Mennonite Disaster Service conducted a Leadership Development Workshop on the campus of Hesston College Nov. 10 through 13. As a result, nine freshman students enrolled in the Disaster Management program, a cooperative effort of the college and the service, learned more about the service and its disaster relief work in the United States and Canada.


Mennonite Disaster Service conducted a Leadership Development Workshop on the campus of Hesston College Nov. 10 through 13. As a result, nine freshman students enrolled in the Disaster Management program, a cooperative effort of the college and the service, learned more about the service and its disaster relief work in the United States and Canada.

Russ Gaeddert, director of the disaster management program, said the nine freshmen taking the MDS Culture I class were required to attend at least four hours of the workshop, depending on their schedules and their interests.

“Some of the workshop material they’ve heard in class, so it’s reinforced,” Gaeddert said, “but much of it is new. It’s also important for them to hear the stories of MDS volunteers who have made a difference in people’s lives and to visit with MDS staff and volunteers.”

One freshman attending the service workshop is no stranger to the service.

Barry Weber, from Brooks, in southeast Alberta, Canada, served with the service for three weeks in the lower ninth ward in New Orleans and in the downtown area during summer 2007, then devoted four weeks during November and December 2007 in Greensburg.

Although admitting he had a grasp of some of the material discussed, Weber also found the service workshop helpful.

“The training gave me more time to take my previous experiences and think about how to put them into context and practice in the future,” he said. “We learned about relating to people in a disaster situation and dealing with obstacles that come up. It made me think about what my MDS field experience next summer or in the future could be like.”

Weber and the other eight freshmen will serve for eight weeks next summer at an service project site still to be determined, while the six sophomores in the disaster management program will spend 10 weeks with the service or with other disaster response and recovery agencies.

While serving with the service in New Orleans, Weber heard about Greensburg and the devastating tornado that leveled 95 percent of the town May 4, 2007.

“I was intrigued by the idea of a massive tornado going through a town,” he said. “By the time I went, they were building (and rebuilding), which is nice since I like construction.”

While in Greensburg, Weber installed drywall, siding, baseboard trim, and framed a bay window at several different houses.

“Showing my love for God is best done by loving and serving others,” he said of his experiences.

Weber built what he described as “solid foundational relationships” with service volunteers and Greensburg residents.

“I enjoyed what I did, and I love the town,” he said. “I was surrounded by Christ’s love and met many others who loved Christ.”

Weber revisited Greensburg Nov. 2 and attended the dedication of the new Greensburg Mennonite Church.

“It was encouraging to see the faith and passion in that church,” he said. “From the beginning, Greensburg has been praying as a community and God has done amazing work in the lives of people. I visited one of the persons I helped and talked with him for a long time. Many of the homeowners I worked for are in their new or rebuilt homes; it’s an amazing feeling to see and hear their joy.”

Cathie Kearsley, workshop director and MDS director of Human Resources, said five people from Kansas, Oregon, and Pennsylvania were trained during the workshop to be part of the leadership team at an MDS project site. The various leadership roles include project directors, construction foremen, crew leaders, cooks, and office managers. MDS, based in Akron, Pa., is a binational volunteer network through which people can respond to those affected by disasters in the U.S. and Canada.

Hesston College is one of three locations where MDS offers Leadership Training Workshops each year. “We have one in the spring, usually in Canada,” Kearsley explained, “and one in the summer, in Akron, Pa.”

The key reason one of the workshops is held at Hesston College, according to Kearsley, “is because of our partnership with the college in the Disaster Management program. It allows us to connect with students in the program, get to know them, and connect with Russ (Gaeddert).” This fall, 15 students are enrolled in the program, which began in the fall of 2005.

Kearsley said MDS has an on-going need for long-term volunteers to serve in leadership roles. “We need construction foreman at all times, including this coming winter,” she said. “We need people in all the other roles beginning in March 2009 to the end of the year.”

Despite the ongoing need, Kearsley said, “God provides in amazing ways. More often than not, God provides the right people at the right time.”

Meanwhile, earlier this fall, Hesston College students raised more than $1,500 during two MDS work days. Thirty students worked at 12 job sites Saturday, October 25, and Saturday, November 1. Tasks included raking leaves, washing windows, putting up drywall, cleaning house, trimming trees, and painting. Gaeddert said the money raised will be used by MDS at its project sites in the Gulf Coast.