Photo albums lay displayed on a table, each album containing the memories of a different disaster response assignment and every photo enhanced by a written story beside it. The photo collection of Joanne Wierstra, a member of Covenant Christian Reformed Church who recently died of cancer, is a reminder of both the fun and the work that happens when a World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS) team goes to help in a disaster situation.
On a weekend in mid-July, 50 DRS volunteers from various churches in Classis Alberta North (a regional group of churches) gathered at Covenant CRC to renew acquaintances; share meals, photographs, and stories; and celebrate how God has used them to bring hope to victims of natural disasters. In North America, this often includes clearing debris and repairing and rebuilding damaged homes.
DRS volunteer manager Becky Purdom and World Renew-Canada director Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo were among those gathered. Many of the DRS volunteers had only heard Purdom’s voice on the phone as she answered their questions and received encouragement from her, so they were pleased to finally meet her in person.
Kaastra-Mutoigo, who led a worship service at Covenant CRC, was impressed with the family spirit that characterized the community of DRS volunteers. “I was especially touched,” she said, “by meeting DRS volunteer Edgar Wierstra (Joanne’s husband).” she said. “Although he had just had the funeral for his wife the week before, he could not miss this event because he felt the support and love of fellow DRS volunteers.”
Disaster victims are not the only ones blessed by the work of DRS. John Feddes, who has volunteered on four DRS trips and will be going again in November to Ocean County (Hurricane Sandy), shared the following story. “My first assignment was in Cordova, Alabama,” he said. “Marie’s house had its roof blown off, and water had soaked the home. A roofing company used all her insurance money to do a shoddy job. Her immediate family members would occasionally steal her jewelry to support their drug use. She would sleep with a loaded revolver under her pillow. Through all her hardships, Marie could see God's work of recovery in our work. I've been blessed to be part of her process.”
Kaastra-Mutoigo also commented on the youthful energy of the DRS volunteers, the “significant number of people that were still serving as volunteers in their 70s and looked like they are still in their 50s.”