Under a roof together


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

In the 1990s, one of the top auto manufacturers in the U.S. had the slogan “Quality is Job One.” The promotion lasted for 19 years, then was jettisoned to something newer. For MDS, the quality of the work we do is always a high priority. Our core values of integrity and sustainability are instrumental in how we do our work. Working in an ethical, honest, and legal manner we, as God’s stewards, strive to incorporate “We Can (Always) Do Better”

quality materials and workmanship, and environmental awareness in providing safe, affordable and sustainable housing. I was reminded of this during my visit in February to four of the projects along the U.S. Gulf Coast where our volunteers are responding to the most recent floods and hurricanes. On a day in Dulac, Louisiana, I realized this was the same community we constructed a new “Shelter for Life” house in the summer of 2007. The wall panels were constructed on the parking lot during the MC USA

Yearlong Volunteer Program

Do you have a heart for service? Do you enjoy seeing new places and meeting new people? The MDS Yearlong Volunteer Program provides an opportunity to expand your leadership, collaboration, and construction skills while serving with MDS to help bring people home after disasters. Yearlong volunteers serve from August through July at multiple MDS projects across the U.S. or Canada. MDS provides training, food, lodging, travel support, tools, and meaningful work. Applicants should be at least 19 years old and one year out of high school.

MDS volunteer Esther King works on the home of Lena and Paul Deon in Dulac, Louisiana.

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 Photographs: Paul Hunt, MDS volunteers Designer: Julie Kauffman STAY CONNECTED If you have story ideas, need subscription information, want to donate or volunteer, please contact us:

MDS volunteers Johann Zimmerman and David King inspect the underside of a house built by MDS in 2007 that withstood the winds of Hurricane Ida.


Conference in San Jose, California, and then trucked to Louisiana. Here the house was constructed well above the flood plain on reinforced concrete blocks and survived Hurricane Ida, (Category 4 Atlantic hurricane that became the second most damaging and intense hurricane on record to make landfall in Louisiana). We gave the house a thorough inspection. Over fifteen years the house has withstood multiple storms. But, we found some components of failure and want to learn from that. For example, the screws in the metal roof need to be longer and the insulation under the house needs to be better secured. After some of our projects are completed, we call for an evaluation by a third party seeking to improve our practices and stay true to our mission. An evaluation is useful for historical purposes, financial accountability, consistency of mission and respect for the culture. It’s especially informative if we need to return years later to the same area. And this last point has proved itself. We are back in Dulac building ten new homes and repairing many more new roofs. Better than ever before.

FEATURE — HARGILL, TEXAS A blessing from God 4

FEATURE – BARRY’S BAY, ONTARIO All under the same roof again 8 HOMEOWNER EXPERIENCE – MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY One day at a time 10

VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE – MCALLEN, TEXAS Treasured time together 11

FEATURE – DULAC, LOUISIANA The stars and God–that’s all we got 12

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

Q+A Volunteer Andrew Weaver 13

Notes from the field 14

ON THE COVER: Lena and Paul Deon are planning to celebrate their 50th anniversary in a new home constructed by MDS volunteers in Dulac, Louisiana. Photo by Paul Hunt.

Apply by July 1. For more information or to apply, email or call the MDS office in your country.

Kevin King Executive Director


behind the hammer

MDS volunteer Darvin Garman builds the steps to the home of Ms. Maura and Rafael.

Who are we helping? As weekly MDS volunteers come to build homes in the Rio Grande Valley, they also open their eyes about who they’re helping. Volunteers learn that at least half the residents in the colonias in the Rio Grande Valley are U.S. citizens or otherwise legally in the U.S., and that many are going through the process of applying for asylum. Each week Wednesday afternoons are set aside for MDS volunteers to learn more about immigration and border issues. The sessions are led by local residents, including Mennonite Central Committee service workers, lawyers offering pro-bono legal aid to immigrants seeking asylum, and members of local churches. Volunteers learn about the forces of war, gang violence and persecution that prompt people to leave their home countries. When volunteers sign up to serve in McAllen, they can opt out of the learning piece—but Dube said so far everyone has been willing to participate. “Volunteers seem to be willing and openminded,” said Dube. “We’ve had a couple of young people who said, ‘what border issues?’ They get their eyes and ears opened a little.” Through storytelling and roleplaying, volunteers learn why people risk their lives to come across the border. Jennifer Harbury, a frequent speaker at the education program, shares stories that leave people stunned and

“We’ve had a couple of young people who said, ‘what border issues?’ They get their eyes and ears opened a little.”

Homeowners and flood survivors Ms. Maura and her husband Rafael stand on their new front steps.


A blessing from God

Ms. Maura couldn’t see who was working on her new home in Hargill, Texas—but she could hear the sounds of hope. With fading vision caused by diabetes, she took her husband’s arm as they stood smiling in front of their home. Inside, MDS volunteers from Ohio and Pennsylvania taped and mudded interior ceilings while outside they completed a set of stairs leading down from the front porch. “I can’t see the volunteers,” said Ms. Maura, in Spanish, translated by MDS Project Director Carl Dube. “But I can hear them working. I know in my heart they are doing a good job. They are a blessing from God.” Ms. Maura’s house is one of six new builds that will be completed by MDS volunteers in the Rio Grande Valley, with at least four more repair jobs in the planning stages. Neighborhoods like Ms. Maura’s—called “colonias”— bore the brunt of 2018 and 2019 flooding that swept into the tributaries of the Rio Grande River.

sad—but newly determined to help. Harbury is an attorney, activist and member of the Angry Tias and Abuelas (Angry Aunts and Grandmothers), an organization that feeds the hungry, visits the imprisoned and comforts grieving people stranded by U.S immigration policy at the U.S southern border. “Why are people coming from South America and Central America?” Harbury asked. “Basically what we’re seeing now are civilians fleeing north from an absolute horror show brought on by the death squads that are now drug lords,” she said. “Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. I’m thinking of all the people running north to get their kids out of there.”

Volunteers open their toolboxes— and their eyes—to respond to flooding in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas

MDS volunteer Barb Seaman muds the Flores / Martinez home.



behind the hammer

behind the hammer

Left: Maria Lira outside her newly reroofed home in Pharr, Texas

Below left: MDS volunteer Steve Reinford at the Flores / Martinez home.

“Your quality of work is excellent. But it’s your spirit, the way you do your work– it says a lot.” –SUSAN HELLUMS, RIO GRANDE VALLEY LONG TERM DISASTER RECOVERY

Above: Juanita Murillo and daughter Ruth with their photo wall frame of volunteers who worked on their home.

Term Disaster Recovery, said her organization has 38 cases open of people who need new homes or repairs for badly damaged residences. Hellums said she not only appreciates the care with which MDS volunteers do their home-building, she also appreciates the care they show toward those they’re helping. “Your quality of work is excellent,” she said, speaking to volunteers. “But it’s your spirit, the way you do your work— it says a lot.” During the rest of 2022, in addition to continuing work on homes, MDS will be involved in building a 60x90-foot administrative building and three dormitory buildings for La Posada Providencia, a temporary shelter for immigrants who are pursuing asylum claims in the US. Meanwhile, many volunteers who serve in the Rio

Grande Valley share that their eyes are opened about who immigrants really are: they are neighbors in need. MDS volunteer Jay Witmer said he’d been thinking about who dwells in the house of the Lord. “I turned 76, and that’s the average age of the white American male to live,” he said. For many in the colonias, the average life span is shorter—and many have risked their lives to get there. Witmer and other volunteers are working so that Ms. Maura and many others will dwell in homes built by people who are showing God’s love. “At the end of my days, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” Witmer said. “Until then, I’m going to help as many people as I can.” — Susan Kim

Showing God’s love In McAllen, MDS works with partner organizations, including the Rio Texas Disaster Response Ministry of the United Methodist Church, Rio Grande Valley Long Term Disaster Recovery, and La Posada Providencia, a local ministry that offers hospitality to asylum seekers. United Methodist Committee on Disaster Relief Construction Manager Roland Pecina said MDS volunteers provide not only skilled labor, but also a sense of accompaniment for the people in the community. “I grew up five blocks away,” said Pecina as he stood, thoughtfully watching MDS volunteers work on a colonia home. “I think Jesus called us here—that this is our sanctuary and this is our gospel. What better way to show God’s love?” Susan Hellums, head of the Rio Grande Valley Long

Above right: MDS volunteer Jade Seaman muds the Flores / Martinez home.

Below right: Flores / Martinez home in Edinburg, Texas.



behind the hammer

behind the hammer

Mennonites and Catholics work together to reunite a family in Barry’s Bay, Ontario

“I don’t know where we’d be without this light at the end of the tunnel.”


A family separated by illness is being reunited through the joint efforts of the MDS Ontario Unit and the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus. Through the project, Marc and Carole Jobin and their nine children will be able to live together in the same house. The family was separated three years ago after their youngest child, Marie-Ange, suffered a brain injury at birth. Until that time they lived together in a 100-year-old farmhouse near Barry’s Bay, where the family raises livestock and bees and grows vegetables. Due to the injury, Marie-Ange requires a sterile and temperature-controlled living space—something not possible in a century-old house that uses a wood stove for heating. “With a house that old, you get all the charms and the flaws,” said Marc, who works as a paramedic. Since her birth, Carole and Marie-Ange—who requires around-the-clock care from her mother and health care workers—have been living in a rented house in town, about a 15-minute drive from the farm. The situation causes stress since the children can’t see their mother or sister on a regular basis. It’s also an added expense for the one-salary family. “We considered moving into town, but we don’t want to have to sell the farm,” said Marc. “We like living close to the land. It suits our lifestyle and helps us feel closer to God. Selling it would be heartbreaking.” But moving seemed the only option until they came to the attention of Myles Dear, a parent of a medically fragile All under the same roof again



child and an advocate for families with medically fragile children. Dear, a Roman Catholic from Ottawa who is also a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization, was moved to help. “During a prayer time last year, God told me now is the right time to bring this family together,” he said. Dear contacted various levels of government and non- profit organizations looking for assistance. But he came up empty. Then he remembered how MDS Canada had worked with Roman Catholics in 2019 in Westmeath, about an hour from Barry’s Bay, to help repair homes damaged by flooding. That included volunteers staying at the rectory belonging to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Parish. “I thought, ‘Why not ask the Mennonites if they can help?’” Dear said, adding he believes “God led me in that direction.” He called a local Mennonite pastor, who suggested he call MDS Canada. MDS Canada contacted Nick Hamm of the Ontario Unit, who asked Osiah Horst to visit the Jobins. “When I met the family, and saw their circumstances, there was no question about what we had to do,” said Horst. After considering the situation, the MDS Ontario Unit agreed to provide the labour to build an addition to the farmhouse where Marie-Ange could live. Donald Macdonald, Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus of the Saint Patrick Basilica Ottawa Council 485, is leading the $150,000 fundraising campaign for materials

and subcontracts. What makes fundraising easier is knowing MDS is involved in the project, Macdonald said. “Due to the flood response project in 2019, there is a high level of trust between Mennonites and Catholics in the Ottawa Valley,” he said, adding about a third of the needed funds have come in to date. As for Marc, he’s amazed by what is happening for his family. “I don’t know where we’d be without this light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, noting the plan calls for the addition to be ready by March or April. “It will be great to have us all under the same roof.” The project has also strengthened the Roman Catholic family’s faith. “We really sense God’s hand in this,” he said. Dear agreed. “This is a divine orchestration, bringing together MDS and the Knights of Columbus,” he said. “God is a big God. He wanted us to work together. Together, we can make the world more beautiful for this family.” — John Longhurst

“God is a big God. Together we can make the world more beautiful for this family.”




behind the hammer

behind the hammer

Sisters work alongside each other to help flood survivors

2019 flooding. “I enjoyed traveling with Wanda,” said Seymour. “And I am humbled that she is five years older than I am, and was able to keep

volunteer experience

Treasured time together

up with everyone else on the work crews.” Knight, who serves on the board of the MDS Kansas Unit, said that volunteering with MDS is a good way for family members to make time for each other. “I’m glad we could go together,” said Knight. “I know Valetta enjoyed it too.” The two women both said they felt fortunate to be able to attend a house dedication during their stay. “The family was very pleased to have their new home and begin their new lives in it,” said Seymour. All the volunteers in McAllen spent one afternoon attending a program on immigration and border issues. Knight said that the information presented helped her learn about the complex issues immigrants are facing. “It’s overwhelming,” she said. “When people would ask me to explain it, I couldn’t. But the speakers helped tell the stories of real people. I think it would be good to have these kinds of programs at more MDS projects.” Seymour said she knew nothing about the colonias—the neighborhoods in which MDS volunteers are working— before the trip. “These neighborhoods, because they are not within a municipality, are left without services we take for granted, such as trash pickup, police, road maintenance—and some don’t even have water or electricity,” she said. “And we heard from a volunteer who is working tirelessly to help immigrants on either side of the border,” said Seymour. “She regularly crosses into Mexico to take a few supplies to people living in dire circumstances in tent cities where they are waiting to be assessed for asylum.” – Susan Kim

homeowner experience

She’s pretty amazing!” That’s how Valetta Seymour described her sister, Wanda Knight, as the two women volunteered together for MDS in the Rio Grand Valley in February. Even though both sisters live in Kansas, they had not spent much time together during the past several years. Both widowed, they decided to make the trip—along with 13 volunteers from Kansas—to McAllen, Texas, to work on homes for flood survivors who bore the brunt of 2018 and

One day at a time

Chasity Walton stood in front of her home, which was nearly torn in half by a tornado that struck Mayfield, Kentucky on December 10, 2021. She rode out the storm up the street at her mother’s house with her three children, ages 13, 7 and 2. “I grabbed some diapers for my two-year-old and we went to my mother’s,” she said. That was all she had time to grab; she lost nearly everything when the tornado tore

For about six weeks after the storm, MDS volunteers helped with early response by using heavy equipment to remove debris and demolish houses beyond repair. Now MDS is partnering with Homes and Hope for Kentucky, created to serve as the long-term disaster recovery organization. For people like Walton, MDS volunteers are bringing a bright spot of hope in a recovery that could take years. “I’ve lived in Mayfield for 35 years—all my life,” said Walton. “I’m staying in Mayfield, but right now I have to take it one day at a time.” – Susan Kim

through her home, and a deluge of rain drenched everything inside. Walton is one of about 10,000 people who live in Mayfield, which continues on a path of long-term recovery. The tornado

“I’ve lived in Mayfield for 35 years–all my life.”


damaged or destroyed about 1,300 homes, businesses and churches. Several days of heavy rain followed the initial storm, further weakening structures and, particularly once the temperatures warmed up, opening a breeding ground for mold.

The Murillo family outside their new home in Texas

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q + a

MDS volunteer Andrew Weaver, from his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, reflected on why he keeps serving, year after year.

Life-changing experiences on the Louisiana bayou

Meet volunteer Andrew Weaver Q: WHERE HAVE YOU VOLUNTEERED? A: I have volunteered as a crew leader in Marianna, Florida, and twice in La Grange, Texas. I also served as a short-term volunteer in Lake County, California, and Fort Myers, Florida. Q: WHAT KEEPS YOU COMING BACK? A: The relationships I have built with other volunteers and the chance to build new relationships. Q: HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A VOLUNTEER? A: I was asked by a friend if I was interested in volunteering for a week.

Then he contracted COVID-19, spending more than a week in the hospital. When he finally felt well enough to clean up his damaged home, a cold snap brought subfreezing temperatures. “We spent some time living in a tent with the kids,” said Parfait. “I mean, bad after bad after bad. Every step we took, it was like getting pushed back again. If there wasn’t bad luck—there was no luck.” His oldest son began to feel anxious and had trouble sleeping. “I finally took my son out on the road here,” he said, pointing to the dirt road leading up his house. “In case you haven’t noticed, it’s dark out here on the bayou! I told him, ‘Look, son, all we got is God and the stars. The rest of it—is just stuff.” All around him is evidence his luck has changed as volunteers constructed an elevated

The new home of Lena and Paul Deon being built by MDS Storm Aid volunteers in Dulac, Louisiana, will replace their house that was damaged by Hurricane Ida in 2021.

MDS volunteer Annie Glick from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, paints the home of Abraham & Robin Parfait in Dulac Louisiana.


Abraham Parfait

A: There are always little moments that absolutely make it worth any sacrifice you are making to be there. One of my favorites is when the long-term staff sit around and tell stories of projects and experiences from years prior. Every year, going back is better than before because I’m more likely to reconnect with volunteers I’ve met before.

Abraham Parfait is a bayou man through and through. A resident of Dulac, Louisiana, stories spilled out of him, drifting into the ears of the MDS and Storm Aid volunteers building his new house. “I’ve got two boys, three and 10,” he said. “I’m 50 years old. I’m on disability,” he explained. Just as he and his wife put their nest egg into a new home, Hurricane Ida took everything, slamming through Dulac in August 2020 as a Category 4 storm. “We lost everything,” said Parfait. “My wife even lost all her baby pictures.” “The stars and God— that’s all we got”

1,150-square-foot home for Parfait and his family. As the group—all from the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania area—painted the exterior, Parfait sang their praises. “They are amazing workers,” he said. “You don’t have to babysit them.” Most of the volunteers were under 25, and many were first-time volunteers who rode a bus for more than 20 hours to come help in the bayou. Project Coordinator Eli Stoltzfus said he believes there will be plenty of work for volunteers in Dulac for months to come. “If you go down the road, there’s so much damage,” he said, adding that he sees what a life-changing experience volunteering can be for a young person. “Oftentimes they want to come again—or stay longer,” he said. — Susan Kim

“There are always little moments that absolutely make it worth any sacrifice you are making to be there.”


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Monte Lake, British Columbia

cooking for a crowd

notes from the f i eld

Find updates at

In Mayfield, Kentucky, MDS volunteer and heavy equipment operator Justin Weaver helps clean up the remnants of Al Doran’s home demolished by an EF 4 tornado in December 2021.

help to recover from their losses.” At Monte Lake, 28 structures were destroyed by the White Rock fire, which displaced thousands of people. MDS Canada, working in partnership with its B.C. Unit, will rebuild up to five new homes in the community over the summer and into the fall. “These people lost everything,” said Penner, noting one family of four has been living in a small camper since losing their home last August. “I could see the strain on the parent’s faces after spending a winter inside that small space,” he said. Insurance can be hard to get in remote areas like Monte Lake, or is prohibitively expensive, leaving some people uninsured or under-insured. “The people we are helping fall into those categories,” Penner said. The 2021 wildfire season in B.C. was the third worst on record, with more than 1,600 fires burning nearly 8,700 square kilometres/3,360 square miles of land.


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/

Beignets Dulac resident Abraham Parfait shared these beignets—a fried French pastry—with MDS volunteers who were building his new home.


Apple butter mixed with hope The Dohner family, along with their church family at Ashland Brethren in Christ in Ohio, has a yearly tradition of making apple butter. This year, they donated proceeds from their apple butter sales to MDS. “We all recognized the challenges recent tornadoes brought and unanimously voted to aid MDS in your service to those in need,” said Dale Dohner.

11/4 c. all-purpose flour 1 tsp. baking powder 1/8 tsp. kosher salt 2 large eggs, separated 1/2 c. granulated sugar 1 tbsp. melted butter

the U.S. served 25,286 days. They gave their time, skills and compassion to build 74 new homes, complete 114 repairs, finish 343 cleanups, and build five new bridges for households who experienced a disaster.



MDS Annual Celebration brings joyful connections near and far The MDS Annual Celebration, held January 21-22 in Sarasota, Florida, drew nearly 400 joyful participants, some in-person and some through a livestream. Together, they reminisced, reconnected, and shared their vision for the future. Exploring the theme “Restoring Hope With Love,” the celebration included opening remarks from MDS Executive Director Kevin King, who reflected on how he and other MDS leaders were put to the test during 2021. “At the very least, 2021 convinced me anew that MDS volunteers can do hard things—together,” he said. “We often see innovation come out of these periods of change and upheaval. We can restore hope with love.” During Fiscal Year 2021 (August 1, 2020-July 31, 2021), 3,393 MDS volunteers from across Canada and

Unique MDS partnership is “God’s handiwork” “God’s handiwork.” That’s how Heather Nesler sums up the connections that brought MDS to help people in tornado-stricken Mayfield, Kentucky. Nesler, who grew up in Mayfield and still lives there with her family, is helping to lead a new nonprofit, Homes and Hope for Kentucky, created to serve as the long-term disaster recovery organization helping tornado survivors in the town of about 10,000 people. “These connections that brought MDS to Mayfield—I believe they are God’s handiwork,” said Nesler, who also describes her love for her hometown. “Mayfield is a very close-knit community,” she said. “It’s a great place to raise your family.”

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract Vegetable oil, for frying Powdered sugar, for dusting

Making apple butter in Ohio


In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, ¼ cup water, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir to combine, then fold into dry ingredients.

Volunteers needed in Monte Lake With all the attention on the severe flooding that hit British Columbia in November 2021, it’s easy to forget about those who lost their homes to last summer’s wildfires in that province. But MDS Canada hasn’t forgotten. In May they will begin rebuilding homes in Monte Lake, located about 50 kilometers/30 miles from Kamloops in the B.C. interior. “While we are responding to help people affected by the floods in Princeton and the Fraser Valley, we also want to help those impacted by the fires,” said Ross Penner, Director of Canadian Operations.“They also need

Beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form, then fold into batter.

Heat oil to 375º. Drop small spoonfuls of batter into hot oil and fry about 5 minutes.

Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

14 behind the hammer

behind the hammer 15


583 Airport Rd Lititz, PA 17543


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

Join the MDS crew

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