Wichita.

So it was only in the last year or so that Juhnke began thinking again about writing his own memoir.

“When The Missing Peace came out in 2001,” Juhnke remembers, “Keith Sprunger [Juhnke’s long-time teaching colleague, also Bethel professor emeritus of history] said to me: ‘Your whole career teaching at Bethel was leading up to this book.’

“I began to wonder – was it possible to extend it backward, too, looking at my whole life leading to [writing The Missing Peace]?”

“The thread … could be traced … to my early childhood,” he writes in the memoir’s “Foreword.” “I have followed the theme of peace and war as I encountered it in my pacifist Mennonite community and in my military defense-minded American nation.”

Small Steps Toward the Missing Peace covers Juhnke’s years growing up in Buhler and Lehigh, with early memories of World War II blackouts; study at Bethel College bisected by two years with the PAX program in Germany; courtship and marriage to Anna Kreider, a Bluffton (Ohio) College student he met at an Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship conference in Nashville, Tenn., in 1961; Juhnke’s (unsuccessful) 1970 campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from Kansas’ 4th District; and years teaching in Botswana (1971-73) and China (1987-88) with the Teachers Abroad Program (TAP) and China Educational Exchange, respectively.

And of course, there is copy devoted to Juhnke’s career teaching at Bethel and writing Anabaptist, denominational and Bethel history: The Blowing and the Bending, 1975, a dramatic musical about the Kansas Mennonite experience in World War I; A People of Two Kingdoms – The Political Acculturation of the Kansas Mennonites, 1975; A People of Mission – A History of General Conference Overseas Mission, 1979; Vision, Doctrine, War – Mennonite Identity and Organization in America, 1890-1930, 1989, Volume 3 in the Mennonite Experience in America series; Dirk’s Exodus, a drama about 16th-century Anabaptist martyr Dirk Willems, 1990; and Creative Crusader: Edmund G. Kaufman and the Mennonite Community, 1994, a biography of Bethel College’s president from 1932-52.

The final chapter of Small Steps deals with how Juhnke came to write The Missing Peace, beginning with the catalyst of stepping in at the last minute as keynote speaker at a 1992 Bethel conference on “Violence and Nonviolence in the American Experience” after Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder was disinvited due to allegations of sexual misconduct.

“It forced me to distill and present publicly the ideas that were central to The Missing Peace,” Juhnke says.

Small Steps Toward the Missing Peace follows themes of “war and peace, of conflict between American identity and Mennonite identity,” Juhnke says. And it adheres to the memoir genre rather than autobiography, he says.

“An autobiography is chronological, going year by year or decade by decade. A memoir may be more episodic. This book is chronological – that reflects my thinking as a historian. But I was very disciplined in the theme – there were interesting things I didn’t include because they didn’t fit that theme.”

He “enjoyed all the writing,” he says, but perhaps most intriguing was considering his three extended experiences overseas (PAX in Europe; TAP in Botswana; CEE in China).

“The stories I tell from these three [periods] are maybe more unusual than the Bethel stories, in terms of cross-cultural communication and experience,” he says. “China was maybe the most interesting of all – teaching American history in a communist country just beginning to open up to other historical interpretations, including liberal capitalism.”

Besides being for sale during Fall Festival, Small Steps Toward the Missing Peace is available at Thresher Bookstore, the Kauffman Museum shop (both on the Bethel College campus) and Faith & Life Bookstore, 606 North Main St. in downtown Newton, or at

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2011-12. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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