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“We Won’t Forget You”

June 12, 2020

During this time of pandemic, MDS’s projects are all shut down until it is safe to resume work. Until that time, we are re-publishing stories of recovery and restoration from the past — stories that remind of us there’s hope, even in the most trying of circumstances. This story comes from the summer, 2018 issue of Behind the Hammer.

 “I just stood there and thought, ‘Well, my house is gone. It’s really gone. What am I going to do now?’”

That’s what Joan Scheffler said to herself last year after wildfires tore through the Cariboo region of northern British Columbia.

The fires, which burned over 1.2 million hectares of forest in the province in July 2017, also destroyed her house, located about an hour outside of Williams Lake.

Returning to her property after six weeks away as an evacuee, Scheffler, a 73-year-old widow, thought the rural life she loved so much was over.

“I didn’t know what to think or do,” she says. “I felt nothing. I thought, ‘I guess I’ll have to move.’ But I didn’t want to leave.”

A member of a local Seventh Day Adventist Church, she prayed. “I asked God what I should do.”

God answered her prayers — through MDS.Last fall, she was advised by local officials to contact Gerald Dyck, chair of the MDS British Columbia Unit. “Why should I phone him?” she wondered. “What is he going to do?” After a couple of months delay — “I’m a procrastinator, I guess” — she called. Scheffler told Dyck what happened, and how she didn’t have enough insurance to rebuild.

She still remembers what he told her: “We won’t forget you.”

Later, when MDS pledged to rebuild her house, “I could hardly believe it,” she says. But now, a year after the fires, she not only believes it — she can see it.

On a warm July afternoon, a group of young people from Sommerfeld Mennonite Church in Aylmer, Ontario, are busy at work building her new home.

“It’s amazing,” says Scheffler, watching the workers. “They are an answer to my prayers.”

The youth, who range in age from 14 to 19, are there with their leaders as part of the MDS summer youth program.

Through the program, youth from across Canada and the U.S. can spend a week helping people who lost homes due to disasters.

This year, the location is Williams Lake, where three houses are being constructed.

For youth pastor Jake Banman, the project came about as the group discussed ways to put their lessons about follow- ing Christ into action.

“Our theme this year was discipleship,” he says. “We wanted to encourage the youth to do service. But not just at home — that they can, and should, do every day.

“We wanted them to do something that cost them, some- thing sacrificial.”

The MDS summer youth project fit the bill. Not only did some of the young people give up a week of work, they all paid about $500 each to come.

“We did fundraising as a group, and they raised money individually,” Banman says. In return, the youth get to see what it means when someone is touched by devastation. They are “understanding at a deeper level what it means to lose a home, and everything in it. It reminds them why service matters.”

At the same time, they are also receiving something. “They are seeing another part of Canada, and growing closer as a group,” he says, adding that for some it is not only their first time in British Columbia, it’s the first time they’ve been on an airplane.

For Cariboo Bethel lead pastor Jeremy Vogt, the project is doubly meaningful — not only are people in the commu- nity being helped, it is good for his church, too.

“We’re excited to have MDS here, to have so many volunteers come through the church,” he says. Before the fires, the church didn’t know much about MDS. But now? “MDS is awesome. They have a key role to play. They made it easy for us to partner with them to respond to our neighbours.”

For Cariboo Bethel, partnering with MDS means provid- ing space in the basement where volunteers can eat, sleep, and relax.

It spills over to the parking lot, too, which is hosting campers and a shower trailer provided by Samaritan’s Purse.

“Wherever I can, I share the MDS story,” Vogt says.

“When I tell people here about MDS and what it is doing, their eyes get big. They can hardly believe it. It touches their hearts. It gives them hope to know that people all over North America care.” MDS, he says, “is a message of hope in our community.”

John Longhurst