Day 1 – Drive to Sturgis

Monday, November 29, 2021

I picked up a cup of coffee at Tim Horton’s in Virgil on the way to Wieland’s house in Niagara on the Lake and I arrived just before 8 am. After checking to make sure we had what we needed, we were on our way.

The temperature was at the freezing point, however, the roads were dry and the drive was uneventful. We had a brief stop near Woodstock and drove through Sarnia to the border at the BlueWater Bridge and arrived at Customs in Port Huron, shortly after 11 am.

When I explained the purpose of our trip to the border guard, he directed us to park at the secondary inspections office and wait. The customs officer was a very polite young man who came to the car, took our nexus cards, passports and border crossing letters and disappeared into the customs office. He returned to the car after 10 minutes and asked us why we were going to Sturgis, where we would be lodging and eating, if we were being ” compensated ” for our service, if we were bringing tools, and how long we would be staying in the US. He left again, only to return to ask us for proof of our vaccinations. Satisfied with our paperwork and answers, he gave us our passports and nexus cards and told us we were free to go.

From Port Huron, the GPS changed our route and we drove south to Detroit and headed west to Sturgis. We stopped at 1 pm for a light lunch, picked up some gas shortly afterwards and then made a slight detour to avoid the traffic caused by an accident.

We arrived at Amigo Centre in Sturgis at 4 pm and met Cheryl Mast. We had seen some of the devastation caused by the fallen trees while driving through Sturgis and Cheryl showed us a few of the cabins which already had their roofs repaired, as well as the one ( cabin in the foreground with the wrapping on the building ) where the bathroom had been destroyed by a fallen tree. The frame had been rebuilt on this cabin, but the bathroom needed to be finished.

Cheryl showed Wieland the electrical and drywall work that would be required in the bathroom.

She then showed us a cement slab where a cabin had been totally destroyed and another cabin in the background where the damage from a fallen tree was still evident.

More than 50 truckloads of logs had been salvaged from the fallen trees and they were sent to a local sawmill for lumber.

Although the clearing of the trees and repair of the cabins has been ongoing since early August, there is a lot of work to be done. There is still a tree limb that has to be removed from one of the damaged cabins and, as with all of the damaged cabins, a decision has to be made whether to repair the damage or rebuild the cabin.

After the tour, we had supper in the dining hall with Cheryl, her aunt and her uncle who had arrived from Kansas to assist with the cleanup. We enjoyed a wonderful evening of conversation and laughter before heading to our rooms for the night.

MDS – Sturgis MI 2021

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021

In the Spring of 2020, the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the shutdown of all MDS projects in North America. In 2021, MDS in the US started some projects, but due to the lockdowns in Canada and the border restrictions with the US, MDS Canada ( https://mds.mennonite.net ) recommended against travel from Canada to the US projects. A few projects did start up in Canada, but they were generally supported by small limited groups, consisting mostly of volunteers that lived near each of the project sites, in order to comply with the Covid-19 regulations.

Due to the continuation of travel limitations caused by the fourth wave of the pandemic, I had not planned to volunteer for an MDS project in the fall of 2021, however, I was not aware of how easily my plans would be changed.

In early October, I received a text from Cheryl Mast, a friend whom I had worked with on several MDS projects. She asked me whether I had any plans to volunteer for disaster relief with MDS in the Fall and whether I would consider volunteering at ” Amigo Centre “, ( https://www.amigocentre.org ) the Christian camp where she works as a ” Coordinator of Outdoor Environmental Education “. The camp had sustained extensive damage to the woods and to 14 of their buildings due to fallen trees caused by sustained winds of 110 km/h ( 70+ mph ) in early August.

At the time, the travel restrictions made driving to Michigan impossible and flying there was impractical. Since there were rumours that some of the land border restrictions might be lifted by early November, we decided to wait until the restrictions were lifted before making any plans.

Wieland Hamm, who had served with me on an MDS project in West Virginia during the American Thanksgiving of 2019, knew that I usually volunteered at that time of the year due to the need for volunteers during the holidays. Near the end of October he asked me if I was going to volunteer with MDS during Thanksgiving, so I told him that there was a possibility of going to Michigan and that I would check into it.

In early November, when I heard that some of the land border restrictions would be removed, I contacted Cheryl to coordinate a trip for us to help out. In order for the staff at Amigo Centre to be able to spend time with their families during Thanksgiving, I suggested to Cheryl that Wieland and I would volunteer the week after Thanksgiving and that we would leave on Monday morning so that we could hopefully arrive during daylight hours. MDS Canada was very supportive and quickly prepared the border crossing letters for us.

The drive to Amigo Center is 8 hours depending on road conditions, traffic, stops along the way and border delays.

The cleanup and repair work at Amigo Centre has been ongoing since August and information about the damage and the work being done can be viewed on the MDS website at: https://mds.mennonite.net/volunteers-at-amigo-centre-grow-a-spirit-of-thanksgiving/ .