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For the Wiens family of Winnipegosis, Man., service with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) in Cape Breton was an important part of their five-week long vacation experience to Canada’s east coast.

“We wanted to see Atlantic Canada, but we also wanted to do service as a family,” said Sara, mother of Elizabeth, 16, Simon, 13, Ezra, 10, and Isaiah, 7.

Both she and her husband, Andrew, pastor of the Nordheim Mennonite Church, had done service with MDS before.

“We wanted to see the east coast, and when we learned MDS was in Cape Breton we thought it was a good chance for our kids to experience service with MDS. We felt it was important to model service to them.”

“We wanted them to be exposed to MDS, to see what it was like, what it means to be involved with MDS,” Andrew added.

Andrew Wiens and his daughter, Elizabeth, at work in Sydney Mines, NS

Andrew Wiens and his daughter, Elizabeth, at work in Sydney Mines, NS

At first Andrew and Sara, who is a piano teacher, thought they’d take turns looking after the younger children while the other worked at a local house. But after arrival they decided it was better for him to do work on area homes because of his construction experience; she helped at the MDS base camp in the Sydney River United Protestant Church.

“We found different ways to participate,” she said of their time with MDS during its last week in Cape Breton.

They also wondered how their children could be involved, including Simon, who was born with Down Syndrome. But all were welcomed; Elizabeth worked with her father at a local home that needed repair, and Ezra and Isaiah were happy to participate by cleaning and organizing and in what they called “destruction and more destruction”—helping take down the rooms set up for volunteers in the church’s gym.

Ezra Wiens doing destruction

Ezra Wiens doing destruction

Simon also pitched in, “contributing where he could and at his own pace,” Sara said. This included moving lumber and going on dump runs with Project Director Ike Epp.

“We appreciated how MDS made the children feel a part of the group,” she noted. “It was good for them to be able to help.”

The family also did a lot of touristy things during their time away from home, pulling a travel trailer.

“We had never been further east than Kenora before,” Andrew said. “This was a great trip for us at so many levels, including our service with MDS.”

John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications


A total of 458 volunteers from across Canada provided over 32,000 hours of service for 272 families and community organizations in Cape Breton in response to Hurricane Fiona. This included repairs to 44 houses, 28 new roofs or roof repairs and 179 tree-cutting and clean up jobs. Read about the August 24 closing celebration.

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