Mennonite Disaster Service

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Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is an organized program for a service by Mennonite laymen in the United States and Canada to aid the victims of natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, storms, earthquakes, and fire by cleanup and reconstruction work, largely in damaged homes. Such work supplements the familiar Red Cross operations which primarily provide emergency food and medical supplies, clothing, and shelter in addition to direct financial aid. Mennonite Disaster Service operates typically by assembling groups of men who at their own expense and with their own tools proceed to the disaster area and work at their own expense for a period of several days or weeks doing what they can to make damaged homes livable again.

The idea of Mennonite Disaster Service arose after World War II. The first organization was made at Hesston, KS, in 1950 in the local Mennonite Church (MC); it was made inter-Mennonite in 1951. The second organization was formed in Northern Indiana and Western Ohio, where in 1953 a group was formed to work in the tornado area at Flint, Michigan. As the idea spread, other local MDS organizations were formed, usually inter-Mennonite in character. The need for larger coordination and counsel led to a request by several conferences for coordination on a national basis. On 15 May 1954 the Executive Committee of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) created by appointment the Disaster Service Coordinating Committee. This committee also had the responsibility of liaisonship with the United States Government, particularly in matters relating to Civil Defense, and the American Red Cross. In 1956 it was composed of representatives of the following Mennonite Conferences: Mennonite Church (MC), General Conference Mennonite Church, Evangelical Mennonite Conference, Conservative Mennonite Conference, the Brethren in Christ, and the MCC headquarters office. Provision was also made for Canadian representation. It met annually with representatives of the local or regional disaster organizations. Most of the local units also met annually. The program was decentralized, with local units springing into action as needed, and without centralized administration.

In 1957 the organized regional Mennonite Disaster Service units in active existence were as follows: Arizona-California, British Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana-Michigan, Iowa-Missouri, Kansas, Manitoba, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York State, Eastern Ohio, Western Ohio, Oklahoma, Western Pennsylvania, Lancaster County, PA, Eastern Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.


Detweiler, Lowell. The hammer rings hope: photos and stories from fifty years of Mennonite Disaster Service. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2000.

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

Author(s) William T Snyder
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Snyder, William T. "Mennonite Disaster Service." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 23 Oct 2021.

APA style

Snyder, William T. (1957). Mennonite Disaster Service. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 October 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 620. All rights reserved.

©1996-2021 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.