HARTVILLE, Ohio — Close to 300 volunteers, staff and donors came together to celebrate the work of Mennonite Disaster Service during the MDS All-Unit annual meeting Feb. 13-14 at Hartville Mennonite Church.
A broad spectrum of Amish, Brethren in Christ and Mennonites came together around the theme, “A Touch of Love Awakens a Taste of Hope,” discussing how love awakens hope when disaster strikes.
The event included three seminars, reports from all five MDS regions across the U.S. and Canada, and testimonies from people MDS assisted during the past year.
Michelle Pruitt, owner of a new MDS-built home in Crisfield, Md., spoke about escaping Superstorm Sandy and the loss of her home of 30 years. Crisfield, a small fishing community on the eastern shore of Maryland, was devastated by Sandy.
For a year after the storm, Pruitt and her family repaired what they could, using duct tape to keep their house together.
“We did the best we could,” Pruitt said. “The foundation had shifted, the bricks were crumbling, and the walls were coming off the foundation.”
The house was eventually condemned.
“After about a year we heard that there was a group in town, and our two angels arrived, Ray and Martha Zimmerman, and said that they could help us,” she said.
The Zimmermans, of Turbotville, Pa., were project managers for the Crisfield MDS work and spent much of the past 18 months working with local authorities and the long-term recovery team on a goal to build 24 or 25 houses by September.
MDS completed construction of nearly a dozen of those homes in 2014.
Pruitt said the first volunteers got to work on her house on Oct. 13.
“I was a little worried at first, as the group was a little older than I expected to be building house,” she said. “But what these guys did was absolutely amazing. The volunteers came in week after week.”
After her presentation, the Zimmermans handed her the keys to her new home.
Welcomed as ‘family’
From Alaska, Becka Lopez, an emergency management specialist for the state, talked about the deep collaboration and impact MDS made on the communities of Circle and Alakanuk after floods in 2013 destroyed homes and a church.
Most encouraging to Lopez was the fact that MDS volunteers were welcomed as “family,” a rare occurrence for outsiders coming into tightly knit and isolated indigenous communities in rural Alaska.
When the work was done, more than 60 volunteers had participated in the two projects, some 18 homes had minor and major repairs done, two new homes were built and a local church was repaired. Eventually, 20 families returned to their homes.
From High River, Alta., Pauline Claydon spoke of how, through a series of twists and turns — including the 2013 flooding of their home, concern for the future of her disabled son, rezoning their land, post-flood demolition of their home and limited finances — their situation became hopeless.
But through what Claydon says was the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they found a way to build a new home that met the zoning requirements for a multi-family unit, a duplex. The resident of the other side of the unit would be a single mother with children who lost her home because of the development of a floodway.
With MDS assistance, the duplex will be built, and both families have homes and hope for their future.
“I am overcome with a sense of gratitude for all of you who are making my future with my husband and my son and for Frances and her children — well, a future,” she said. “When you were in service of your fellow man, you were in service of your God.”
In 2014, MDS had 3,636 people serving as short and long-term volunteers, including 261 summer youth volunteers. More than 460 disaster survivors were served in nearly 20 communities around the U.S. and Canada, including Colorado, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas, Florida and Michigan.