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Pine Ridge, S.D. – Sometimes a week of volunteer work with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is a stepping stone to another service project in another place and time.

Recent college graduate Chris Guntz has been building on his service experiences one step at a time toward what might be one of biggest adventures yet.

In July, he volunteered at his first MDS project, spending a week helping to build homes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, traveling there as part of a group from the Vincent Mennonite Church in Spring City, Pennsylvania.

He also had many previous service experiences with other groups in locations including Honduras and Puerto Rico, along with a three-week study program in Costa Rica.

Guntz attended Houghton College in New York, where he majored in business administration and minored in Spanish.

At the MDS site in Pine Ridge, Guntz reflected on the lives of some of the Oglala Lakota people he briefly met in the course of his work.

“It’s a lot tougher than one could imagine in terms of living conditions,” he said, “and how the Lakota have been mistreated. It just seems so lopsided with unfairness.”

The team in Pine Ridge helped to raise walls for new homes being built by MDS in partnership with the local Ogala Lakota long term recovery committee.

As with all MDS projects building a house for disaster survivors is only part of the volunteer experience. For some, it can be a launching pad to deeper service encounters, like what is planned for Guntz.

His mother, Susan Guntz, who traveled to Pine Ridge as a youth sponsor, said she believes her son is ready for his new endeavors beyond Pine Ridge, because she knows he will come back changed.

She is the mother of 10 children – some foster, some adopted, some stepchildren and some biological – ranging in age from 35 to 14 months. “Chris has always been the one to do things like carry the groceries in without asking,” she said, predicting that her son will grow immensely in his next endeavor.

“He’ll never be the same,” she added, with a slight break in her voice. “I mean that in a good way.”

And where is his post-MDS endeavor taking him?

A friend of the Guntz family operates “Top of the World Coffee” in Kathmandu, Nepal, and as he opens a second shop this year, he was seeking help.

The shop serves both Nepali and imported fresh-roasted coffee, and also provides local jobs and employment in one of the world’s most challenging business environments. One of its guiding principles is to be “God-honoring in every aspect.”

He has always liked coffee but during his junior year of college he discovered his residential advisor roasted his own coffee. “I asked him to teach me how to roast,” Guntz recalls, “and Thanksgiving of that same year I bought supplies and got into roasting coffee.”

Feeling he could contribute to this vision, Guntz can draw from his MDS experience an understanding that when serving in local communities it is important to understand their context, their lives before the disaster hit.

He will continue with his desire to serve others by working from October 2017 through September 2018 in Nepal, accepting housing and meals as his pay.

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