Mennonite Disaster Services
The Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS ) is the official disaster-relief agency of Mennonite churches in the United States and Canada. Mennonites are self-described as a group with a common desire to follow Christ's example of peacefulness and service. MDS focuses on managing volunteer labor during disaster recovery and coordinating with other humanitarian agencies to meet the needs of disaster victims.
MDS is funded by a variety of sources including individuals and churches, although they do not provide direct materials or financial donations to disaster survivors. The Mennonite Disaster Service provides skilled volunteers for repairs and rebuilding of damaged structures with special emphasis on helping the elderly and handicapped.
MDS began informally over a picnic lunch in Hesston, Kansas in 1950 where church members discussed seeking out opportunities to be engaged in peaceful, helpful activity. The first disaster response was in May of 1951, after a period of heavy rains caused the Little Arkansas River to flood. Through the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the agency established training schools for relief directors, created a mobile disaster relief office, trained and assembled rescue teams and purchased radio equipment.
Recovery efforts by the MDS are divided into long- and short-term. The majority of MDS volunteers spends an average of one week on a project site, and is therefore considered a group of short-term volunteers. The success of this short-term program relies on the long-term volunteers who provide leadership at the project site. Long-term volunteers connect short-term volunteers with persons in need. Because they are in the area for at least two months, long-term volunteers build trust around the community as they meet clients, partner with other organizations and make regular trips to the lumberyard and grocery store.
The stated purpose of MDS is to endeavor, in the spirit of Christian love, to follow Christ's example by giving time, talents, and energies to help relieve suffering caused by disasters. This is done through the ministries of listening, cleanup, repair, and reconstruction to be examples of the cup of cold water given to those in need in the name of Christ. To accomplish this, volunteers are taught to, do everything possible to preserve the dignity and sense of worth of the victims, while also respecting personal property and rights of ownership.
Faith-based organizations receive funding for disaster recovery efforts from the Department of Homeland Security and the international community. The MDS also relies on donations from individuals for funding. Donations can be made to a general fund or to a specific disaster event through the Mennonite Disaster Service web site.