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Bloomington, Tex. — At the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) project site in Victoria County where people are just beginning to recover from Hurricane Harvey, a sign on the wall reads: “True service is love in working clothes.”

And sometimes true love is service together. From couples who have been married for decades, to newlyweds, to those in between, love was in the air in February at MDS projects in Texas. For a “Lone Star” State, Texas had more than its share of togetherness.

In Rockport, office manager Jo Eidse said she and her husband Kerry, have been working on MDS projects together every year since 2001. She recalled how the pattern first started: “It was Kerry’s idea,” she said. “He came home and said he liked volunteering but that he wasn’t doing it without me.”

In Bloomington, Velda Kennell, who was serving as a cook, said she and her husband, long-time MDS guru Leonard, started serving together in 2005 after Hurricane Charley (along with three other hurricanes) struck Florida in 2004. While Velda cooks for the Bloomington volunteers, Leonard assists as a crew leader.

Now that they’ve retired, Velda said, Leonard sometimes likes to do the cooking. “Actually, he loves to cook,” she said. “He makes these outlandish breakfast dishes. Like stuffed hash browns – this thin layer of hash browns, actually two layers – one in one skillet, one in another, then add onions and peppers and meat. All while I go on my walk early in the morning!”

They don’t always agree on cooking methods. “Leonard made biscuits and gravy out of the MDS cookbook,” she said. “Biscuits, now, you’re just supposed to mix until they’re moist. He used the mixer. But you know what? They were wonderful!”

Helping Velda in the kitchen was Joan Dyck, who will soon get married to a man she first met because each of their daughters suggested they go out for coffee and talk about MDS.

“The way I figure, it was God and MDS and our daughters who got us together,” she said. “I did accidentally leave the sugar out of a recipe recently, and they were joking that I’m in love and can’t concentrate.”

“It was your idea!”

 Among couples, just whose idea is it to start a life of MDS service? Henri and Stefi Dick have been married for three years and four months. It was Stefi’s idea, she says, and that meant leaving their home country of Germany for a life on the road for an entire year, dotting from one MDS project to another.

“I wanted to travel and volunteer,” said Stefi. “So, I asked him if he would like to do it. He didn’t travel much before. I was so surprised when he said yes! Now I believe that’s the place God put us.”

Other young couples have found the same place of service. Marlene and Eugene Shirk, from Bedford County, Pennsylvania, have been married for three months, and decided to take the train to Texas. “This is the furthest I’ve ever traveled,” said Marlene, “and it’s a good way to take a trip.”

Another young couple, Judith and David Zimmerman, left their 13-month-old in the excellent care of her grandmother in Union County, Pennsylvania, to come along. “We see it as partly a vacation but also a chance to do something to help people,” said Judith.

David and Judith inspired their friends, another couple, Sylvia and Allen Hoover, to travel to Texas as well.

“It has been our dream together to come help somewhere,” said Allen. “We can’t imagine what the people in Texas have been through. We tend to complain with our mouths full.”

Love is in the air – and deep in the heart of long-term disaster recovery. While Hurricane Harvey survivors continue to rebuild, MDS volunteers will continue to show the kind of love that lasts for the long haul, a love that brings hope to so many communities in Texas and across Canada and the U.S.

By Susan Kim for MDS


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