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“Why would you come clear from Kansas to help?”

March 24, 2021

Patient. Grateful. Welcoming. That’s how Orlin Martens, a plumber from Inman, Kan., described the families he helped in Bastrop, Tex. in mid-March as a Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteer.

Those families had been without water for more than two weeks, in the wake of an ice storm that caused widespread damage to water pipes and homes throughout the state.

When Martens heard MDS needed volunteer plumbers, he put his own plumbing business on hold and, within three days, found himself making the 11-hour drive to Bastrop with his brother-in-law.

“We worked on seven homes,” said Martens, who spent his nights in a former fire station now used by the Bastrop Long Term Recovery Team to provide socially-distanced housing for volunteers.

Most of the families he helped lived in mobile or modular homes in very rural areas, and they were all having a very difficult time living day after day without water.

“We met every single family,” said Martens. “None of them seemed impatient and all of them were grateful that we got their water back.”

The most-asked question Martens heard was: “Why would you come clear from Kansas and help?”

Describing the homeowners as “very welcoming, gracious, and thankful,” Martens said that most of them had tried to fix their own plumbing but the repairs were just too complicated.

“It was a challenge for me, even,” said Martens, adding, “there’s so much more work to do in Texas.”

This was the first time in several years that Martens, a member of the Hoffnungsau Mennonite Church, has volunteered with MDS.

“The very last family we helped fixed a meal for us,” he said, “and we’ve stayed in touch since then.”

A couple in their mid-50s with a young daughter, the father had a job but couldn’t find anyone to help repair their plumbing. “He said, over and over, that he was embarrassed that he couldn’t fix this for his family when they were in need,” said Martens.

“Since I had the plumbing skills, I could help—and I came clear from Kansas to do that,” said Martens. “When we left, he asked where he could send a contribution to MDS.”