Volunteers gathered Monday night to dedicate the newly renovated home of Marvin and Cindy Mertz, celebrating their return after it had been severly damaged in the 2011 flood.
The Mertz family was one of 105 in the area receiving help from Mennonite Disaster Service, a binational organization devoted to providing disaster assistance across the United States and Canada. Not all the homes were complete disasters 61 were given assistance sanitizing and mucking the debris left by the floodwaters, 31 were considered 'minor rehab' projects, and 14 were major renovations. The Mertz house belonged to this latter category.
The area rebuilding project was an international effort in scale, with volunteers coming from all over the country more than half from Canada to give their time and resources. Annually MDS has between 4,000 and 5,000 volunteers nationwide, with some 1,400 helping here in Minot. Project leaders and coordinators often spend a month or two on-site, with weekly volunteers often paying their own way from as far away as New York and Louisiana to help out. The diverse groups involved can sometimes complement each others' scheduling. For example, while the bulk of MDS volunteers are available from January to March, Lutheran Disaster Response workers are able to come out in force during the summer months.
Financial and logistical support for the work seemed to come from every corner, with MDS project coordinator Paul Unruh describing the various parties involved. Assistance came from FEMA, United Way, Hope Village, the Recovery Warehouse, Lutheran Disaster Response, and even from the Bank of North Dakota, which offered loans for rebuilding with nominal interest. Catholic Charities North Dakota alone gave more than $300,000 to the project, and one donor ended up giving at least $60,000 of her own money to help those in need. Additionally, the volunteers themselves would pull together funds to help meet the gaps, or 'unmet needs' that occasionally find their way into even the best-laid project planning.
Ulruh was thankful for the help from Minot Bible Fellowship Church, whose facilities were also affected by the flood. MDS helped them rebuild, and the church likewise allowed the groups volunteers to stay on site during their recovery efforts. "Considering a church this size, they've done so much to help. Without people like this we wouldn't be here. It reminds me of a passage from 2nd Corinthians," Ulruh explained, trying to remember the precise chapter. "But the message of it is that 'out of your plenty you will fill their need, and out of their plenty they will fill yours. It's not just one way," he went on, intertwining his fingers as he spoke for figurative effect. It was a joint effort of humanity, transcending the limits of community or denomination for a common good.
"At times it was pretty quiet, and I'd keep working on my own where I could," Marvin described the pace of renovation, as well-wishers and volunteers assembled in his home for a potluck supper. He and Cindy were thankful for the support they received from so many friends and strangers, Cindy tearfully at a loss for words as Minot Bible Fellowship Church presented them with a handmade quilt.
"I just don't know how I can ever thank you enough," she said to the group, who seemed glad enough to build ten dozen houses if need be. After the presentation of several gifts, the singing of a few psalms, and the sharing of a few humorous anecdotes, the Mertzes signed the MDS Job Card, signalling that the work was at an end. After a year and a half in exile, they could move back into a home of their own.
There's still much work to be done, and MDS plans to continue its work in the area for at least another year. "There's always one more job," a volunteer joked as the dedication was concluding. For more information on the organization, its mission, or ongoing efforts for the Minot area, visit the MDS website at (mds.mennonite.net).