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Mennonite World Review, published in the May 28, 2012 edition, Released with permission
NEW ORLEANS — As Mennonite Disaster Service winds down its seven-year recovery effort here, it is connecting local Baptist pastors with regional and national Mennonite groups.
Alongside repairing and rebuilding homes, MDS workers and staff have built significant relationships with about a dozen pastors, many of whom participate in two local organizations: Faith Based Consortium and Churches Supporting Churches.
As a result of a retreat held by the Faith Based Consortium and Gulf States Mennonite Conference, the pastors of the consortium and Churches Supporting Churches are asking for a continuing relationship with Mennonites.
“These pastors, who have been through so much, are looking for people to walk alongside them, to support them, to listen to them, to learn from them,” said Leonard Penner, a former MDS community worker for New Orleans.
Penner served with MDS from 2007 to early 2012, living the first year in New Orleans with his wife, Lorena. The rest of the time he worked from his home in Millersburg, Ind., and traveled back and forth to New Orleans.
Penner led a tour May 15-16 to connect some of the local pastors — who shared parts of their faith stories — with representatives of Gulf States Conference, Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Mission Network.
All of the Mennonite groups expressed interest in exploring partnerships with the pastors and the two organizations with which they participate.
The Faith Based Consortium is composed of seven pastors who have connected with MDS for years now. MDS rebuilt homes for two of them. More recently, the pastors asked MDS for leadership training.
With the support of MC USA and Mission Network, Gulf States Conference is exploring how to respond to the consortium’s invitation. One idea is for Gulf States to hold a retreat next year for pastors from the conference and the consortium.
“I was very impressed with the energy and vision of the pastors from the consortium,” said Glenn Myers, chair of the Gulf States Conference Leadership Commission. “I think Gulf States pastors and pastors from the consortium could all learn a lot from each other by sharing their stories.”
Aldon Cotton, a member of the consortium, is pastor of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, whose meeting place was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He has since written a book, Beat Away the Buzzards. Its sales will raise funds for a new church building. The new church will be called The Well, based on John 4.
“We want to reintroduce Christ to the community,” he said. “People are hurting. It’s hard for people to talk about Katrina. We know that people need healing.”
The consortium grew out of Churches Supporting Churches, another organization with which MDS has built connections. Mission Network is exploring ways it can promote Churches Supporting Churches’ partnership program, which links a New Orleans church with a church elsewhere in the United States.
Penner stresses that he and the other Mennonites are not interested in planting Mennonite churches in New Orleans. “This is first and foremost about listening and learning,” he said.
MDS volunteers are known for repairing and rebuilding homes damaged by disasters. But it takes more than construction skills to serve with MDS. During the time that you serve as a volunteer, you will learn that MDS also restores lives.
Your contribution will help to connect volunteers with disaster survivors who need assistance on their path to recovery. MDS depends on the support of people who believe that disaster response is an important part of helping those who are in need.
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