Disaster Services

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Jake Penner, Ben Giesbrecht & Abe Klassen, 3 MDSers of a crew of 25, clean up on the Asther Matthys farm after a tornado hit La Riviere, Manitoba in 1969.
Canadian Mennonite Photo

The Mennonite, Brethren in Christ, and related Anabaptist constituent churches respond through Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) to help disaster victims. In keeping with their biblical and Christian service theology, the Mennonite Disaster Service network provides volunteers to aid the victims of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disaster situations. This response to neighbors in crisis is an expansion of generations of mutual aid practiced by Mennonites and Amish.

The organized response that led to the development of Mennonite Disaster Service began in 1950 in Hesston, Kansas. By 1961 the national committee had hired an executive coordinator. In 1962 MDS became a section of Mennonite Central Committee.

The organization also developed in Canada and as of 1999 remained a binational organization. Representation on the Section (board) comes from five regions in the United States and Canada, from nine participating conference bodies, and from the supporting Mennonite Central Committee Canada and Mennonite Central Committee U.S. organizations. Region V is primarily Canadian. Each of the more than 3,800 Mennonite, Amish, and Brethren in Christ churches and districts are encouraged to have representatives; these form the 50 MDS units across the United States and Canada. The program is decentralized with local units springing into action as needs arise. In larger disasters, the regional and binational organizations provide support and personnel for the local units. The major thrust of MDS assistance is in the areas of post-disaster cleanup, repair, and rebuilding operations. Special emphasis is placed on helping those least able to help themselves i.e., single parents, the elderly, the handicapped, and widows. MDS workers serve without pay and request no fees for services provided.

Mennonite Disaster Service carries out its activities in a spirit of cooperation with the various agencies of the government and with other volunteer disaster service organizations. At the national level, MDS is a member of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD). MDS has a long history of cooperative efforts with the American Red Cross. Local Red Cross operations, which primarily provide emergency food, shelter, and necessities, often refer cases for cleanup and repair to MDS. Many other church bodies also provide disaster response service, as do the federal governments (in the United States, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA].

While the thrust of Mennonite Disaster Service remains in the areas of response to natural disaster cleanup and repair, MDS personnel are willing to expand their areas of involvement where there is a need and volunteers are available. Among other tasks, MDS has assisted in repairing homes in urban or rural low income areas, participated in building or remodeling churches, and assisted Mennonite Central Committee in its relief efforts. At the 25th anniversary observance of MDS at Hesston, Ks., in 1975, speaker Elmer Ediger said of MDS: "It has been as spontaneous a movement as we have had. It has shown that ordinary people, if they are dedicated and put in a place of need, can do great things."


Marketplace (July-Aug. 1986): 17-18.

Mennonite Directory (1999): 197-199.

Wiebe, Katie Funk. Day of Disaster. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1976..

Additional Information

Mennonite Disaster Service

Author(s) Lowell Detweiler
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Detweiler, Lowell. "Disaster Services." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 29 May 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Disaster_Services&oldid=102168.

APA style

Detweiler, Lowell. (1989). Disaster Services. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 May 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Disaster_Services&oldid=102168.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 237-238. All rights reserved.

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