Student tears down walls by rebuilding them

“My prayer was that God would use our help with people’s practical needs to also provide for their deeper spiritual needs, so that through our work, they’d have a restored house and a saved spirit,” says Columbia Bible College student Matthew Janzen about his volunteer service with Mennonite Disaster Service.

“At Bible college, we talk a lot about what it means to be the church, but to have opportunity to live out my faith in the world – that’s why I applied to MDS.” Janzen was one of the first recipients of MDS’s Sheep and Goats bursary in 2015.

MDS - Matt Janzen far right

Matthew Janzen (far right) takes a break with MDS teammates. PHOTO: courtesy MDS

The donor-funded Sheep and Goats bursary subsidizes the following year’s tuition for up to five full-time students at CBC and at Canadian Mennonite University who volunteer with MDS for eight weeks over the summer.

A member of Highland MB Church, Calgary, Janzen served close to home in High River, Alta., a town still recovering from the flood of June 2013. He worked on eight homes, on tasks from ground-up rebuilding to basement drywalling to sod laying.

Janzen had little woodworking experience beyond his high-school shops class, “but MDS’s supervisors were very good with walking me through step by step.”

“Being out of my comfort zone allowed God to use me,” says Janzen. “Even though I wasn’t confident in construction, I was able to use what I learned in Bible college.”

P&E MDS - Matthew Janzen insulating a home in High River

PHOTO: Matthew Janzen

Janzen wasn’t familiar with MDS before hearing about the bursary, but “I’ve learned to love it,” he says. “MDS cares a lot about providing for people’s physical needs through rebuilding houses, but that’s by no means the end of their mission. They said, ‘We’re here to invest in relationship.’”

“I’m someone who loves to sit back – or lean forward – and listen to what others have to say,” says Janzen. “I listened to the homeowners’ story, whether that involved the flood or whatever else was going on in their lives.”

“You hear about the flood, but you never think of the lasting effects,” he says. Serving with MDS “opened my eyes to the reality that we need to step out to show God’s love for people in their suffering – close to home and far away.”

About once a week, MDS volunteers would invite one of the homeowners to join them for supper at their apartment. “There, the conversation would turn more to faith and their wrestlings with it,” says Janzen.

“The fact that we lived out our faith speaks a lot about the church, I hope. If you’ve had bad experiences with the church, MDS demonstrates that the church is here to help. That’s a cool witness on behalf of Christ!”

This fall, Janzen returns to CBC, part-time in the classroom and part-time as intern at Level Ground Mennonite Church.

As he looks toward pastoral ministry, Janzen’s MDS experience has taught him “the importance of not letting faith be just head knowledge but action. I will encourage my church to be one that recognizes the needs around us and is open to how we can provide for them.”

Might that include returning to an MDS build? “I’d love to,” says Janzen.

P&E MDS - group photo (Matthew Janzen front row second from right)

Matthew Janzen (front row, second from right) with MDS crew from the week of Aug. 16, 2015. PHOTO: Lorraine Wiebe

—Angeline Schellenberg

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