What good can a stranger with no construction skills do in a disaster zone in a week? Quite a bit, it turns out.
While in high school I had the opportunity to serve on a Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) summer youth project in LaCrete, Alta. As a result of that experience, I changed my university plans and decided to study disaster recovery at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg.
This summer I was one of four adult leaders accompanying my church youth group to serve in Staten Island, N.Y., where MDS has been working for the past two years to repair homes that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The work we did was varied, ranging from installing drywall and painting, to framing a closet. In addition, we worked in partnership with the World Cares Center, preparing and serving meals for people in one of the hardest-hit parts of the island, and helping with park clean-up.
This trip I had the chance to see things from a leadership perspective and was amazed at how the experience impacted the youth and the amount of work we were able to accomplish in a week.
So why serve with MDS for a week?
I believe we are called to live our lives serving others as the hands and feet of Jesus. MDS works to rebuild homes so families can rebuild their lives. MDS would not be able to do this without the help of short-term volunteers. A week is a short time, but if many give a week it makes a big impact. It is incredible how much progress can be made on a home with inexperienced volunteers who are willing to work hard and learn from crew leaders.
But it’s not just about building. Living as the hands and feet of Jesus in this context also means meeting and interacting with homeowners and community members. It is not just simply being there and working, it’s also about the attitude you bring. If you come humbly thinking about it as an opportunity to learn, listen and give back, you and the people you are serving will benefit.
Throughout the week the youth volunteers learned that, in disaster situations, things can look very different on the outside than on the inside. A house that has nice new siding on it might be completely gutted inside, with someone sleeping on the floor.
They also learned that they may find the same with disaster survivors. Although they seem physically fine, the emotional recovery can take years. The youth volunteers each left with a unique story to share about serving, as they were impacted by this experience. And the home repairs they completed made an immediate difference for the homeowners.
I encourage everyone to consider serving with MDS. Go even if you don’t know about construction; just be willing to learn, work and listen. Be the hands and feet of Jesus for a week.
Stephanie Jorritsma of Winnipeg is a disaster recovery student at Canadian Mennonite University; she served as an intern with MDS this summer.
--Posted Sept. 24, 2014