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Faith expressed in actions

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Head and heart at work with MDS

Why are you doing this?

MDS volunteers rebuild in Puerto Rico. PHOTO: Paul Hunt

“Faith expressing itself in love.”

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) responds to natural disasters by sending volunteer groups who clean up, repair, and rebuild homes, and in the process, it proclaims the hope of the gospel – not only through actions, but in words.

Homeowners who lack the resources to recover from a natural disaster often turn to the mixed group of Mennonites from around the continent – from trendy MBs to plain-dressing Conservative Mennonites who are spending their vacation time rebuilding a home – and ask the question that quickens an evangelist’s heart: Why?


Derek Loewen and Frank Bergen volunteer on an MDS build. PHOTO: Mark Beach

At the MDS All-Unit Meeting (annual general meeting) in Winkler, Man., Feb. 9–10, 2018, volunteers exhorted each other with stories of working hard, sharing together, and watering the seeds of hope.

When disaster strikes somewhere in North America, MDS executive director Kevin King can expect a call: Are you the Mennonites?

“Yes, this is MDS. We’ll send a crew in tomorrow.”

A culture of service

MDS executive director Kevin King. PHOTO: Mark Beach

King says service changed his life. He was going to be a farmer, but an opportunity to teach agriculture overseas planted a desire to serve that led him to MCC for 20 years and Mennonite Disaster Service for the past 14. At 2017’s convention, King cast a vision to call the young adults in church today to a period of service. “Why do Mormons have all the fun?” he says, referring to the period of evangelism service expected in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Mennonite Disaster Service is one agency among many that can “provide sufficient rungs to get on the ladder and discover the joy of service,” he says.

He encourages local congregations to discern one or two young adults each year in whom to invest – perhaps helping pay tuition in fall so the student can volunteer all summer. What a message for the church to give, he says, that “people are  willing to invest in people, not just bricks and mortar.”

Inter-Mennonite unity is another rung on MDS’s metaphorical service ladder. At the beginning of a project, participants from different groups stick to their own; by the end of the week, there are hugs and tears all around.

Homeowners observe: “[MDS volunteers] come as strangers, but leave as friends.”

Rebuilding homes and hearts

Kerry Eidse and Navor Hernandez on an MDS build. PHOTO: Mark Beach

The building work of MDS includes churches. Just as MDS volunteers surround devastated homeowners with not only walls and a roof but a covering of love, care, and connection to build a home, so the volunteers have also watered churches. Demonstrating a community of care and unity on the job site, they give agnostics or unbelievers a reason to try church.

The work of rebuilding after disasters is hard – not only physically but emotionally.

A workshop at the AUM explored trauma, urging volunteers to understand it and show compassion for those experiencing
it – whether the homeowners or volunteers who take on the wounds of others through caring.

Shift your perspective from thinking “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” said therapist and trainer John Koop Harder. Trauma work requires curiosity, compassion, and connections.

Laying flooring in La Grange, Texas. PHOTO: Mark Beach

Plenary speaker Cindy Klassen, six-time Winter Olympic medallist and graduate of MBCI, inspired the morning
gathering with her journey of setbacks, struggles, disappointments…and success. Store your treasures in heaven,
not on earth (Matthew 6:19–21), she said, as she urged the volunteers to serve God willingly with their talents.
Romans 8:28 does not mean that all things are good, but that God will, in time, work through all things to find something
good, Klassen said.

Winds of the Spirit

Larry Weaver fixing door in La Grange, Texas. PHOTO: Mark Beach

“We learn to look for God in small things,” said one volunteer. Over repeated service, she has seen how small things can be God’s answer to prayer for someone else. “Nothing is circumstances.”

Volunteers report they go home refreshed in spirit, re-grounded in a sense of what is important, blessed to have been a blessing.

Asked for his message to the Mennonite Brethren as partners in the inter-Mennonite organization, King says: “Come walk with us more; show us your passion for evangelism while we share with you our pleasure of swinging a hammer, and let’s see what happens.”

“Let the winds of the Spirit move,” King says, “and, boy, do they!”

Kristine Hoover painter in La Grange, Texas. PHOTO: Mark Beach

See also

Student tears down walls by rebuilding them

MDS volunteers pitch in to clean up from Alberta flood

Young “hands of Jesus” pick up the hammer

Volunteers repair homes and hopes

Mennonite Disaster Service – Very special good neighbours

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