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What do you get when you put four retired in teachers in a pick-up truck and head out to do service with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS)?

A road trip! That’s what Peter Bartel, 81, Frank Reimer, 79, Ernie Ewert, 70, and Peter Andres, 74, did in early June.

The four, who volunteer to repair furniture at the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) thrift shop in Abbotsford, drove from the B.C.’s Fraser Valley to Grand Forks in the southeastern part of the province to help repair homes damaged in last year’s spring floods.

For Bartel, a member of Emmanuel Mennonite Church, the trip was a chance “work with my hands and be with friends.”

It’s also a chance to give back; he was a child in eastern Europe in 1944 when his family fled from Soviet forces during World War II to safety in the west.

They lived as refugees in Germany for five years, receiving help from MCC, the almost 100-year-old international relief and development organization of Mennonite churches in North America.

Service with MCC and MDS is a way “give back,” he said of his second time doing service with the organization.

Frank Reimer, a member of Grace Evangelical Bible Church, has a similar story. In his case, it involved his father, who received food from MCC in the Ukraine as a teenager. “MCC saved his life,” he said. “If not for that, I wouldn’t be here.”

This is also his second time with MDS. He likes it because he gets to spend time with “some great people,” work with his hands, and to give back.

Ernie Ewert, who is a member of Highland Community Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, grew up with stories of how MCC helped his parents in the Ukraine in the early 1920s.

“They were so grateful for the assistance, and to come to Canada,” he said.

Service with MDS is a way to return the favour, and also a great way to spend a week, he said.

“I really like the spirit here,” he said of his first time with the organization. “And I like hearing the stories from the clients.”

Peter Andres was just 17 days old when his parents fled Soviet forces in in 1945. When they got to Germany, they received “care packages” from MCC. The family arrived in Canada in 1951.

The member of Harrison Gospel Chapel, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, has done MDS five times—in Alabama, California and now B.C. “It was a great trip down,” he said of the trip, which he organized.

“The experience is always good with MDS,” he said, adding “it’s a way to show Christian love, to respond to people in need.”

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