By Mary Etta King, Transition Conference Minister, with Paul Johnson, Mountain Community Mennonite Church

The desert will bloom with flowers,
It will be very glad and shout for joy.
So, serve wholeheartedly,
as if you were serving the Lord,
not people.
Isaiah 35:2 and Ephesians 6:7 (NIV)

The Mennonite Disaster Service All-Unit Annual Meeting was held at the Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town in Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 12-13, 2016. The theme was: Service with Compassion – Flowers the Desert. Many from Mountain States Mennonite Conference attended this gathering including Linford and Mary Etta King, Dan Theissen (Colorado MDS Chair) and members of the Colorado Executive team Paul and Mary Johnson, Marc Yoder and Ray Beggs. The New Mexico MDS Unit sponsored this huge event led by Albuquerque Mennonite Church members. The weather was spring-like; it called us outdoors in this desert city when we were not in other sessions. The warm sun enhanced sightseeing adventures of people from other parts of the United States and Canada who added small trips around this event.

The lovely sight of people from various sects of the Mennonite world worshiping together was the highlight of our experience!. While we may not fellowship together in congregational life, we continue to work together to help others in crises. We work together to clean up after a hurricane, tornado or flooding situations even though we do not embrace the same theological tenets. Strange as it may seem, we work, worship and eat together at various locations of MDS, but in our home communities we separate because of our theological differences.

Despite doctrine and theology differences, music serves to bring us together in Spirit. We were privileged to hear the Putney Gulch Pickers bluegrass/seventies music perform on Friday evening after dinner. This group of friends who met at Hesston College in the late 1970’s began a deep friendship around music and fun. Members of the group are: Les Gustafson, Dave Foncannon, Vern Rempel, Bruce Kuhns, Herm Weaver and Jeff Jantz, (Paula Brunk Kuhns also joined them in a few pieces.) All are from Colorado. It was fun listening to them and watching the crowd of about 300 people join in.

One moving story in a Regional Report came from an unusual partnership.  The Arkansas MDS Unit is composed of a variety of Anabaptist groups, including old Order Mennonite, Amish and Mennonite.  The report was given not by Anabaptists, but by a former deputy sheriff.  Arkansas is wild and unpopulated in parts, and one area has the longest river of any National park in the United States.  This is a very rural, unpopulated area, and visitors many times are trapped by summer storms or drown in the deep gorge.  MDS has been recognized there as a vital resource for search and rescue, partnering with first responders and law enforcement.  Specifically, the work of MDS has cut rescue time dramatically, from an average of eight hours per call down to two hours.  The Amish particularly have made a huge difference in the personal disasters of drowning persons.  They have created a boat mounted sonar device that can recover drowned loved ones in waters as deep as 120 feet, cutting recovery times from weeks to a day or less.

Finally, it was announced  that BiNational MDS ( Canada and US) was recognized this year as the top Relief Agency in the Country, recognized as a leader among such agencies as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.  Colorado and New Mexico MDS continue to work quietly and hopefully as “the Hands and Feet of Jesus” in responding, rebuilding and restoring lives touched by disaster.  Join us this year in a project that makes a lifetime of difference! …

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