Karla Friesen lives in Washington, Iowa, as a stay at home mom and community volunteer. She enjoys baking, hospitality, walking, traveling and spending time with her family. Karla represents Mennonite Church USA on the Mennonite Disaster Service Delegate Board.
The one key word that my faith boils down to is love. Love is an “active stance of compassion and care toward others” as Leo Hartshorn mentions in his blog.
Love is not always easy, but I personally believe as a Christian we are called to live our lives like Jesus, who displayed love for all people.
The first and second commandments tell us to love God and love others. What does it mean for me to love God? It has always meant that my time and resources would be used in spreading the love of God. One of the most personal growing times in my life was sharing love with others through Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).
My knowledge of MDS started when my family took a two-week trip to Saragosa, Texas, when I was nine and volunteered with MDS. I remember doing a bit of painting with my mom and grandma, but I also remember playing in the creek beside the house being built. As I grew older, my dad was the church contact person for MDS in our church. He led several crews, at various times, locally with flood clean up and repair in Iowa. As a teenager, relationships formed and grew between me and older adults in the congregation, as we worked together mucking out houses. When I came home from college, I remember these adults would make it a point to come up and ask me how I was doing.
In 1999 I was blessed with the opportunity to serve with MDS as a long-term volunteer for 18 months. This was one of the most meaningful and growing times in my young adult life. It was a time of me showing my love through action. However, I came away feeling more loved. How is it that I could be more loved? “Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing” (Luke 6:38, The Message). First, when one gives out of the heart, the personal relationship with God grows. Secondly, the love and respect shared among other brothers and sisters serving with MDS was like having a large extended family. I felt blessed to have many parents and grandparents that I looked up to!
I also experienced love from the communities we worked in. The homeowners and communities sometimes provided snacks or meals, as a way to share their appreciation. It was neat to experience the community working together to share what they could give out of love.
In Apache, Oklahoma, I was the first long-term volunteer on the project. I had the privilege of being there six months, building relationships with the caseworkers, the long term recovery committee and other community members.
The community accepted me and I can honestly say I enjoyed being part of this community. Relationships were forged as we worked hard physically, learned necessary processes with paper work, and most of all, fellowshipped, as the community came together to rebuild — all to get people in homes.
I didn’t have family around, but this community quickly became my family. I had one of the most memorable Easters as I was invited to three different family gatherings.
One homeowner, shared her story of the flood she lived through many times with volunteers. I vividly remember her saying she had trouble “getting [her] britches on” because she couldn’t think clearly — the water was coming up so fast. I smile because she probably was a bit dramatic. But yes, I am certain I would have been just like her if I was in that situation. How would I deal with watching my belongings piled on the curbside? One city leader in another community talked about how he drove up to his house and watched as volunteers filled the curbside with his belongings. His entire life was on the curb. What does it mean to share Christ’s love with those who have been through such devastation? Their world is turned upside down. But time and time again volunteers from MDS share in the experience of rebuilding lives as families experience hope, being back in a safe home.
I walked away from the annual All Unit Meeting for MDS in February, knowing MDS is an example of Christ’s love in the Mennonite Church. What kind of impact did the more than 3,800 volunteers who served in 2016 have? MDS is about every person sharing acts of love with others on the project site. It is so much more than what any individual could do. Some people provide labor, some provide skills and knowledge, and others provide financially for MDS to work. Volunteers come from Mennonite and Amish backgrounds across the United States and Canada. MDS is a common unifying agent for serving those who need assistance after a disaster. I believe this is why MDS works. We set aside differences and are able to respect each other and work together to build the kingdom of God on this earth. Isn’t this what God calls us in Mathew 25? A great example is Michelle White Eagle from Kamaiah, Idaho. She was active with the long term recovery committee in Kamaiah where MDS built three new homes. Michelle experienced love as MDS came to this community, and she in turn wanted to spread that love to others. So she took three weeks to volunteer in Saipan with MDS last year.
MDS is sharing love through the valuable the hands and feet of volunteers and staff as they listen, share knowledge, build and take time in responding to disasters. Love builds relationships.
Relationships are important in MDS. Relationships are forged among those volunteering, with homeowners and community members, and most importantly, our relationship with Christ grows. MDS is spreading the love.