Stand strong


director ’ s letter

VISION: We strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those affected by disasters. MISSION: We respond to disasters, rebuild homes, and restore hope by organizing and empowering volunteers in the U.S. and Canada.

VOLUNTEER TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE MDS U.S. 800-241-8111 Canada 866-261-1274 “If we let God guide our thinking and guide our minds, and we look for opportunities outside the box, some really neat things can happen. I think that’s worth celebrating.” —Carl Dube, MDS project director, Cameron County, Texas

Key to renewed life

In Ezekiel 37, we read of the prophet Ezekiel who gets caught up in a vision and is taken to a valley full of dry bones. Then God drops the question: can these bones live? The prophet is unsure, but at God’s invitation, he goes ahead and prophesies over the dry bones. And then, amazing things happen. There is renewed life.

CORE VALUES: Faith in Action Caring Relationships Working Together

This past January, I led a group of Mennonite conference pastors, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and MDS staff on a tour of several MDS disaster response sites in southwest Louisiana. Thanks to the assistance of David Myers, former faith-based director at FEMA, and Phil Helmuth, Project Coordinator for Southern Louisiana, this tour will remain one of my most memorable trips to view MDS operations in the field. Participants got to see the tremendous impact our volunteers have on communities and homeowners. We saw renewed life.

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. MDS Executive Director: Kevin King MDS Canada Executive Director: Ross Penner Communications Manager: Jesse Huxman Production Coordination: Jesse Huxman, Nikki Hamm Gwala, Judith Rempel Smucker Writers: Susan Kim, Nikki Hamm Gwala Photographs: Paul Hunt, Asha Belk, MDS volunteers Designer: Julie Kauffman STAY CONNECTED If you have story ideas, need subscription information, want to donate or volunteer, please contact us:

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Kevin King gives a hand to MDS RV volunteer Tim Schrag in Grand Isle, La.

FEATURE — SELMA, ALABAMA Stand strong together 4

As a response to our work in Selma, Alabama, Disaster Aid Ohio (MDS) received a key to the city from the mayor. In Jennings, Louisiana, Project Coordinator Phil Helmuth and Rollie Ulrich, Project Director, received a key to the Jennings Church of Christ as we closed our project there. Getting a “key to the city” is an honor that dates back to medieval times. It is meant to confer trust and honor; it grows from the medieval walled city with gates guarded during the day and locked at night. The key symbolizes the freedom of the recipient to enter and leave the city at will, as a trusted friend. Today, it is a ceremonial gesture that honors esteemed visitors, dignitaries, or individuals who have made significant contributions to society or the city. May we continue to be inspired to be prophetic with our love in action that brings new life into communities for God’s glory. And may we treasure our keys from communities now and in the future.

VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE It’s about putting love into action 12


RECIPE Date Pudding Cake 13

FEATURE – LEARNING TOUR Radiating faith in Louisiana 14

MDS U.S. Office 583 Airport Road, Lititz, PA 17543 USA tel: 717-735-3536 | toll-free: 800-241-8111 fax: 717-735-0809 MDS Canada Office 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 15

ON THE COVER: In Selma, Alabama, homeowner Doris Hale chats with Gid Yoder of MDS and Disaster Aid Ohio. Read the story, page 4.

Kevin King Executive Director, MDS

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behind the hammer

Stand strong together

ASHA BELK: “Our mornings in Selma began with fellowship, an ode to the dedication to the well-being of others. As volunteers gathered to prepare for the day, it was hard to not miss the shadows that reflected a community determined to serve.”

Through the lens of photojournalist Asha Belk, meet the homeowners in Selma, Alabama, where MDS volunteers from Ohio repaired roofs and rebuilt homes after severe storms a year ago. In a community that played a significant role in the Civil

Rights Movement of the 1960s, resilience is visible.

Asha Belk (right), photojournalist and social worker, visits Selma resident Doris Hale whose house was repaired by MDS volunteers.



behind the hammer

behind the hammer

Doris Hale’s home sits only 50 yards from the railroad tracks on the edge of Selma. “I’ve been listening to that train since I was a little girl. I’d say to mama: I won’t go to bed until I hear the train.” On the first day of spring, she stood in the yard as volunteers repaired her home. It’s the only home she’s ever owned, and it’s the only place she wants to be. DORIS HALE: “Lord, have mercy, if I had a million, trillion, zillion dollars, and could be anyplace on this earth right now—I’d be right here today.” What’s the first thing she’s planning to do when she moves in? “I’m going to kneel down on the step and pray,” she said. “Then I’m going to fix a bacon cheeseburger, curly fries, and a double glass of cherry Kool-Aid.”

ASHA BELK: “I was immediately drawn to Ms. Doris. Her energy reached me before we were physically face to face. I could have listened to her talk for hours and I am honored to have left with pieces of her wisdom that will live with me forever. As she peered into her bedroom telling me her plans for the room, I captured the moment. It wasn’t until I reviewed the photo later that I noticed her sweater had a house on the back with the word “home” sewn on the sleeve. One of those photos that felt too good to be true and yet, perfection in my eyes.”



behind the hammer

behind the hammer

Louretta Wimberly (above), who has spent a lifetime advocating for civil rights, described how she feels when she walks down her street and sees MDS volunteers repairing and rebuilding homes. “These are sacred places to so many people here,” she said.

ASHA BELK: “I had the privilege to visit two women who had their homes repaired by MDS, but also had a historical past to share from their memories as foot soldiers in 1965 — known and remembered as ‘Bloody Sunday.’ Holding Ms. Sarah’s Congressional Gold Medal felt surreal. This is what we learned in school from our textbooks, but history was in my hands and my presence.”

SARAH CARTER CRAIG: “We’re so grateful for what was done. After the tornado, I prayed. I do all I can to stay in touch with God. He answers prayers. It might take awhile. But I’ve been in touch with Him for a long time.”

LOURETTA WIMBERLY: “I feel now people have a better idea of the Mennonites. They are kind. They are quiet. When you wear different clothes and different foods, it doesn’t mean we can’t stand strong together.”

(Opposite page and above) Sarah Carter Craig, 93, is the oldest living “foot soldier” who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with 600 others on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965. Her house is overflowing with memorabilia commemorating this courageous effort that galvanized the nation in support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.



behind the hammer

behind the hammer

GID YODER “What really is a highlight to me when you talk to somebody and they’re down and they’ve lost everything and, after you’re helping them come back and you could just see the spirit rises as progress is being made and the faces light up and it just means a lot to me to see that.”

Gid Yoder of MDS and Disaster Aid Ohio got up early each morning to coordinate groups of Amish volunteers and visit homeowners in Selma, Alabama.

YOLANDA GEORGETTE MOORE “I lost my mom in 2015 and my dad last year. If it weren’t for the volunteers, I wouldn’t have anything. Things aren’t easy the way they used to be. People used to take what money came in, and build a house. The volunteers took my situation seriously. I can hear it in their voices.”

Standing on the street in front of her home, Yolanda Georgette Moore asked Gid Yoder: “What motivates you to help people?” Yoder replied: “Because I grow spiritually more than I ever imagined.”

10 behind the hammer

behind the hammer 11

cooking for a crowd

volunteer experience

Denis Sabourin took a leap of faith when he signed up to volunteer with MDS ten years ago. He was introduced to the organization in 2014 when a group of weekly volunteers received an outgoing blessing at his church, The Meeting Place, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The introduction piqued Sabourin’s interest so much that he jumped on an opportunity to join them and helped with an MDS flood response in High River, Alberta, that same year. “I really enjoyed the first trip and couldn’t stop,” he said. Sabourin became the MDS representative to his congregation a year later. As church representative, he organized more than a dozen weekly service trips for The Meeting Place at MDS disaster sites across Canada and the U.S. — and attended all of them too. The organization’s approach to Christian service resonates deeply with Sabourin. It’s about faith with works, he said. Recently, Sabourin retired from his day job and made his way to an MDS project a few days later. He joined a long-term volunteer team for the final month of a flood response in eastern Kentucky. Serving as the site’s office manager, Sabourin manages the response’s finances, communications and hospitality. “My favorite part is meeting all of the volunteers and making sure that their stay is enjoyable,” he said. It’s always a thrill to hear homeowner stories, Sabourin added. “It’s very empowering for volunteers and the leadership here to be told that they’re appreciated and to be told they’re called angels.” Coming into someone’s backyard and helping them rebuild or clean up after disaster is love in action, he reflected. On his 19th volunteer placement, Sabourin doesn’t show signs of slowing down in retirement. After wrapping up in eastern Kentucky, he anticipates filling more long- term roles. His next assignment is already confirmed in Shuswap, British Columbia — with more opportunities on the horizon. “There’s something satisfying about doing what you’re called to do,” Sabourin said. — Nikki Hamm Gwala It’s about putting love into action

Date Pudding Cake This delicious dessert was created by Susie Raber, from Baltic, Ohio. She served with Disaster Aid Ohio in Selma, Alabama, in March. Serves 17.

Meet Nikki Hamm Gwala MDS Canada Communications Coordinator Q: WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO WANT TO SHARE THE STORIES OF MDS? MDS chooses to be present in devastated communities. I see the fullness of what it means to be human — grief, anger, compassion, love, humor, etc. — in the responses that MDS is a part of. I see this fullness in disaster survivors and volunteers. As we navigate complex and disheartening local and global challenges today, I think stories of human vulnerability, compassion, harmony and good news have never been more important. It’s a privilege to share hopeful stories of MDS’ work. Q: HAS ANYTHING SURPRISED YOU ABOUT YOUR JOB SO FAR? I hadn’t realized how many and how deeply people, so close to home, are affected by disasters. I know it will be eye opening to learn more about how neighbors, across provinces and states, are increasingly impacted by disasters and to learn about their priorities in recovery. Q: IS THERE A FAVORITE PRAYER OR BIBLE VERSE THAT INSPIRES YOU ON THE JOB? The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) come to mind. It’s so easy to see both MDS volunteers and disaster survivors among those blessed — those who mourn, the poor in spirit, merciful, peacemakers and pure in heart. These are blessings that will be on my heart as I meet volunteers and disaster survivors.

2 cups dates, cut fine 2 teaspoons baking soda 4 tablespoons butter, cubed 2 cups boiling water 1 cup brown sugar 1 cup white sugar 1 teaspoon maple flavoring 2 eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 teaspoon baking powder 2 cups flour 1/4 teaspoon salt

It’s always a thrill to hear homeowner stories. It’s very empowering for volunteers and the leadership here to be told that they’re appreciated and to be told they’re called angels.”

Put dates, soda, and butter in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over all. Let sit until cool, then add the rest of the ingredients. (Make sure it is cool before adding.) Bake in large cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE: 1 cup butter 4 cups brown sugar 1 teaspoon salt 4 cups water


3/4 cup clear gel, heaping 2 cups cold water, scant 11/2 tablespoons maple flavoring 1 tablespoon vanilla

Brown butter in a large saucepan. Add brown sugar. Heat a few minutes before adding salt and four cups water. Meanwhile, combine clear gel with 2 cups cold water; mix well. Add to above mixture. Cook until thick. Remove from heat and add maple flavoring and vanilla. Fix in layers with cake, sauce, and whipped cream.

12 behind the hammer

behind the hammer 13

notes from the field

More updates at

Tour of a future MDS work site in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Pictured left to right: Brittany Giles-Jones (EM Management), Karla Morton (Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference), Kevin King (MDS), Jesse Huxman (MDS), Richard Watkins (Bayou Community Foundation), Heidi Regier Kreider (Western District Mennonite Conference), Nathan Luitjens (Central Plains Mennonite Conference), Phil Helmuth (MDS).

full circle from cutting plywood and assembling cabinets in Goessel to final installation in southwest Louisiana. I was able to see a couple of ways we could even make improvements.” The cabinet shop has ramped up capacity to fabricate kitchen cabinets for at least 50 new homes a year.


MDS Annual Celebration in Fresno, California

The Spirit of MDS fund supports congregations across Canada serving their communities. “It was so encouraging to hear the impact and responses these hampers had on the recipients as well as those who volunteered to deliver them,” said Associate Pastor Brenton Friesen of Gospel Mission Church in Winkler, Manitoba. A grant from MDS Canada’s Spirit of MDS Fund supported the church’s efforts to distribute 190 hygiene hampers to low income community members in May 2023. Grants from the Fund can be used to support people in need with home construction or renovation projects; food or resources for those in crisis; ministry and service projects where volunteers serve the neighbourhood; or other creative ideas that fit MDS Canada’s core values: Faith in Action and Caring Relationships.

Elder Theresa Dardar of Pointe-Aux-Chien Indian Tribe (PACIT) talks with Aaron Levy of FEMA.



Under the theme “Ready, Set, Grow!” the annual celebration held Feb. 22- 23 in Fresno, California, drew more than 250 people in person. Attendees heard stories of hope from disaster survivors, joyful reunions among volunteers, and a glimpse of a future in which MDS grows in its witness of being the hands and feet of Jesus. Hosted by MDS Region 4 (Western U.S.), MDS California Unit, Butler Church, and Fresno Pacific University, the intergenerational crowd at the gathering swapped stories and advice during interactive training, in the hallways, and during a signature MDS ice cream social.

Hopi school has a new outlook.

Radiating faith in Louisiana A group of Mennonite conference pastors, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and MDS staff and volunteers toured several MDS disaster response sites in Southwest Louisiana in January 2024. What did they observe?

The Peace Academy—a school of the Hopi Tribe, a sovereign nation in Northeastern Arizona—needed repairs after the furnace failed and waterlines burst, causing widespread flood damage. With about four volunteers onsite each day, MDS replaced plumbing, ceilings, and drywall, working on bathrooms, the teachers’ lounge, a hallway, and 24-by- 23-foot classroom. They upgraded the insulation to help keep heating costs down and keep the school cooler in the summertime.

“One man spoke of the helplessness he felt as a father, husband, and son who couldn’t care for his family because they had no place to live. Not only is MDS rebuilding homes, but they are rebuilding hope! So many of the homeowners we met have faced such devastation and trauma here in Southwest Louisiana, especially with the onslaught of storms from August 2020 through October 2021. Many homeowners shared the sentiment that “This is home for us,” because often they were being asked ‘Why don’t you move somewhere else instead of living here?’ Every homeowner wanted us to understand that home is so much more than a building, but having an affordable home that is well built means so much to them.” —KARLA MORTON Moderator-elect, Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference

“I have seen the homes you’ve been building. They are to some of the highest standards and they’re built from the heart. You radiate faith. I’ve been really impressed with your work. I felt that there was a unity of purpose and a unity of mission. There is a lot of appreciation for MDS and the partnerships you’ve created. I have a challenge for all of you. Is there one thing that you can do wherever you are working on an MDS project to help people prepare for the next disaster? I guarantee you if you just take one step together as a family, as a community, whatever that might be, you’re going to be a lot safer for the next disaster.” —AARON LEVY Director of Individual and Community Preparedness for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

“We observed the joy and diligence of the volunteers as they gave of themselves. Nothing, however, could match the palpable elation and gladness of the new homeowners. It was not possible to remain unaffected by the beaming delight and thrill in their eyes. I came to a new appreciation of the work of MDS and the difference they are making in devastated lives. I also came away with a new admiration for the work of a government agency like FEMA. In those few days, days when I often felt my breath taken away, I learned that collaboration by people of goodwill, undergirded by a spirit of compassion, creates room for hope to dispel fear and despair.” —STANLEY GREEN Executive Conference Minister for the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference



Apply for a grant by July 15, 2024, at

Volunteers needed to rebuild homes in two locations this spring/summer.

Galen Waltner likes making cabinets.

A resident of Moundridge, Kansas, Waltner volunteers in the MDS cabinet shop in Goessel once a week, where he helps make the cabinets that are installed in MDS-built homes across the United States. During a recent volunteer stint in Louisiana, Waltner, for the first time, was able to help with the installation of cabinets in homes being built. He remarked, “It was awesome to see how they fit, and to see the project come

In response to destruction caused by wildfires, MDS is building homes in Lytton (the ancestral and unceded territory of the Nlaka’pamux Nation) and Shuswap (the ancestral and unceded territory of the Secwépemc Nation). Those interested in volunteering can contact MDS Canada.

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14 behind the hammer

behind the hammer 15


583 Airport Rd Lititz, PA 17543



“It’s about more than building houses. It’s about all those times when volunteers gave something of themselves—and got even more back from the people they helped.” —Bill Mast, longtime MDS project director

Homeowner Betty Holloway Moss Point, Mississippi

Volunteer Lu Yoder

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