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MDS project director, moved by plight of disaster survivor, encourages more people to volunteer

July 22, 2021

By Robert R. Unrau

Over the past couple of months  I spent seven weeks in Paradise, California, serving as a project director for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). It is a role I have served in multiple times each year since my first assignment with MDS as project director in 2012.

Over the years, I have seen much destruction caused by natural disasters of many types. But  it took a couple of conversations with Ms. Cheryle, a survivor of the November 2018 Camp Fire that took 85 lives, for me to start to comprehend the pain, suffering and loss of simple human dignity that natural disasters cause.

The story began about the middle of my last week in Paradise. In a casual conversation, Ms. Cheryle told me she was happy to be able to sleep in her own bed at last.

When I asked her why, she indicated she had recently acquired a storage shed and was able to finally move her possessions out the bedroom of her small travel trailer and could now sleep in her bed instead of on the sofa.

Then on Friday she asked if MDS could help her hook up a hose. She went on to explain that, since her stroke, she did not have the strength to loosen the hose servicing her travel trailer. She wanted to install a splitter that would allow her to hook up a second hose to serve a newly acquired second hand washing machine now sitting in the dirt next to the travel trailer.

Upon inquiry as to how she had been washing her clothes since the fire two-and-a-half years ago, she replied “in a bucket,” with occasional trips to a friend who lives about a quarter-mile away.

Can you imagine the indignity of having to use a bucket to wash your clothes for two-and-a-half years?

Later that same day, during a conversation with a local disaster case manager, she related that one family MDS will help in the coming weeks is currently drawing water for themselves from the stream. This is their only water source.

Friends, the U.S. is not a third world country, yet here are two examples of people who are being forced to live in third world conditions by a natural disaster over which none of us has any control. 

With their stories in mind, I am asking you to seriously consider taking a week out of your relatively easy lives and volunteer somewhere to ease your neighbors’ suffering. Age and skills are no restriction. MDS often has volunteers who are into their 80s and volunteers who are unskilled.

You would be surprised what you can learn to do when your heart is in it, and you are serving Jesus.

Robert R. Unrau is from Boise, Idaho.