A summer of hope



director ’ s letter

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches that responds in Christian love to those affected by disasters in Canada and the United States. While the main focus is on cleanup, repair and rebuilding homes, this service touches lives and nurtures hope, faith and wholeness. Our programs, funded by contributions, aim to assist the most vulnerable community members, individuals and families who, without assistance, would not have the means to recover. MDS volunteers — women and men, youth and adults — provide the skills and labor needed to respond, rebuild and restore.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED MDS U.S. 800-241-8111 Canada 866-261-1274

A summer of hope

As you read through the following stories, pay attention to the deep emotions coming from the many contributors. Charles Wesley’s hymn “Oh for a Thousand Tongues” comes to mind. O For a thousand tongues to sing My dear Redeemer’s praise! The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of His grace! Whether they are homeowners receiving a house or volunteers serving, you can hear their “Redeemer’s praise.” The highlight for me this past quarter was spending time with volunteers from Puerto Rico as we lifted the first wall on the new home in Crisfield, Maryland. The exuberance was overwhelming. My gracious Master and my God, Assist me to proclaim, To spread through all the world abroad The honors of Thy name. Crisfield, Maryland The volunteers serving in places like British Columbia, New York, Maryland and California proclaim hope as they hammer, paint, write and cook. He speaks, and, listening to his voice, New life the dead receive; The mournful, broken hearts rejoice; The humble poor believe. Two dreams come true for me and are also mentioned in this issue of Behind the Hammer : that more and more people who receive help from MDS are empowered to also serve in some manner; and that more young volunteers are introduced to service. Glory to God, and praise, and love, Be ever, ever given. Joyfully,

“Volunteering is a way to unplug. It’s a good way to change things up.”

Demeric Flores, 26, and Modesto Mercado, 75, volunteered as part of a multigenerational team from Puerto Rico.

Behind the Hammer is published quarterly by Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and is available for free upon request. This magazine shares the stories of MDS work in the U.S. and Canada and of the more than 5,000 annual volunteers who are the core of MDS. The stories are meant to encourage people to continue expressing the love of God through the work of MDS. Printed on Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) certified paper using environmentally friendly plant-based inks. Executive Director: Kevin King Communications Manager: Jesse Huxman Production Coordination: Jesse Huxman, Judith Rempel Smucker Writers: Susan Kim, John Longhurst, Lois Wenger Photographs: Demeric Flores, Rachel Horst, Paul Hunt, Julie Kauffman, MDS volunteers Designer: Julie Kauffman STAY CONNECTED If you have story ideas, need subscription information, want to donate or volunteer, please contact us: MDS Binational Office 583 Airport Road, Lititz, PA 17543 USA tel: 717-735-3536 | toll-free: 800-241-8111 fax: 717-735-0809

Gavin Hadley, 15, traveled from Newton, Kansas, to


volunteer at an MDS Summer Youth Project in Jennings, Louisiana, where he helped build a new home for a Hurricane Delta survivor. Hadley thinks more people his age should think about volunteering. “I learned how to properly sand drywall, and to use tools I hadn’t used before,” he said. “You come out of your bubble into a community, and you find God in people. You build relationships.” Michele WhiteEagle, MDS Region 4 board chair, served as a project director in Jennings for one month. During her last week in Louisiana, she reflected on why it’s so meaningful to serve as an MDS leadership volunteer. “You connect with the volunteers and with the people you’re serving,” she said.

FEATURE — CRISFIELD, MARYLAND Pay the kindness forward 4

FEATURE – CRISFIELD, MARYLAND Through young eyes 8

HOMEOWNER EXPERIENCE – PRINCETON, BC “It really feels like home” 10

VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE – PARADISE, CALIFORNIA Loss and hope in Paradise 11 FEATURE – MONTE LAKE, BC More than one way to serve 12

Q+A Caleb Gingerich 13

RECIPE Summer Fizz Slushy 13

MDS Canada 200-600 Shaftesbury Blvd. Winnipeg, MB R3P 2J1 Canada tel: 204-261-1274 toll-free within Canada: 866-261-1274 fax: 204-261-1279

Notes from the field 14

Kevin King Executive Director

ON THE COVER: Father and daughter Pastor Juan Carlos Colon and Emary Colon travelled from Puerto Rico to volunteer in Crisfield, Maryland. See story page 4. Photo by Paul Hunt.


behind the hammer

which struck during a full moon at high tide, damaging or destroying nearly half of the homes in the town. Since then, Crisfield has been bearing the brunt of repeat flooding, and people are always waiting for the next storm. Colon knows all too well how that feels. “I told MDS I wanted to go work in Maryland to build houses,” he said. “It was like a dream come true.” For Colon, the dream is not only raising the walls of a new home—it’s expressing that feeling of being one human family. “I’ve made real friendships and connections,” he said. One of those new friends is local volunteer John Henderson, an 85-year-old member of Holly Grove Mennonite Church in Westover, Maryland—a 20-minute drive from Crisfield. After the Puerto Rican volunteers attended services at Holly Grove one Sunday, Henderson decided to join them for a few days. “I volunteered for MDS in Crisfield after Hurricane Sandy as well,” recalled Henderson. “We built a new home back then for a man who was able to live there for 90 days before he had to go to a nursing home. It was sad but also wonderful that he could live there as long as he did.” Intergenerational volunteers Two of the youngest volunteers, 18-year-old Emary Colon, who is Pastor Juan’s daughter, and 14-year-old Ricardo

The dream is not only raising the walls of a new home – it’s expressing the feeling of being one human family.


Ramos, are both first-time MDS volunteers. Emary Colon, who is studying to be a nurse, urged others to serve with MDS. “Give yourself the opportunity to come volunteer,” she said. “It’s a great experience, and it’s great to meet people.” Ramos chimed in: “I’ve never done anything like this before—and I’ll definitely be back!” Another young volunteer, Demeric Flores, 26, from Ponce, said he agrees there are parallels between Crisfield and the areas of Puerto Rico damaged by Hurricane Maria. He remembered seeing MDS volunteers rebuilding homes and repairing hundreds of roofs, in addition to training local residents to build their own wind-resistant roofs. “Now, here in Crisfield, we are building a new home that’s

Pay the kindness forward

Pastor Juan Carlos Colon’s dream is coming true. As he raised the wall on a home in Crisfield, Maryland. on a hot summer day, he was remembering the day in 2017 when Hurricane Maria all but destroyed everything he had on his land outside Arecibo, Puerto Rico—and how volunteers from MDS helped him repair and rebuild. After his long road to disaster recovery, the pastor of Iglesia Menonita de Palo Hincado decided to express his thanks by volunteering for MDS himself. In mid-June he brought seven other volunteers from Puerto Rico with him to the small town, home to about 2,500 people and located on the Tangier Sound, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. “Here in Crisfield, I want to make people’s lives more peaceful,” said Colon, who said he felt a growing connection with Crisfield’s residents. Six years ago, Hurricane Maria—regarded as Puerto Rico’s worst natural disaster in recorded history—caused $90 billion US/$117 billion Cdn in damages. Nine years ago, Crisfield also experienced the worst: Superstorm Sandy,

A multigenerational crew from across Puerto Rico team up for a memorable week of service with MDS Project Director David Hoover. Pictured left to right: Modesto Mercado and his grandson Ricardo Ramos; cooks Norma Stoltzfus & Eileen Rolon; David Hoover; Emary Colon; Demeric Flores; Emary’s dad Pastor Juan Carlos Colon; Marcelino Ortiz.

Puerto Rican volunteers who experienced Hurricane Maria have a heart and a helping hammer for flooded Maryland town



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behind the hammer

“It’s a great experience, and it’s great to meet people.” – EMARY COLON





“We are building a new home that’s more resilient to disasters ...

“My work here is being used for the glory of God.” – MARCELINO ORTIZ

“MDS is a network of amazing people who give their time, and I feel very blessed to be part of it.”

so floodwaters can’t get to it.” – DEMERIC FLORES


“I’ve never done anything like this before and I’ll definitely be back!” – RICARDO RAMOS

more resilient to disasters. We’re building it up so floodwaters can’t get to it,” said Flores. Now more than ever MDS is working with the Eastern Shore Long Term Recovery Group, which has a waiting list for new homes. The need is becoming more urgent as many flood survivors, amid hot and humid summer weather, are coping with a growing mold infestation. The latest round of flooding in October 2021, which struck on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, brought back trauma that still hasn’t healed. Kim Hopkins, program coordinator for the Eastern Shore Long Term Recovery Group, knows just about everyone in Crisfield. She said that many people have been living with flood damage for a long time. “In some ways, this latest round of flooding was the worst because it was invisible,” she said. “A house looks fine—then you walk in the door and people have no floor.”

Hopkins, who also worked as a disaster responder during Superstorm Sandy, said most of Crisfield is vulnerable to repetitive flooding; that’s why she values MDS’s mitigation-minded


approach of building new homes higher off the ground. “We’re here now to change the lives of a lot more families so they will no longer flood again,” said Hopkins. “The idea is to bring them up above the 100-year flood plain. MDS is a network of amazing people who give their time, and I feel very blessed to be a part of it.” MDS has been working in Crisfield off and on for many years, added Hopkins, and she hopes volunteers keep coming.

“Coastal flooding is not going away,” she said. “Plus, times are harder than ever for the vulnerable people—those with low income or the elderly.” The crew from Puerto Rico understands what it’s like to face that kind of vulnerability. They also know well the feeling of relief that comes with moving into a more disaster- resilient house. Volunteer Marcelino Ortiz, 71, believes that’s why God

put Puerto Rico and Crisfield together in a spirit of service and love. “My work here is being used for the glory of God,” he said. “When we get back to Puerto Rico, we will be so happy that we did what God told us to do.” — Susan Kim



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behind the hammer

We met three people whose houses were damaged with the walls and floors caving in. All of the people we visited were scheduled to have a new house built by MDS. One of the people we visited was ‘Hurricane Hazel,’ a world champion crab-picker. She won the world crab picking derby 16 times. — Craig B., 13 The first homeowner we met was Linda Byrd. Ms. Linda was told that her house would be demolished during our visit and she was very excited. However, the electrical company stalled about turning off the power and demolition was not possible. Ms. Linda was very pleased about the idea of a new house because her old house, located right on the road, received waves of water from every passing car in the event of a flood. Mold thrived in the wet environment of her home and she suffered from constant asthma and other severe health issues. However, her hope and trust amazed me. When asked what the first thing she was going to do in her new house, she replied, “I’m gonna do a praise dance!” — Declan H., 13 Ms. Linda has lived most of her life in Crisfield because she feels safe living there. She told us that when she bought the house it was already damaged by water and that’s why the owner sold it, but she was glad to have a house. We walked through her house and it was a disaster. The walls were rotting out. There were big holes and it was plain to see that she was waiting for it to be torn down. Ms. Linda has 12 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren and was very proud of this fact! She talked about the new front yard that is going to be in front of her house. “I can’t wait ’til everyone comes to G’ma’s house for a BBQ!” she said. —Marina M., 12

“In this life, there are a lot of things you’re gonna be scared about, but if your hand is in God’s hand, you’ll be alright.”


Paula W. watches Hazel Cropper pick crabs.

Through young eyes

From March 29-April 2, a group of seventh and eighth-graders from Mount Academy and Butler School in Esopus, New York, visited Crisfield, Maryland, where MDS volunteers are building new homes for flood survivors. The students wrote reflections about their trip, and we welcome them as guest writers in this issue of Behind the Hammer.

A lot of people in the town have lived there all their lives. After we had seen these houses from the inside, I was shocked to learn that these floods had hardly been recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as they were considered a ‘small disaster.’ Believe me, there is nothing small about having the house you’ve lived in for 50-75 years knocked down because of flood damage! —Paula W., 12 Some people just give up after experiencing natural disasters. Others, like Ms. Hazel, courageously get up and keep going! When we visited her house, we were warmly welcomed and shown around her house. She offered us hospitality and gave us plenty of advice for life, sharing the gospel with us as well. She has an amazing life story and does not look down on anyone. —Carl H., 14 When we first drove through Crisfield, we saw no evidence of flooding. Later on, we found out that the flood damage was only noticeable from the inside of the houses. The three houses we visited had floors that were sagging and cracked. When I stepped on them, it felt like I was about to fall through. —Alan H., 12



behind the hammer

behind the hammer

Lois Wenger serves breakfast to volunteers in Paradise, California.

“Not only did they fix my house, they lifted my spirits. They kept me from being overwhelmed.”


House completed by MDS volunteers in Paradise.

volunteer experience

homeowner experience

For Sam Perera of Princeton, British Columbia, it was a case of really bad timing. Originally from Vancouver, Perera bought a riverside house in that southeastern B.C. town in October 2021—a place he could afford in a community he intended to call his new home. “I had a good salary as a bus driver, but Vancouver was so expensive,” he said. About a month after the purchase, the nearby Tulameen and Similkameen rivers overtopped their dikes during a period of historic rain and flooding. “There was a metre [3 feet] of water in my house,” he said when he finally got to Princeton to see the damage. “It totally turned my life upside down.” “I thought I had planned carefully, done my budgeting, done all the calculations in the universe, but this was beyond my control,” he said. After the water receded, he cleaned the mud and muck out of his house and tried to start repairs on his own. “It was beyond my ability,” he said, noting he had no money, no job and a mortgage to pay. “There were so many things that needed to be done,” he said. “I thought my head would explode from thinking about it so much.” Downcast and worried about the future, he contacted the City of Princeton for help. They told him to contact Walter Wiebe, project director for MDS Canada, who told him not to worry—some people would come to help. “It really feels like home”

Loss and hope in Paradise

“overwhelming.” Those residents (and others) have been busy! The clearing of debris that didn’t go up in smoke. The cutting and clearing of dead trees that fell or were going to fall (with many more to go). The grinding of stumps where trees have been cut. The installation of underground utilities. The repairing of roads that melted beneath the burning cars. The building of new houses where old ones had stood. (Since early 2021, over 2,000 building permits have been issued.) The feelings of the people are overwhelming, too. Many lost most or all of their possessions. Some lost family members, too. Everyone lost neighbors, friends, and coworkers. And yet, some people’s houses were miraculously spared. Those folks struggle with feelings of guilt. “Why should I have everything when my neighbor has nothing?” Emotions run close to the surface. From anger at the power company for negligent maintenance practices that caused the fire, to frustration in dealing with insurance companies, to worry over the next job or paycheck or mortgage payment, to extreme sadness accompanying loss. MDS has been a presence in Paradise for several years. But what MDS has done has been one minute drop in a very gigantic bucket. But that drop has been important, especially for the people it fell on! Sign up for working in Paradise, and be overwhelmed. — Lois Wenger of Port Henry, New York

Reflections from volunteer cook Lois Wenger.

“I can’t thank them enough,” Perera said of the volunteers who repaired his house. “They arrived at a time when I was so emotionally down. Not only did they fix my house, they lifted my spirits. They kept me from being overwhelmed.” Along with putting in new walls, floors, doors and a bathroom, the volunteers discovered the house wasn’t properly insulated; they fixed that, too. “There were all kinds of things that needed fixing,” Perera said. “They did so much work.” When he thinks back to those early days after the flood, he’s amazed at how far things have come. “I don’t know how I could have got to this place without the help of MDS,” he said, adding quietly, “I don’t know where I would be.” Today he lives in a beautiful house. “Everything is neat, nice and functional,” he said. “It really feels like a home.” Perera is also out job-hunting; he’s got another interview lined up. “I am very hopeful,” he said. Of the volunteers—people he now considers friends— Perera said: “I never knew these kinds of people existed, people who wanted to help, who had nothing but good wishes for me. They changed me, changed my whole way of looking at things. Now I ask myself, ‘what can I do to contribute to others?’” – John Longhurst

How would I describe my visit to Paradise, California? In a word, overwhelming! Much has been said about Paradise and the fire that took place there November 8, 2018. Much has been written. But to be there in person trumps all. So much has been lost, never to be regained, a loss that is not measurable in monetary terms. Yes, there are people filtering back. The town that once had over 26,000 residents now has about 5,000, three and a half years after the devastating fire. And that’s another part of

MDS summer youth volunteers

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cooking for a crowd

q + a

Meet Caleb Gingerich, MDS Social Media Coordinator

Summer Fizz Slushy

Shared values

A bad back doesn’t hold back long-time MDS volunteer Helmut Hein – now he serves up great food with wife Karin.

Contributed by Lois Wenger (see her volunteer reflection, p. 11)

Q: WHAT DREW YOU TO WORK FOR MDS? A: Shared values of mutual aid and selfless service make MDS an appealing place to earn a living while making lives better for those who need it most. Stories of loss and the resulting hope have been remarkably inspirational. Q: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB SO FAR? A: With only a few months under my belt, I continue to love every opportunity to meet new people and build relations. I deeply value the connections being developed with staff and MDS partners. Q: WHAT WOULD YOU MOST LIKE PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA? A: Our social media has endless potential and it’s exciting to think about everything it will become! We’ll continue to adapt to what our audience engages with most. Follow MDS across platforms, we share different content across them all! Q: DO YOU HAVE A FUN PHOTO YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE? A: A highlight of every summer is a week at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp. This last trip, like many before it, we went white water rafting with Noah’s Ark. I am on the left, next to my sister and her husband.

2 12-oz cans frozen orange concentrate 1 12-oz can frozen lemonade concentrate 1 46-oz can pineapple juice 4-6 very ripe, smashed bananas 6 cups cold water

More than one way to serve

Construction veteran now volunteers in the kitchen

dishes in the kitchen of the Westwold community hall, home base for MDS volunteers serving in the area. While glad to be of use to MDS in the kitchen, Hein—who has served with MDS across North America in places like

Mix all together in a large bowl. Freeze.

Remove from freezer an hour or so before serving. Scoop slush into glasses, making them about half full. Fill glasses with ginger ale or 7 Up. Mix and enjoy. (For anyone who does not care for fizz, dilute with water instead.)

Each morning, when MDS volunteers head out to job sites in Monte Lake, British Columbia, Helmut Hein of Abbotsford, B.C. feels a pang. “I always wish I could be going with them,” said the long- time MDS volunteer, now serving as a cook’s assistant. “But because of my back, I can’t,” he said. Hein, 66, spent his career in the construction industry, including owning his own company, and served multiple times with MDS across North America. But years of working with heavy materials took its toll; now he has arthritis. “I have to be careful when lifting things,” said Hein, who retired in 2016. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still serve with MDS. Together with his wife, Karin, 61, who is also retired after a career in the food services industry, Hein helps make and serve delicious food for hungry volunteers rebuilding three homes lost to a wildfire in the interior B.C. community. “It’s a way I can still be of service,” he said while washing

Texas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, California and B.C.—still finds it hard to watch the volunteers leaving for work each day. “I’d still like to try it one more time, maybe as a crew leader,” he said. “I know this isn’t his ideal thing to be doing, but he’s a very good assistant,” said Karin, noting that while he would love to be out building houses, cooking and serving food is one of the most important and best appreciated roles at any MDS project site. Every MDS volunteer in Monte Lake who enjoyed the great food Helmut helped prepare would agree. — John Longhurst

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notes from the field

Find updates at

Gaylord, Michigan


MDS and Disaster Aid Ohio build new warehouse Volunteers from the MDS Eastern OhIo/Northwest Pennsylvania Unit are partnering with Disaster Aid Ohio volunteers to build a new 3,200-square-foot warehouse with 18- foot garage doors in Berlin, Ohio. “We were struggling to keep our tools and trailers together in one location,” explained Bruce Kindy, vice chair of the MDS unit. “It helps in the coordination between the two groups.” The warehouse, which will likely be finished by fall, offers a meeting room, kitchen, washer and dryer, and a bathroom with a shower. “We will have solar so hopefully that will meet our demand, with a grid tie-in system in the form of a backup generator,” said Maurice Stutzman, MDS Region 2 secretary/treasurer. With two bays for housing equipment, the warehouse will also be wired to charge electric vehicles. A loft will provide space for volunteers to stay overnight. “The interesting thing is that this is being done while there’s been a straight-line wind disaster in the area,” added Stutzman. “To get this done, all at the same time, as well as helping our neighbors—it’s somewhat amazing.”

Homeowner Cynthia Williams receives a quilt at the dedication of her MDS-built house in Marianna, Florida.


Bringing hope to tornado-stricken Gaylord Working with Habitat for Humanity of Otsego County, MDS volunteers repaired a home in the Nottingham Forest mobile home park. MDS continues to work with Habitat in that area with the hopes of helping even more people. A tornado touched down on May 20, decimating parts of Gaylord, an Otsego County city with a population of about 4,000.

Berlin, Ohio

“Doing repetitive tasks can be a contemplative exercise,” said Kim. “It’s about staying in the moment, thinking and praying, being in the presence of God and God’s love.” The couple did this while raking sand, gluing a subfloor, stripping forms, pouring concrete or waiting out the rain that fell four out of five days the week they were there. “MDS fits with who we are and how we see things,” she said, noting she grew up in a Mennonite Brethren church where the idea of service and helping others was promoted. For John, the experience had additional significance. An Indigenous man, his home community is the Syilx Okanagan Nation located just south of Monte Lake in nearby Vernon. “That is my ancestral land,” he said. By serving with MDS in the area “something resonated in my heart. I am familiar with that land.”



Listening for God’s heart First time volunteers John and Kim Alexis found MDS service in Monte Lake, B.C. a great opportunity to practice contemplation.

Truckin’ its way to a happy homeowner A home constructed by high school students at the Mount Academy in Esopus, New York, was completed and delivered 15 miles/24 km away to a Habitat for Humanity site on June 13. It will become the home for a local family. The home was built via a partnership between Mount Academy, MDS and Habitat for Humanity.


Behind the Hammer is also available in a digital version with additional content for easy access on your phone, tablet, or laptop: Subscribe to upcoming issues here : newsletters/


Over that time, 1,619 MDS volunteers worked 15,350 days, building new homes and repairing damaged ones—and touching the lives of hundreds. Williams told MDS volunteers that she’s grateful for them all. “I prayed for so, so long for this,” she said. “I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

MDS completes work in Marianna “I will never, ever forget this day.” Those were the heartfelt words of Cynthia Williams, a resident of Marianna, Florida, whose home was the last one dedicated by MDS after three and a half years of work in the Florida Panhandle community.

Monte Lake, British Columbia

Esopus, New York

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583 Airport Rd Lititz, PA 17543


like Chasity and her three boys in Mayfield, Kentucky Help more people come home

800-241-8111 U.S. 866-261-1274 Canada

December 2021

June 2022

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