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The Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Annual Celebration & Worship, set for Feb. 6 at 2 p.m. EST, will offer a worship service, featured speakers, a video recap of 2020, and stories of volunteers who embody the theme “Unexpected Blessings, Unexpected Opportunities.”

No registration is necessary for the hourlong online event. At 2 p.m. on Feb. 6, a link will become available at mds.org/annual-celebration and thereafter the link will remain available to viewers.

The theme is based on 2 Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

The featured speaker, Pastor John Garland from the San Antonio Mennonite Church, will reflect on his work serving refugees. Garland, who founded a healing hospitality ministry for asylum seekers from his church, leads daily Psalm-based prayers and also works with people held in immigration prisons.

A roller coaster

Though decided upon before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the theme is particularly relevant considering the unexpected turns of 2020, reflected Wayne and Carole Stucky, co-chairs of MDS Region 3, which is hosting the event.

“It has been a real roller coaster,” said Wayne, whose region had picked a venue in Texas long before COVID-19 restricted travel.

“Texas, here we come,” said Carole. “Then we didn’t.”

Aside from the obvious disappointment of not meeting face-to-face—“the Canadians were looking forward to going south, I think,” said Wayne—the Stuckys are also lamenting that parts of the MDS family who aren’t online won’t be able to attend.

“I know the busload of Amish who usually come were looking forward to it,” said Wayne.

MDS Executive Director Kevin King agreed that, while the celebration will be seen and shared among many viewers, he will miss the hugs and handshakes.

But he also cited an unexpected blessing.

“Practically speaking, in these austere times for many, I can’t help but think of the dollars saved by not traveling,” he said. “Instead, these funds will help bring disaster survivors back home.”

King said he is deeply appreciative of the flexibility and resilience of MDS volunteers and the MDS Board during 2020.

“I am also excited that COVID-19 hasn’t stopped us from telling the MDS story,” he said, “the story of one neighbor stopping to help another in need—the essence of love as Christ Jesus taught us.”

Behind the scenes

The Stuckys and King also expressed appreciation for the work of MDS staff behind the scenes who are busy planning the celebration. Among those is Brian Pipkin, MDS executive assistant, who coordinates many aspects.

“MDS values relationships,” reflected Pipkin. “We knew that going online is not the same as meeting in person.”

But he’s happy that COVID-19 didn’t stop the celebration.

“We were determined to move forward, even if that meant going virtual,” he said. “Although we hope to meet in person in 2022, we will continue to stream the event online for those that cannot attend.”

As the Stuckys prepare to end their term as regional board chairs, they said they’d like to spend more time with their home church, the Southern Hills Mennonite Church in Topeka, Kansas.

Wayne added that he’s going to relax a bit, too. “I plan to sit on my dock at the Lake of the Ozarks with a fishing line in the water—and no bait on the hook,” he said.

Responded Carole: “That’ll last about two hours.”

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