“You won’t regret it!”: That’s what Laura Wallace of Abbotsford would say to anyone wondering if they should volunteer with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).
Laura and her husband, Bruce Kennedy, served with MDS in Grand Forks, B.C. this summer, helping people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by flooding in 2018.
The spring flood, caused by the fast melt of a record amount of snow in the nearby mountains, caused the Kettle and Granby rivers that flow through that city to overflow their banks. More than 2,800 people were forced from their homes.
Emergency officials in Grand Forks invited MDS – an organization that repairs and rebuilds houses damaged or destroyed by natural disasters in the U.S. and Canada – to come help citizens needing a hand.
MDS, in turn, asked for volunteers to help it respond to the needs in that community.
Laura and Bruce, who are members of St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church in Aldergrove, responded. They served for two weeks – one week in June and another in September.
For Laura, 64, a retired medical lab technologist, serving with MDS was a way to do something practical.
“I like to help with hands-on participation,” she said.
A highlight for her was seeing one family find hope in the midst of trauma.
When she arrived at the house, she was struck by how overwhelmed the homeowner, a single mother, was by the chaos that had engulfed her life.
“Doing even simple everyday tasks had become almost impossible for her,” Laura said. “The word that came to mind to describe her was ‘shell-shocked.’ ”
Laura and other volunteers spent the first day just listening and trying to help her achieve some type of order.
This included helping make decisions about what things she should keep and what things to discard, all in an effort to “help her take back some form of control in her life.”
The next day, things were different.
“When we arrived, she had started to make decisions about what to keep and what to let go,” Laura said. “I attribute this to having someone listen to her and just do some small practical tasks that she could not energize herself to do.”
As the week progressed, and the house was repaired, Laura saw hope return to the family.
For Bruce, 64, serving with MDS was a way for him and Laura to give back.
“We have had a good life and have been given so many gifts,” says the retired sheriff of why they went to Grand Forks. “It’s a chance to give back some of the gifts that God has bestowed on us.”
Bruce was also was moved by the responses from those they helped get back into their homes.
“It was great to see the joy on the faces of those we were helping, when they thought that they had lost everything,” he said.
“But then MDS comes along and gives them a chance to rebuild their lives, not just replacing what they had lost, but making it better than it was.”
This includes one family he helped during their second week of service.
“They were almost given a new lease on life as they saw their home being transformed before their eyes,” he says. “It was almost a daily occurrence to have their eyes well up with tears of joy as we made their home a better place for them to live.”
Looking back, the couple sees MDS as a gift to those who have suffered a natural disaster. But it also gave them something, too.
For Laura, it was the gift of being able to “represent God’s love in action as I actively participated in a project helping people to get back on their feet.”
“It’s a chance to help others, but also enrich your own,” Bruce shares.
MDS has opportunities for weekly volunteers in Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and North and South Carolina.
Those interested can call 1-800-241-8111 or visit mds.mennonite.net