Plain Mennonites rebuild after Hurricane Katrina-video

Two weeks ago NBC ran a piece on Mennonites building homes in the Gulf area, post-Katrina.

Five years after the fact, it’s easy to forget there is still a rebuilding effort going on down there.  The video below shows Mennonites working on homes in Bayou Country in Louisiana.

“We don’t have to know somebody to do good for somebody” says one of the young Mennonite ladies.

One interesting thing is that mainly women appear on camera here–and doing a lot of “man’s jobs” to boot (or what many Plain people would consider men’s work, at least).  There are a few men in the video, and also a Mennonite Disaster Service representative who makes a brief appearance.  Maybe this was a female crew.

You can view the video here (now unavailable):

Love that Cajun accent.

I remember where I was when Katrina hit in the summer of 2005.  I was selling books in the Amish community in Holmes County, Ohio.

Later that year another Amish settlement, at Daviess County, Indiana, was hit by a tornado.  Many homes and businesses were destroyed.  Amish, Mennonites and other residents rebuilt quickly.

Though it doesn’t mention so explicitly, Amish have been involved in rebuilding the Gulf as well.  We took a brief look at that in this post on Amish mission work.

The fact that rebuilding is still going on in the Gulf probably shows the vast extent of the damage.  I’d also think that few peoples are as resourceful as Mennonites and Amish when it comes to these types of rebuilding events.

I did have a few questions after watching the video, though.

For one, I wonder to what degree victims have been involved in rebuilding.  The video does not really say.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like being involved–even in some small or symbolic way–would be important in order for the person to have a sense of ownership.  It was implied that one of the people in the video received a new home for nothing.  For some people, it can be a lot harder to receive than give.

Of course, I doubt the workers ask much if anything in return.  A place to sleep?

I also wonder how many people have refused help outright.  I imagine it would take great humility to accept so much from strangers.

Though having to live on a boat for 4 years probably makes that decision easier.

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    1. Richard (

      Good morning….. To me there’s so much goodness in helping people in situations like what happened in Katrina for example. That’s the bright side of a very bad event, the ugly side to me is when a person has a sense of entitlement who expects someone to jump in and make all the bad go away. I’m not saying that anyone did that in this video, because i just don’t know what happened before or after the cameras went away. To me there’s nothing wrong with receiving a little help from someone, we all need that from time to time weather we admit that or not. But sitting on your hands waiting for the government for example to step in, your not doing yourself any justice or for your own self respect. I heard this comment on a radio show one time, and the radio host said these are one of the most frightening words that you could hear” I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”. That’s my 2 cents, everyone have a good day. Richard from Penn.

    2. Marilyn in New York

      Good Moarning Eric,
      I saw this on our news here. I believe the Mennonite and Amish are great workers in the time of need to others. I did notice that they showed more women than men. Maybe the men were doing something else or were getting supplies or something. This is something we should all consider doing-not necessarily going to where Hurricane Katrina was-but in helping our local neighbors in time of need.

    3. Nadege Armour

      Very intersting video. However, I was quite surprised to see so many women (even on the roof!!) working. This seems unusual to me.

      I am certain most help is appreciated and wanted. But, whenever I see the aftermath of natural disasters, I am oftened confused as to why the victims, those that are able-bodied themselves are not helping. Task such as finishing, painting, and moving light equipment can certainly be performed by most adults. Imagine what that would do to one’s spirit as they have a hand in the rebuilding of their lives both physically and emotionally.

    4. BethR

      I hadn’t seen that video and I loved it! What stood out to me is that they saw a need and they just jumped in, no questions asked. How’d those women learn how to do all that – I’m so impressed! I don’t know how to use a power drill and maybe if I did, I could be more prepared to help the next person in need. THANK YOU for sharing that!

    5. Angelle

      Remembering with Gratitude

      After our neighborhood was flooded from Katrina, I remember helping my neighbors down the street gut their house. Mennonites were also there. They were all staying down at the Methodist Church nearby. Such lovely young people! Dressed plain, but spoke English.

      I will never forget when one guy banged his thumb while pulling out a built-in cabinet. He exclaimed, “Sweet Aunt Mary!” The mildest swear-words I’ve ever heard from something that just had to hurt. Since then, we’ve used that same “swear word.” Makes us smile instead of frowning when something goes wrong.

      Regarding your comment, it is not easy to accept help when you’ve been used to standing on your own two feet. Although we didn’t use any help for our house, I was humbled to accept second-hand clothes and delicious cooked meals from my sister’s neighbors in Virginia where we lived for a few months. The most poignant gift we received was from the librarian at the school my daughter attended. When she found out how much Gem loved to read, she replaced our Harry Potter books with those from her own collection.

      A “thank you” note could never cover it. All you can do is pay it forward. Thanks for the memories.

    6. Primitive Christianity

      My Wenger Mennonite neighbor girl (unmarried, early 30s probably) volunteers every year for a couple of weeks with MDS (Mennonite Disaster Service). She told me that she likes to volunteer with MDS because the let her get her hands on the job … like actually using a hammer.
      She is not opposed to working in the kitchen feeding the men, but she wanted some action. 🙂
      Probably so, for a lady that bikes a couple miles to and from work everyday, and helps in the milking parlor, the hay wagon, and chasing stray heifers on her time off. 🙂

    7. Katy~TheCountryBlossom


      That is just fantastic! Thank you for sharing that video! 🙂

    8. Richard (

      Hurricane Katrina, calendars, and the mother instinct.

      I hope everyone’s day went well so far. Hey Erik I’m getting some pictures to go with yours so we can get that calendar idea going, lets make a pitch to some publishing company ,lol. The funny part is I’m not really joking, well back to the topic at hand, looks like I’m doing it again. Maybe not, ill try putting a description in the comment section of the post. You have to admire those Mennonite woman in that video, and to be honest woman in general, maybe its that mother instinct that most woman have. And maybe I’ve hit on to something, that mother instinct might be one of the reason’s why these woman are doing what they do, and I’m sure they are just good people as well. Hurricane Katrina brought out the best, and the worst in people, and it also brought about more change’s in the way we handle disasters like this one. Lets be honest what happened was not pretty, so I’m sure much was learned from that experience, lets hope something was learned. What i posted this morning about entitlement’s still stands, and I’m including myself into that equation. I really love it when people help people, and yes sometimes a person needs that little helping hand at the very start, but i believe most of the answers are within our self’s . So for me it comes down to a combination of self reliance and putting aside your pride to accept someone’s hand, and with those 2 combinations the possibilities could be endless. Richard from Penn.

    9. Marilyn in New York

      If you do that calendar of barns-I would buy one. I do business in postcards sometimes and my number one seller is barns. I can’t keep them in. Locally our historic society did a calendar in out houses. I tried to get them to do the next one in barns, but they thought it would be to hard. Also Amish buggies, Amish houses, and other Amish calendars would also be great to sell.

    10. Richard (

      Calendars and other crazy thoughts

      It looks like we already have 1 customer Erik, and we haven’t even put out a calendar yet. I will do one better Marilyn, ill autograph yours personally,lol. Can you say Amish America calendars for $ 9.99, featuring pictures from Erik and Richard from the Amish settlements of Lancaster/Lebanon Pa and beyond. I love the idea so much, i might even have Marilyn buy me my own calendar. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon county,Pa.

    11. Richard (

      More Calendars

      I think ill let you do those calendars on “out houses” Marilyn, ill skip those,lol. Richard from Pa

    12. Hardworking ladies

      Sounds like quite a calendar in the works 🙂

      Mike on the Mennonite neighbor girl, as you know Amish farm ladies are quite adept at “male” tasks as well, ie working with a team in the field, etc. These ladies are not dainty when it comes to getting a job done (and good for them).

    13. Sweet Aunt Mary! and other Amish "epithets"

      By jeepers Angelle, “Sweet Aunt Mary” may just need to become my own new “epithet”…great story. Some of my Amish friends when we are playing a card or board game will call out “Dummheit” or some form of it (I know I probably spelt that wrong, I speak Polish not PA Dutch)…it is pretty contagious to where that usually becomes my own expression of displeasure at my own “dumb mistakes” during the game…

      Even better was what you shared about getting back on two feet. Can never hear too many stories of human kindness. Glad to hear you are back in business.

    14. Mennonite disaster crews

      Katy, BethR, glad you enjoyed it. Those ladies were definitely TCB’ing that roof 🙂

      I thought about the fella in the boat a lot today…why was he in there so long? Would he still be if the Mennonite crews hadn’t come along? He is not an old guy but maybe has health issues, who knows. Or maybe a broken spirit.

      Nadege and Richard I think you make good points. Also there might be more helping by the “natives” going on than it may seem going by this 3-minute news piece.

      From a pure news standpoint the story is more compelling if it is the Mennonites swooping in, working their miracles, and then leaving akin to guardian angels of sorts. Maybe that’s the way it really goes, though.

      As is said in the story, the locals seem to know little of the Mennonites who do come, as if they don’t get a chance to know them (“Cajuns who live here say to this day they know little about those strangers”).

      I really don’t know what the practice is in these crews, whether they tend to work alone or integrate with locals while there. Am just not up to snuff, though going by what I know on the mission orientation of Amish, it may very well be get in and “git r dun” (though again, groups vary…). Maybe someone who is Mennonite or more familiar with MDS/MCC and how relief crews work can comment…

    15. JasonS

      Christian Aid Ministries

      CAM has also been busy on the Gulf Coast since Katrina. My family has made friends with some of them, and my parents have actually taken a trip or two to Ohio to visit with some of the good people. They were then taken to Holmes County to stay a week with some of the Mennonites’ Amish friends!
      I’ve had very little time to visit with these people, but have found them a very gracious group.

    16. Mona

      Loved this posting Erik…wonder if the man who lived on the boat for 4 yrs. helped build the next house…..that is what it’s all about…pay it forward for sure…..

    17. OldKat

      For the past three years, while our oldest has been in graduate school in Alabama, we have been travelling fairly regularly back and forth along I-10 (and sometimes just for the heck of it along US 90) right through areas devastated by Katrina in La. & Ms. Even as recently as last October we were amazed at how much work there was still ongoing to try to get things back to “normal”, whatever that might be.

      Owing to the line of work I am in I have a great deal of contact with people that live in South La., Ms. & Al and in Central Florida. The people that I am in contact with mostly live in the small towns and rural areas of this reqion and I have never once heard one of them suggest that anyone “owed” them something for their hurricane related losses (other than insurance companies who seem to do their best to stiff people rather than face their obligations). I know people who deal with regularly with people in the cities, especially New Orleans and they say that unfortunately that can’t always be said of those folks. I am sure there are plenty of folks in New Orleans who cinched up their belts, put on their work gloves and went right to work trying to put things back together after Katrina just like people in the small towns and rural areas did. I also hear there are plenty that are still waiting for someone; the government, neighbors, charities … whoever to come do the heavy lifting for them. Not to say that all of those that are standing by & waiting are unappreciative of other peoples efforts to help them recover, but some of them ARE said to be VERY unappreciative. Not pretty, but that is how things stand according to what I hear from those on site.

    18. OldKat

      Nice video by the way. Good to know there are still caring people in the world.

    19. Al in Ky.

      I’m interested in your questions about involvement of recipients
      of the help participating in the work. If they don’t participate,
      I’m wondering if it might be due to lack of skills, or if maybe
      the Mennonites/Amish don’t want a lot of direct interaction with
      people who may not dress very modestly or may talk a lot about
      what would be considered worldy topics.
      After reading this post, I read your Jan. 17, 2007 post about
      Amish/Mennonite participation in rebuilding after Hugo and Katrina
      as well as Daviess County, Indiana (a large Amish/Mennonite
      community)which had a destructive tornado in 2005. You quoted
      the director of Homeland Security in Vincennes, Indiana, who said,
      “We need to send them (the Amish and Mennonites)down to (the South)
      to teach them how to be self-reliant.” In my experiences with
      Amish and Mennonite life, self-reliance is important, but mutual
      aid is just as important. Amish/Mennonite mutual aid often “sticks
      around” until the barn is mostly completed, the butchering is done, or the hospital bill is mostly paid. That may be why they are still at work in areas like the Katrina-area, after many others have left. We can learn a lot from the Amish about self-reliance AND mutual aid.

    20. Alice Aber

      Very interesting! All I can say is God Bless them for helping. More people should have that sort of mind set to get out and help even strangers.

      Blessings, Alice

    21. glen k. wilson





    22. Lindsay

      Hi Glen, I may be able to help answer your questions.

      I’ve looked into volunteering with rebuilding in LA (there is a group in Chicago called One Brick that does trips annually). There is a camp for volunteers in Jefferson Parish. Volunteers may bunk there and are provided with meals for a small fee. I believe the camp subsists mostly on private donations though. Many volunteers will also put themselves up in hotels, though I believe many local hotels give discounted rates for volunteers.

      Most of the materials, tools etc are funded through charities like Habitat for Humanity.

      I’ve been wanting to do one of these trips for years, but the organization I volunteer on other things with who organizes the Katrina trips almost always does the trip in early May…which happens to be graduation/wedding season for me and I’ve never been able to work out a trip yet. The director this year mentioned doing a second trip this fall…and if it works out I’d like to try to go then.

      Richard, I can attest I have almost zero mothering instinct lol, but I’d just like to do my part. I remember when Katrina hit, watching it coming for days on CNN, and seeing the images of devestation on TV and feeling helpless…or to be honest, in any tragedy like the Japanese earthquake, for example. The human in me wants to help out my neighbor, and I hope that if I were in the same situation my neighbors would be willing to help me in return.

    23. Reggie Greene / The Logistician

      Government Assistance Post Natural Disaster

      Should the US Government (or any government for that matter) “bail out” the residents & businesses in the storm devastated Southern states?

    24. PW

      Amazing! There is hope for humanity after all.