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If I never come back here again, its going to be too soon.” Peter Goertzen, who has volunteered at more than 26 different MDS sites, remembers uttering these words back in 2007—the first time he ever served as a long-term volunteer in the United States.

He and his wife, Margaret, were asked to leave their home in Alberta and come south to Diamond, Louisiana. We drove there with our pickup and our RV, and after wed been there awhile, Jim Byler, the project director, took me to the bayou in a boat,” recalled Peter.

He didn’t like what he saw: There was nothing but garbage.”

And hes not a guy who likes garbage. There was one house left standing,” he said. Mitch and Mary Bartholomew owned that house.”

The couple had gutted the inside. It was rough 2-by-4s,” recalled Peter. It looked bad—it was a mess.”

After a half an hour, Peter and Jim got back in the boat. And thats when Peter said it: I looked back at him, and I said, ‘If I never come back here again, its going to be too soon.’”

Never? Really?

The Goertzens worked until Christmas that year, then went home to Alberta. We flew home, and we left our pickup and RV for another couple to use in January until the end of February, so we came back in March and worked on the same job,” said Peter. I was construction supervisor, and Margaret ended up being the crew leader on the bayou.”

At that time, Mitch and Mary were living on their shrimp boat. I would tell Margaret to take pictures, to bring me pictures, and I’ll tell the crew what to do,” said Peter. We were going to drive back home sometime in April, and so I think it was three days before we were going to go home, and Margaret said: Peter, you have to come here.’”

So, Peter went to the bayou to help his wife. Mitch was a guy of few words, and a very patient man,” said Peter. “I would give anything to have a little bit of that.”

Mitch didn’t talk much—but somehow, he connected with Peter. After wed been there three days, we were planning on going home,” said Peter. Mitch usually didn’t drive the boat, although hed been a captain pushing barges his whole life.”

The time drew near when the Goertzens had to say goodbye.

Mary asked, Mitch are you coming with me when we take Peter and Margaret back to the dock?”

Mitch said, No.

Peter turned around in the boat to see Mitch standing on the dock, crying.

I’ve only known him for three days,” said Goertzen. So we get back to camp, and Jim Byler comes over and says, Peter, whats wrong?’”

Nothing,” Peter said.

Jim left, came back, and asked what happened.

Nothing, its all good,” said Peter.

“No matter how much you put into volunteering, you’re always going to get more out of it.”

— Peter Goertzen

Then Jim returned a third time, asking: Peter, are you going home in the morning?”

I dont know,” said Peter—and he didn’t sleep much that night.


Paid by Jesus

The next morning, Peter and Margaret went back to the bayou and worked two more days. Their daughter and her husband came, and the Goertzens passed the job along to them.

We came back in the fall of 2008 and we built five new houses on the bayou,” recalled Peter. I was on the bayou every day.”

There were days he never took his life jacket off, since every nail, every piece of board had to be hauled in by boat. Id go for coffee with Mitch at three oclock pretty much every day,” he said.

The two men also went fishing. We might be in the boat for two hours, and Mitch wouldn’t say a word. Years later, Peter found out Mitch didn’t even like fishing—but he knew Peter did, so he took him fishing.

One day, Mitchs daughter Kelly was there; she was about 26 at a time,” recalled Peter. She says, Mr. Peter, you must be a very rich man. Who pays for your stuff at home while youre here?”

Before Peter could answer, Mitch said: Jesus pays him. These volunteers have Jesus with them.”

Until they meet again

That answer has stayed with Peter for decades—and its his answer when people ask him why he volunteers for MDS. I never talked about Jesus to Mitch,” said Peter. Mitch was a believer so there was something in what we did, that he saw that we had Jesus with us—which was very encouraging.”

Mitch, Mary, Peter, and Margaret stayed in touch, going on a cruise in 2010 with their families, and seeing each other at the bayou anytime the Goertzens passed through Louisiana.

I see no garbage on the bayou,” said Peter. I see only people I know. I know everybody on the bayou on a first-name basis. One lady said, ‘If you stay a little longer, were going to think youre one of us.’”

The last time Peter saw Mitch—in the fall of 2022—he noticed Mitchs health was failing. On Sept. 3, 2023, Mitchs son called to tell Peter that his friend from the bayou had passed away.

Peter’s voice breaks when he tells the story about the bayou. He wants people to understand the gifts that come from serving with MDS—gifts like Mitch who saw Jesus in the people helping him.

No matter how much you put into volunteering,” Peter said, youre always going to get more out of it.”


Susan Kim, MDS Writer 


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