Mennonites use skills to rebuild in Avant

Robert Smith
Daryl Mast, left, and Bill Mast, work to apply new flooring materials in the Teacherage, a house owned by the public school and previously offered to the school superintendent as a home. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

AVANT — As Avant struggles to pull itself out of the damage and personal trauma caused by a 500-year flood in May, it has the help of numerous faith-based groups. Among those is the Mennonite Disaster Service, which has brought its reputation for craftsmanship.

The Mennonite Disaster Service is a volunteer network of Anabaptist Churches, acting together in Christian love.

Groups of MDS volunteers have been working for a couple of weeks now to renovate a home in the small town; a house known as the Teacherage. It is owned by the public schools and has served as a home for the school superintendent. The torrential rains and flooding of May 20-21 rendered the building unfit for habitation.

The Mennonite Disaster Service, which is headquartered in Pennsylvania, has agreed with the schools to renovate the Teacherage in return for being able to use it as a rent-free base of operations, and the MDS is planning to hold an eight-week training operation in Avant that will prepare volunteers for leadership roles in construction projects elsewhere. The training is anticipated to begin in late September, so MDS volunteers are busily working to restore the school district’s house.

“We’re blessed because we couldn’t have done it,” Avant community volunteer Nona Roach said last week. The school district had no funds available to renovate the house, she said.

So the Mennonite volunteers are eating breakfast and lunch four days a week at the Avant School (Avant operates on four-day school week), and performing the many detailed tasks necessary to make the Teacherage habitable for the four volunteers — a German and three Americans — who will soon arrive to hopefully erect a new house in Avant as the core task of their training.

“They completely pulled the old hardwood floors out,” Roach said, commenting on details of the needed work. The house was built in the 1920s.

Last Thursday morning, Bill Mast of Thomas, Okla. was joined by Daryl Mast, from nearby Weatherford, and they moved the job along, detail by detail. Bill, who is the leader of the MDS group in Avant, and Daryl commented that their volunteers tend to work in outlying and rural areas, and they bring a dedication to their craftsmanship such that they are confident of being able to measure up to any building codes.

Bill Mast also noted that the affiliation of MDS with a larger coalition of voluntary organizations — VOAD, or Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster — is crucial to the ability of MDS to operate successfully. He said MDS relies on VOAD to provide casework assistance, evaluating the needs of clients.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” Bill Mast said.

MDS hopes to build new houses in Avant, as needed by the people there, but the organization operates on faith and its ability to build is based on the availability of funding, Bill Mast said. Clients are also sometimes able to chip in funds to help with homebuilding projects, he said.