The body at work

Dottie Reed, Souderton

atwork.jpgMy husband and I are retired from full-time occupations and are now busy with volunteer church and community activities. Shouldn’t we be relaxing more, traveling more? We are getting older and some things are harder for us, but we still have skills and expertise that could be used.

John 13:14 says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash each other’s feet.” Jesus often instructed his followers to serve others and Jesus served by putting others first. And so it was that my husband Keith and I decided that we could serve the Lord by using our skills with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) for the month of January.

After the holiday break, long-term volunteers began arriving at New Iberia, Louisiana. These “long-termers” were from Colorado, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Alberta. What a diverse group! Our commonality was that we were there to serve the Lord.

Keith’s first challenge was to build a center beam, 2 x 12 x 46 feet long. With others pitching in, the beam was quickly built, but Keith began to fear that human power alone would not be able to lift it. A set of short-term volunteers arrived that Sunday night, fifteen of whom were from Franconia Conference congregations. All 30 pairs of hands hoisted the beam into place. “Oh me, of little faith!” The beam was lifted and placed it in the correct position within 10 minutes.

After the beam was up, everything began to fit. When we needed framers, we got framers; when we needed roofers, roofers arrived; and when we needed dry-wallers, they came or volunteers who were willing to learn.

When Keith first met Miss Janora Arceneaux, the beneficiary of the house, her first question to him was, “Do you really think you can finish my house in seven weeks?” “With God’s help and willing hands, we will,” replied Keith. She continued to have doubts.

Miss Janora’s 14 year-old son, Jacob, would come home from school and ask what he could do to help. Each week he wanted to meet the new volunteers and get to know them.

I was asked to serve as a cook with three others. At first I was disappointed that I would not be able to be out among the survivors, but there were many opportunities to interact with the homeowners and hear their stories.

When we left home, we were only planning to be away one month. But with Keith’s expertise in plumbing, electrical, and carpentry skills, he was asked to stay for another month, to which we agreed. Since I had obligations at home, I could only stay for one more week.

On Friday, February 23rd, four dedications were held: one for a brand new house, two for renovated houses, and another for a church. Each homeowner was presented with a wall hanging (quilted by MDS Sister-Link friends from Colorado and Pennsylvania), a Bible, and a copy of, “The Hammer Rings Hope,” along with hugs and tears of joy from the volunteers.

We heard one thing over and over again: “You’re here. You said you would come on Monday, and here you are.” Often landowners are promised work by a local firm or another group, but no one shows up. We were asked many questions: “Why do so many people give a week of their vacation time to come help me? They don’t even know me.” “Why would they leave their families to come here?”

“MDS can only build houses. It is up to the owner to make it a home,” said Rudy Janzen, a long-term volunteer from Alberta, at the dedication for Miss Janora’s new house in Delcambre, LA. The seven foot block foundation was laid in December. With the help of volunteers, including many from Franconia Conference, the house was completed in seven weeks.

What brings you to volunteer your time and energy? No matter if you remove debris, muck out basements, tarp a roof, drywall and muddle for the first time, or cook for the volunteers, the followers and the body of Christ are active, alive, and witnessing.