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Just about a year ago, James Toews was lying flat on his back with a broken neck.

The former pastor of the Neighbourhood Community Church in Nanaimo, B.C., a Mennonite Brethren congregation, was working on the roof of his garage when a support gave way.

“It was my own fault,” he said. “I should have known better.”

He hit the ground head first, breaking his neck.

“I laid on the ground, paralyzed,” he said. 

Fortunately, he was able to move his right arm a bit; after about 45 minutes he managed to get his cell phone out of his pocket and dial for help.

Airlifted to hospital in Vancouver, surgeons put rods into his neck. What followed was a hard and lengthy recovery.

“I could have died,” he said of the December 28 accident. “I remember laying there and seeing turkey vultures flying above me. ‘Oh, great,’ I thought. ‘If they come for me, I can’t even fend them off.’”

But by early December, this year, he had recovered enough to volunteer with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Canada in Princeton, B.C. to help people impacted by that community’s disastrous mid-November flood.

“I can’t turn my head as easily as before, and I have some balance issues, but I’m ready to work,” he said.

Of his decision to volunteer with MDS, “this is my therapy, my holiday,” he said. “This is where my healing comes from, when I can put my overactive brain on hold and focus on practical problems.”

Toews, 69, is also a member of the MCC B.C. Board, which is partnering with MDS Canada to assist people in Princeton.

“It’s a perfect partnership,” said Toews of the way the two groups are working together. “We complement each other so well.”

Of his first hands-on MDS experience, Toews said he liked the way people from different denominations—there were people from Mennonite Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, United Church of Canada and Alliance churches in the group—came together to help others.

“This is life to me, being with different people and hearing their stories,” he said. “It’s great when we can work together for a common goal.”

He spent the week mucking out a basement with Mike Davis from Trail, B.C. before beginning to cut out damaged first floor walls. 

In addition to taking out buckets of mud out by hand, they managed to get a fair amount of mud on themselves—earning the moniker the “mud brothers.”

“It was great to get to know Mike,” he said. “You can learn so much about a person when you work together for a day.”

When he looks back a year to the accident, he is also thankful for the healing he has experienced.

“Being able to do this volunteering is a gift,” he said, adding, “it’s also a gift for MCC B.C. and MDS to be able to work together.”

"Being able to do this volunteering is a gift, it’s also a gift for MCC B.C. and MDS to be able to work together."

— James Toews, former pastor of the Neighbourhood Community Church

John Longhurst, MDS Canada communications 

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