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A new home after the wildfire: Mennonite Disaster Service volunteers at work

October 8, 2018

Five young people – volunteers for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) – are staying in Vici, Oklahoma, for two months as they build a new home for Ian Stewart, who lost his home in April to a wildfire.

The young volunteers are Raven Braun, 19, from Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania; Noah Schulz, 19, from Wildberg, Germany; Marco Tessen, 20, from Hannover, Germany; Cole Unger, 19, from Agassiz, British Columbia, Canada; and Jesse Yoder, 25, from Bowmansville, Pennsylvania.

They are working under the direction of MDS project director Bill Mast, a native Oklahoman and a seasoned crew leader who has a heart for disaster survivors and young people alike.

As Mast shows the volunteers how to frame a house, put up drywall, and apply mud, he reflects on why he continues to commit so much time and energy to projects like this. 

“These young people are not just nice,” he said. “They’re hard workers. They’re intelligent, and they’re very, very capable.”

That capability means the world to Ian Stewart, who hopes to move into his new home with his 10-year-old son before Thanksgiving. Stewart, co-owner of the small business Sooner Power, often works alongside the volunteers after a long day at work himself.

Even as Stewart focuses on his work, he says he’ll never forget the evening in April when the wildfire destroyed his home. He was enjoying a cookout with his family after being assured by radio announcers that the fire was under control.

By the time he left, embers were flying through the air and landing on the roof of his house. “As we left, driving really fast, I saw an ambulance leaving the fire, and the ambulance itself was on fire. Deer were running; they were on fire.”

When he was able to return to his home, all that was left was a small flame. Now, he said, he hopes to be in his new home by Thanksgiving. “That would be the greatest Thanksgiving of all,” he said.

The young people are also thankful for the opportunity to serve others. After finishing Stewart’s house, they will move on to other sites across the U.S. and Canada.

Raven Braun said she decided to serve with MDS after a lot of prayer. “The way I see it, we are all on this earth as a testing ground. I really want to be able to make an impact here.”