The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 18, 2013

Mennonite Disaster Service

By Emily Younker and Scott Meeker

— They call it the theology of the hammer.

It’s built on the idea that rebuilding a devastated area includes more than the physical labor of constructing houses — it also includes fellowship and friendship with the homeowner, the volunteers and everyone involved in the process.

“We recognize that rebuilding homes is more than just hammers and nails,” said Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster Service. “As we’re rebuilding their homes, they’re rebuilding their lives.”

Thousands of volunteers have quietly put that theology into practice in Joplin through their work with Mennonite Disaster Service, a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches that serves disaster-stricken areas in the United States and Canada. Leland Hostetler, the Joplin project coordinator, said the group’s efforts would have been nothing without those volunteers.

“Without volunteers, you don’t have it,” he said. “There were days there were hundreds of volunteers, and every one of them picked up and moved 20 pieces of limbs to the curbside — that’s how much it didn’t cost the city to move it. I would say it is all due to volunteers.”

More recently, volunteers have helped rebuild houses for uninsured or underinsured homeowners, said Hostetler, who is from Buffalo, Mo. They also invited the homeowners to their headquarters each week for dinner, he said.

More than 3,300 people have volunteered through Mennonite Disaster Service since the tornado, primarily comprising around 30 sects of Mennonites, Amish and other types of Anabaptists, according to King.

“We may disagree about the cut of the cloth or how to baptize or whether women should be behind the pulpit, but we can agree to come here and work together and put somebody’s roof back on,” he said.

According to King, those volunteers completed 125 cleanups (which consisted of debris removal, limb cutting and the tearing down of structures), 23 minor repairs (rebuild projects consisting of less than 1,000 hours of labor), 25 major repairs (projects consisting of more than 1,000 hours of labor), nine complete house rebuilds and 12 assists (in which they aided other rebuild projects).

“I would say the volunteers have really showed here in Joplin what can happen when all the churches put aside their differences and work together side by side,” Hostetler said. “It makes a huger difference than if you try to do it by yourself. The volunteers have been absolutely awesome here. Everybody was more concerned about their neighbor than they were about themselves.”

The group wrapped up its Joplin operations in early April, tearing down its headquarters at Kenser Road and East 27th Street in Duquesne. The dismantled building will be stored until it needs to be rebuilt somewhere else after another disaster, King said.

“We must move on,” he said. “It’s painful, but we must move on for preparation for the next disasters.”