February 4, 2022
When is lost luggage a blessing?
Jay Finkbiner was frustrated. After catching a flight from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Corpus Christi, Texas—where he would volunteer for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS)—he waited at baggage claim. And…no bag.
“I went to the airport concierge and filed a claim,” said Finkbiner, who lives in McAlisterville, Pennsylvania with his wife Twila. Members of New Harvest Church in Millerstown, a Brethren in Christ congregation, both have been regular MDS volunteers since 2005.
Without his bag, he nonetheless began his volunteer commitment with the MDS project in McAllen, Texas, where people are recovering from flooding in June 2018.
After several days, Finkbiner received a phone call from Josh Carson, MDS volunteer coordinator for leadership, who works at the MDS office in Lititz.
“He asked me if I might be missing some luggage,” recalled Finkbiner. “Josh had gotten a phone call from Dallas from a woman who was put in charge of finding the owner of a piece of luggage that had no designation tag on it.”
That woman was Darneice Williams, who had opened the bag and found an MDS folio right on the top.
As Finkbiner and Williams got in touch, they realized the connection was deeper than a lost piece of luggage. MDS had helped repair Williams’s home when it was damaged in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“I got on a quest. It became personal. They had helped my family and my church.”
— Darneice Williams, American Airlines "Bag Forensics"
And they discovered the connection goes back even further. “In 1969, our church, St. Andrew’s Church of God in Christ in Gulfport, was destroyed in Hurricane Camille,” said Williams. “MDS helped the deacons repair and rebuild the church. I was only 13 at the time.”
At American Airlines, Williams does what she calls “bag forensics.” She tries to find the owners of lost luggage. The handle had broken off of Finkbiner’s bag—and the destination tag went with it.
But Willams was on the case, and she recognized the MDS name and logo immediately. “I got on a quest. It became personal,” she said. “They had helped my family and my church.”
She considers the happenstance connection profound, and a grateful Finkbiner sent her supervisor a thank-you letter.
Both recalled words their fathers had said long ago.
“I remember when my dad was helping to rebuild the church, and he would come home, and I kept hearing about the Mennonites,” said Williams.
Finkbiner believes that kindness follows kindness. “That’s what my dad always said. You never know when your kindness will end up in someone else’s life.”