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MDS builds homes and friendships

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Mobile, Ala.

The hand of God is often blamed for natural disasters, but Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is working so God gets credit for the cleanup as well.

An unusually active year for natural disasters, 2008 was also a year of growth for MDS. More than 4,800 people volunteered 26,316 days, in a record number of 14 projects.

At their annual All-Unit Meeting, Feb. 13–14 in Mobile, Ala., the binational organization heard testimonies, not only of homes rebuilt but of lives touched by the love of God.

“It’s more than just building houses,” said Sam Jones, bishop of a U.S. network of Mennonite churches. “It’s showing who God is. You are giving the love of God.”

In addition to responding to tornadoes, hurricanes, and summer flooding, MDS continues to rebuild homes destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “It elevated our capacity to do long-term response,” says Jerry Klassen of Kelowna, B.C., MDS binational disaster response coordinator. Funding sources are declining, he observes, but the number of volunteers continues to be strong.

Phil Maneikis, project director at an MDS camp near New Orleans says MDS volunteers need to meet high standards “because people know we’re Christians. We’ve had people say that they can see the joy of working for God on our faces.”

MDS recently built its first “seed home” outside Picher, Okla., in response to tornado damage. The area, home to 10 Native American tribes, experienced three federally declared disasters in 12 months. “The concept is to build relationships and serve needs,” says Henry Dueck, of Boissevain (Man.) MB Church, who worked on the project.

“You go to bless, but you come home blessed.”

—Karla Braun, from Meetinghouse and MDS reports

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