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World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS), a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church’s relief and development agency, repaired or rebuilt 368 homes in 2018 and assessed the needs of 12,790 disaster survivors. That work is a legacy of a program begun in 1972 by Neil Molenaar, then domestic program director for what was at the time called Christian Reformed World Relief Committee. Molenaar, 86, died April 20, 2019.

“Neil Molenaar encouraged a generation of willing volunteers to step into disaster with love,” said World Renew U.S. director Carol Bremer-Bennet. “We thank God for the gift of Neil and his vision to serve those affected by disaster in North America. Every time DRS [volunteers] arrive to rebuild hope in a region of need, we pay a debt to Neil’s faithful courage.”

Molenaar was director of DRS from 1972 until 1990. He and his wife, Kay, then moved to Bremerton, Wash., where he managed a chapter of the Red Cross for about three-and-a-half years. He also coordinated with National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and networked congregations in the Lynden, Wash., area to respond to emergencies in their communities. The Molenaars moved to East Wenatchee, Wash., in 2006. Molenaar had been living in hospice care there since April 1.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of DRS in 2012, Beth Terpstra wrote about the beginnings of the ministry, describing the gathering of the first volunteer responders after flooding in Rapid City, Mich. After he retired, Neil volunteered to keep the “pioneers” or original group of DRS volunteers in contact with each other. “His passion for DRS continued literally right up to the week the Lord called him home,” said Bill Adams, World Renew DRS director from 2003 to 2014.

Bob Laarman, current DRS director, said, “[Neil] offered me support and encouragement when I started in this role. His energy and enthusiasm for the ministry even well past his retirement were inspiring. All the stories I hear about Neil from volunteers who worked with him are of his enthusiasm, positive attitude, and trust that God would lead them through.”

Kay Molenaar, Neil’s wife of nearly 63 years, said “he was very much a people person—caring for those in need in one form or another.” They have been active local participants at Saddlerock Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in Wenatchee, while retaining membership with Church of the Servant, a CRC congregation in Grand Rapids, Mich.

From The Banner archives: Disaster Response Pioneers Reunite

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