More than 1,000 Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers, donors and partners traveled from across the U.S. and Canada for the Annual Celebration on Feb. 10-11, held at The Worship Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Exploring the theme “The Joy of Serving,” they prayed, sang, shared ideas—and collectively ate more than 1,220 pounds of potatoes prepared by Storm Aid, who along with the Lancaster MDS Unit hosted the event.
During the opening night Annual Celebration Dinner, MDS Executive Director Kevin King reflected that this gathering strengthens the bonds of the relationships central to the spirit of MDS.
“By gathering, we tell stories, faith stories of how God is present and working in our lives—how we treat our neighbor, how we deal with the less fortunate, how we attempt to serve the disaster survivors,” he said.
During 2022, 6,495 volunteers from across Canada and the U.S. gave their time, skills and compassion to build 57 new homes, complete 302 repairs, finish 281 cleanups and build three new bridges. This volunteer labor is a value* of $9.39 million USD/$12.96 million CDN.
“I want MDS to continually be in a posture of listening, learning and evaluating our efforts,” said King.
The evening of celebration also featured performances by the Mennonite Children’s Choir of Lancaster and Piercing Word Ministries.
A silent auction for a handcrafted wood footstool made by John Zuck from reclaimed, flood-damaged wood, drew contributions of $3,700
Keynote speaker Marcus T. Coleman, Jr., director of the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, spoke Feb. 11 about what it means to “choose joy,” particularly when serving people who are suffering from pain, loss and grief.
Coleman, who has served at the intersection of building public and private partnerships with faith-based and non-profit organizations for more than 15 years, expressed admiration for the way MDS comes alongside people and organizations from across the country and works with partners from across the country—with a spirit of saying “yes” to serving.
“The word ‘no’, can be visceral—it can be cold and it can be closed,” he said. “But we can also say ‘No, we are not going to stand for the status quo any longer. No, we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines this time. No, we won’t let any system or circumstance steal our joy.’”
Speakers from every region also shared their best practices, insights and creative ideas to respond, rebuild, and restore the lives of disaster survivors.
And, as she oversaw five cooks from Storm Aid preparing potatoes—an operation that took seven hours—cook Ruthie Stoltzfus expressed her own joy of serving.
“If it’s good—it’s because God made it good,” she said. “He gives us his blessings.”
Next year’s Annual Celebration is slated for Fresno, California, in February.
Video recordings from the event can be found here:
Mennonite Disaster Service is a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches dedicated to responding to natural and man-made disasters in Canada and the United States.
Their aim is to assist the most vulnerable community members, individuals and families who would not otherwise have the means to recover. MDS volunteers provide the skills and labor needed to respond, rebuild and restore in the wake of a disaster.