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9 year old Owen cutting ribbon

Nine-year-old Owen Nichols cut the ribbon on a new bridge in Iron Station, North Carolina on June 29, officially dedicating the state’s first bridge built by Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers, who spent about eight days working on the concrete-supported structure.

Situated at the end of a private unpaved road spanning Reed Creek, the bridge is 11 feet wide, 60 feet long, and sturdy enough to hold a fully loaded fire truck—and then some.

As Iron Station resident Robert Hudson said, I don’t think this bad boy is going anywhere.” Hudson and his wife are among 20 families who live in the hilly community, a place they treasure because it’s out of the way.

It’s quiet,” said Hudson. We’re in the country.”

MDS volunteer Steve Mininger Hendersonville NC

But when the culvert leading to their community washed out in January, they were more remote than they wanted to be. With a pedestrian bridge, then a temporary bridge large enough for an all-terrain vehicle, then a makeshift road made of piled-up gravel and dirt, they could sometimes leave their community—but when it rained, they were often simply stuck in their homes.

The Mennonites came in and saved the day,” said Brandy Nichols, Owen’s mother.

MDS volunteers Jay Burkholder, Harold Zimmerman

We were sad when they left,” added Owen who, along with other residents of Iron Station, often stopped and talked with MDS volunteers, who lived in RVs on the side of the road adjacent to the bridge worksite.

But, Owen added, I can get to summer camp every day, and I get to go swimming!”

After Owen cut the ribbon, and a local firetruck took a ceremonial drive over the bridge, Larry Stoner, MDS regional operations coordinator, reflected that, though the bridge was built by MDS, there was a large team of people and organizations that helped make the bridge a reality.

With grants provided by Samaritan’s Purse, Lutheran Disaster Response, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and other generous donors to purchase materials—a value about about $160,000—MDS volunteers provided the labor.

MDS volunteer Jay Burkholder

As a dedication poem by Karen Stoner read:


Prayers were said, their story spread, people not only listened, but heard.

Factions came together and moved forward undeterred.

North Carolina State Senator Ted Alexander, who attended the dedication, expressed gratitude for the uniquecollaboration. To me, it’s a testament to our North Carolinian and American neighborliness and ingenuity,” he said. This is truly what makes our country a great place to live.”

Maryn Olson, director of Lutheran Disaster Response, reflected that the bridge not only connected residents to their homes—but it connected disaster response organizations to each other as well. When we heard that the Mennonites wanted to build a bridge, we of course supported that-because when the Mennonites build something, they do it well,” she said, adding: Thank you, residents, for your patience and your trust.”

Trust is also a foundation for the disaster response organizations involved in the bridge-building effort. This bridge would not have been possible had the foundation not been laid between Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Lutheran Disaster Response, Samaritan’s Purse, and MDS,” said Rev. Bill Neely of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance national response team.

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) builds their first bridge in the community of Iron Station, North Carolina.. The bridge will help 29 families cross the local creek that washed out the makeshift crossing in January 5th, 2024

For the Iron Station community, it means being able to return to the day-to-day foundation of life without worrying every time it rains. Thank you is just not enough,” said Brandy Nichols. I’ve met so many of my neighbors and built relationships.”

Finally, she added: I can go home now. If it rains, it’s okay—I can go home!”

Kevin King, MDS executive director, reflected that an act of nature took away the bridge in January—but it’s an act of God that put the people together to help.

Everyone who crosses this bridge, know there are people who love you,” he said.


Susan Kim, MDS Writer 

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