May 19, 2023
MDS volunteers in Cape Breton share their stories
Since March, 76 people from across Canada have served with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) in Cape Breton. Here are reflections from a few of them. More volunteers are needed this summer; see bottom of article.
Peter Hildebrand of Leamington, Ont. always wanted to serve the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). So when he heard volunteers were needed in Cape Breton, he signed up.
“I have wanted to go on a service trip like this for a while, to go somewhere and make a difference,” said Hildebrand, a member of the Old Colony Mennonite church.
“It was good to see how easily we could all work together with people we had never met! If we all have the same goal in mind, anything can be made possible.”
When Susana Schmitt, also of Leamington, Ont., heard MDS needed volunteers in Cape Breton, “I decided to be part of it.”
The member of the Deer Run Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (EMMC) enjoyed her time at the project.
“I learned a lot during that week, the food was amazing, the people were very welcoming,” she said, adding she went to Cape Breton with six other youth from her church. While there they did mostly insulation and drywall work.
“I really enjoyed all the work, especially when I heard how it brought hope to the homeowners” she said.
Serving with MDS was “definitely a highlight in my life and I am ready to go again,” she added.
For John Hildebrandt of Rosenfeld, Man., seeing the request for volunteers in his church bulletin prompted him to decide to go.
“I met some great people there that I would like to meet and work with again,” said Hildebrandt, also a member of an Old Colony church.
“It was meaningful to do service with others who were also taking time to help people who are in need of help but don’t have the financial resources,” he said, adding the grateful response from homeowners “sort of melts the callouses that one tends to get on the heart from life’s daily grind.”
"I was met with loving encouragement, gentle guidance and grateful hearts that made me feel welcome, loved and allowed me to learn, learn, learn!”
— Madelyn Unger
Henry and Elizabeth Martens are part of an Old Colony Mennonite church in Coaldale, Alberta. They went to Cape Breton “because it felt like a seemed like a great opportunity for us to go out there and help others, and by doing so we felt that we were serving the Lord,” they said.
Being there “was a wonderful experience,” they said. “The people were amazing, the food at the camp was delicious.” They also enjoyed learning about the history and culture of Cape Breton. “It means a lot that this opportunity was given to us and we would certainly love to do it again!”
Madelyn Unger was another young person from the Deer Run EMMC Church that went to Cape Breton.
“I went with next to no practical experience,” she said. “I was by far the most inexperienced one at the project. And yet I was met with loving encouragement, gentle guidance and grateful hearts that made me feel welcome, loved and allowed me to learn, learn, learn!”
The community created by MDS staff at the project “was such a blessing,” she added, noting the leaders “made us feel at home the first night we arrived and each person we interacted with was unbelievably kind and warm. I loved the ability to be practical and serve with my hands. But being part of the volunteer community at the project remains a very special place as well.”
Unger also enjoyed meeting homeowners and “hearing their stories, feeling their pain.” Prayer times with the homeowners “ended in tears and hugs,” she said. “I left in full confidence that Jesus has not finished His work in their lives.”
The experience was also meaningful at a spiritual level for her personally. “I was only there a week, but I feel as though God really used it to speak to me,” she said, noting she had recently returned from a five-month mission experience.
“Before I left for MDS, I was struggling with loneliness, boredom and confusion as I tried to make sense of what to do next. My time with MDS confirmed I feel called to full-time ministry,” she said.
MDS still needs volunteers this summer in Cape Breton, for the weeks of June 11-17; June 25-July 1; July 30-August 5; August 27-Sept. 2; and Sept. 3-9. Contact Clara Flores at [email protected] if you want to sign up or visit www.mds.org
John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications