April 12, 2023
Retired Saskatchewan couple wants to do “as much as we can” through MDS RV program
David and Karen Olson serving in Welsh, La.
David and Karen Olson can make many claims as volunteers with the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Recreational Vehicle (RV) program in Welsh, Louisiana: They are the only volunteers from Canada at the project and they are the oldest volunteers.
The Olsons—they’re both 76—are dual U.S. and Canadian citizens who live in Waldheim, Sask. They have been doing the RV program for three years now; previously, they served in Texas. Their home away from home while doing the service is a 30-foot Sunset Trail Reserve trailer.
The couple is in Welsh for six months, from October through to April with a break at Christmas to go home, helping people impacted by hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020.
Karen, who ran a daycare and then a jewelry making business, appreciates how the RV program accommodates her health condition. “They are very understanding of how I work slower,” she said of her rheumatoid arthritis. “If I need to, I can always take a rest.”
For that reason, the work she prefers to do is painting and caulking. “I like doing that,” she said, adding “I enjoy being productive. It’s best to stay busy so my condition doesn’t worsen.”
Beyond staying busy, Karen likes helping others. “It’s a passion for me,” she said. “I hope to do this for as many years as I am able.”
It’s the same for David, who is retired from teaching and pastoring at Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta and as pastor of the Waldheim Mennonite Brethren Church.
“Helping people is what we do and who we are,” he said, adding this is a way to “live out our faith.”
It gives them both joy when they see someone move into their repaired home. They also like being part of the volunteer team.
“It’s good to get to know new people and become friends,” Karen said. “I think we get closer to them than to people we’ve known for years because of how much time we spend together,” added David. “We are like a family.”
During the three-day break off from work, the couple rests and goes exploring around the area with other volunteers. “We can do whatever we want,” Karen said, adding “it’s good to be able to go back to our own space every evening.”
For David, doing MDS service is also a way of practicing what he preached. “For years I told people who were retiring to find something to do with their time,” he said. “Now I have to follow my own advice.”
Getting away from snow and cold is also a benefit, they said. “There’s no reason to freeze at home when people can come down to Louisiana and enjoy the balmy warm weather,” Karen said.
One thing David likes about MDS is how it provides all the tools volunteers need to do their jobs. “Other organizations ask you to bring your own tools,” he said. “This way, I only bring down the few tools I like to use. MDS supplies the rest.”
As for the work, even though they are older they still like to be busy. “It’s always something at the end of the day to look around and say ‘wow, we got a lot done,’” said David.
The Olsons intend to keep doing the MDS RV program as long as they can. “The Lord wants us to help people, as taught in scripture,” David said. “We feel God has called us to MDS. We want to do as much as we can for as long as we can for as many as we can.”
The MDS RV program is designed for older adults who want to serve in the southern U.S. during the winter. More laid-back in nature than traditional projects, volunteers work four days a week, six hours a day, usually on lighter repair projects. The term of service is one month or more. Hookups are provided in local campgrounds.
For more information about the MDS RV program, visit https://mdsorg.wpenginepowered.com/rv-volunteer
John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications