On Good Friday, April 14, 2017, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteer Kory Jones was baptized in the middle fork of the Mokelumne River in Calaveras County in northern California.
By dipping Jones deep into the roaring waters of the Mokelumne, swollen by abundant California winter rains, Pastor Jeff Haight of Westpoint Community Covenant Church in Calaveras County, was part of a resurrection experience.
At the time of his baptism Jones was an MDS volunteer. He was also recovering from substance abuse, was unemployed and had lost his wife, home, truck and reputation because of his addictions.
He started attending Vinewood Community Church, Lodi, California, a Mennonite Brethren church about an hour away from MDS’s project camp in Calaveras County, and it was there he learned of a call for volunteers to assist MDS.
He spotted a bulletin announcement asking for volunteers to drive the church van and pick up some MDS volunteers at the train station and take them to the MDS camp in Calaveras.
March 19, 2017, Jones started as a weekly volunteer in Lake County, about two hours northwest of Lodi, where he lived. He served there two weeks.
Jones says he was amazed at the way he was accepted and trusted from the start. He loved the way serving with MDS made him feel valued and useful again.
“I had a nice house, a brand new truck, a great job—all that stuff—but I was most miserable when I had all that stuff,” he says. “When you work for disaster survivors you realize what the necessities are. It’s a different way of looking at things.”
Jones describes his condition prior to volunteering with MDS as being “stuck.” He was spending his nights at the Salvation Army and attending Vinewood Church’s Celebrate Recovery program.
He had been looking for work for two years but doors closed in his face. He had been in law enforcement and loved helping other people. This chance to help people as a volunteer seemed like a good opportunity.
After two weeks at Lake County, the project director asked Jones if he would transport the MDS truck to the Calaveras County project since the Lake County project was closing. Jones was impressed that after just two weeks working together, they would entrust him with an MDS vehicle.
He didn’t have anything to go home to, so he asked if he could continue as a volunteer in Calaveras. The project director there said he could. After a week volunteering in Calaveras, Jones went back to Lodi for the weekend to attend his Celebrate Recovery group and go to church.
After the worship service one of the members approached him and said that he would soon need a project foreman for his landscaping company. He wanted Jones to come work for him.
Jones went back to Calaveras for a second week, thinking about the offer. It was a difficult decision. He was finding his MDS work so fulfilling and healing, but also felt like the Lord was providing for him through the fellow church member. He decided to take the job. He started Monday, April 17, 2017.
Although Jones was new in his Christian faith he wanted to be baptized. An MDS project director pointed him to the Westpoint Community Covenant Church and Pastor Haight. The long term MDS worker attended the Westpoint church.
From there a decision was made to baptize Jones on Good Friday. Haight, along with another pastor from the church joined family and friends on the banks of the Mokelumne. One church member stood strategically downstream in case one of the three lost their footing in the rushing waters.
Everyone emerged safely and Jones fell into the arms of an aunt and cousin who he says, “never lost faith in him.”
“It’s all kind of uncanny,” Jones says. “I didn’t pick the day, but I got baptized on Good Friday and here it is Easter and it’s like a personal resurrection.”
“While I’ve been building MDS houses, I’ve been building my own house,” he continues, “building on the foundation of Christ, something that will be there forever.”
Jones reflected on how his time with MDS did more for his rehabilitation than any 30-day rehab experience. “People were trusting me to build them a new home.”
“People who were homeless [disaster survivors] made me not homeless,” he says. “My recovery is so much stronger now.” And so is his faith thanks to the waters of the Mokelumne.
Mennonite Disaster Service is the disaster response agency supported by Mennonite churches.
Photo: Mennonite Disaster Service