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By Lorie Ham
Christmas season is upon us again! While this one will be a bit different due to the pandemic, there are still many things we can enjoy on our own, and virtually together. This time of year, many enjoy listening to and singing Christmas carols, and while there may not be caroling in person this year, you can always carol via Zoom!
According to Wikipedia, the first known Christmas hymns can be traced to 4th-century Rome. The publication of Christmas music books in the 19th century helped to widen the popular appeal of carols. I think we all have our favorites!
“My favorite Christmas carol is ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’,” says Mennonite Insurance Services employee Stephanie Heier. “When we are sitting in church, and everyone is singing the parts, it has such a beautiful tone. And the words talk about Jesus bringing peace and reconciling sinners, that’s the whole gospel wrapped up. And it’s just beautiful.”
Board Chair Jim Brandt’s favorite is “Silent Night.” “That’s how Jesus came. No big fanfare–other than angels shaking up the shepherds. Just a quiet birth in some obscure location.”
Staff member Michelle Heinrichs loves almost all Christmas carols, but her all-time favorite would be “Mary Did You Know?” “It is a rather new Christmas song. It tells a story of Jesus’ mother Mary and the profound idea that she is carrying and giving birth to the future King of the World, the Christ child. As a mother of a son, who is special, but far from perfect, I can only imagine the idea of being Mother to Jesus Christ, the King.”
Michelle’s family doesn’t normally go out caroling, but she has Christmas music on much of December and finds herself singing along. “We will sing in whatever church settings we will be given the blessing to safely meet in. But, we will be grateful for our health this year and look forward to gatherings next year. Singing on Zoom is a scary endeavor in my experience for those on the receiving end of the music, with the exception of organized choirs.”
General Manager Jerry Linscheid’s favorite carol to sing is “Angels We Have Heard On High,” because the bass part of the refrain is fun, though they have not had much luck singing together over Zoom. “What I have seen done well is for a person (or several) to sing the different parts of a song and then merge the recordings together, so one person is singing multiple parts. That takes time and can’t be done on the fly. The best compromise our church has come up with for singing during a virtual worship service is for one person to sing the melody and the rest of us sing along muted.”
Board member and Phoenix pastor Al Whaley says “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” is NOT his favorite Christmas song. He prefers “What Child Is This?” “Because it focuses on Jesus and demonstrates God’s love for the world.”
Please share with us on our Facebook page what your favorite Christmas carol is, and how you will be enjoying it this year. Have a very Merry Christmas!
By Lorie Ham
This year’s Creek Fire near Shaver Lake, California has caused a lot of damage. As of November 23, the fire had burned 379,895 acres. One thing lost in this fire was one of the Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department’s fire stations. That fire department helped save many structures insured by Mennonite Insurance and we are very thankful to them for their assistance, and sorry for their loss.
Brother Christopher Donnelly has been the chief of that department for 16 years, and a volunteer with them for 22. According to Brother Donnelly, the Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1993. “We currently have 13 members, all save one are EMT’s, have graduated from a fire academy, and are fully certified both in wild land and structural firefighting. During the summer, we staff our first-out station 24/7 and average one 911 call per day. Most of our calls are for medical assistance–most years that’s about 87% of our total call volume.”
While few people actually live at Huntington Lake, summers are very busy. “Fresno County estimated [that during] one regatta weekend (when the sailboat competitions are held) 14,000 people were visiting Huntington in the two church camps, three scout camps, two private camps, the multiple forest service camp grounds and private cabins and condos,” says Brother Donnelly. The Mennonite Camp Keola is at the western most end of the lake.
The Huntington Lake Fire Department was very involved in fighting the Creek fire and was instrumental in helping to save camp Keola. Their fire pre-planning for Keola included control lines, burn-outs and back fires, all of which worked together to save the camp. “We put out many spot fires that blew over the control lines in and around Keola that could have burned down the camp. Although I am extremely proud of the work our firefighters did, it should be clear that we were part of a much larger effort involving many brave and hard working women and men.”
While most of the buildings at Huntington did not burn, according to Brother Donnelly, 74 cabins were completely destroyed. Some of the lost cabins have been in the same family for over 100 years and many didn’t have insurance so they will not be able to rebuild. “One young mother told me as I was helping her to load her car, after ordering her to evacuate, ‘my great grandfather built the cabin in 1913 and I can remember my grandmother telling me that one of her earliest memories was collecting pine cones around that cabin … I wonder if my grandchildren will be able to do that?’ Her cabin burned to the ground 12 hours later!”
The fire station’s own loss happened while they were fighting fires in other parts of the lake. Sadly, the buildings were not insured. “Our ‘first out’ fire station was completely destroyed. We had accommodations for three, a two-bay apparatus building, a shop and storage.”
While waiting for the fire station to be rebuilt, they have a second firehouse on the east end of the lake that has become their main response station for the time being. The need to replace the buildings is urgent so they can continue to provide 911 services to the community when people begin to return to the area in the spring. “We of course need everything that goes into a building; furniture, appliances, water heaters, forced air furnaces … on and on … but first I need a building!”
If you would like to help the station rebuild, you can donate on their website. If you have concerns about your own fire insurance, Mennonite Insurance is ready to answer any questions you might have 559-638-2327.
By Lorie Ham
On top of everything else going on in 2020, California has been besieged by wildfires, and this fire season has shattered records. Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) has been helping people affected by fires and other disasters for many years.
Founded 70 years ago, MDS is a volunteer network of Mennonite, Amish, Brethren in Christ, and other Anabaptist churches dedicated to responding to natural and man-made disasters in Canada and the United States. “Our aim is to assist the most vulnerable community members, individuals, and families who would not otherwise have the means to recover,” states Steve Wiest, Regional Operations Coordinator for Region 4.
When asked about the recent Creek Fire, Steve states even before it was fully contained MDS volunteers were working to find a way to help. “When a disaster is close to where MDS volunteers live the response is natural and appropriate because of personal connections. When we don’t live near by we usually wait for the local officials to invite us in.”
One thing that Steve feels MDS does well is rebuilding complete new homes after a disaster. “Many MDS volunteers come from the building trades and farming and those folks come with good skills. Whatever skills a volunteer will bring, there will be a place for them to make a meaningful contribution to the project. If the disaster survivor owns the property and if there is money for materials, subs and permits, then MDS will provide free labor to build the house. If they have insurance, they usually don’t need our help.”
A home that MDS rebuilt in Lake Isabella east of Bakersfield came with some added excitement. “As we worked on the second house we watched airplanes diving from the sky to drop fire retardant in the direction of the first home we had just finished. A fire was threatening the new house and had started less than a half mile from the house we had just finished. The next day I asked the homeowner if he had fire insurance and he did not. He said he could not find any. I called Jerry Linscheid and Jerry pointed me in the right direction to help get insurance. I was able to tell the homeowner that the new house was built with the latest California building codes and was much more fire resistant than the old house.”
The goal of MDS is to build homes that will withstand the next disaster, when possible.
The current building code has a section called WUI, Interface.” This is to make the house resistant to wildfire, but the main goal is to give occupants time to get out of the house,” continues Steve. “To make a house be able to survive a fire is a very tall order. The exterior construction is aiming to survive a 20 minute exposure to fire. To increase that to one hour could raise the cost of a 1,000 square foot house by nearly $100,000. The methods and materials of construction is only part of the plan. Keeping flammable material away from the house is just as important. Trees, shrubs, and landscape that allows fire to jump from fire source to fire source invites disaster. We have even seen that the patio furniture can be an ignition point.”
Equally important to MDS as getting people back into their homes, is the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the disaster victims. Steve says that their volunteers are encouraged to put down their tools and visit with the homeowners, encouraging them to tell their story as they just listen. “The homeowners that we are building for are invited to have dinner with the group and tell their story. By telling their story, it helps them to heal. When they tell their story over and over again, we can see the healing take place.”
MDS is also involved in helping to prevent fires. In one instance, volunteers went to Camp Keola at Huntington Lake to remove dead trees and fuel from the forest floor. The camp is owned by the MC-USA Mennonite Conference and serves many children with disabilities. “Dozens of MDS volunteers spent a week in the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019,” shares Steve. “The camp survived the fire because the fire fighters made a decision to protect that section of the fire line and that was possible because of the new water system the camp had installed. It is possible that the lower fire risk of having the reduced fuel on the camp grounds helped save the camp.”
To learn more about MDS and see how you might be able to help them with their work, check out their website. If you would like to learn more about fire insurance, please give us a call 559-638-2327.
By Lorie Ham
2020 has been a difficult year. The pandemic, wildfires, financial difficulties—at times it can be overwhelming. However, despite all of that, most of us have at least one thing to be thankful for—probably more.
One thing we can be thankful for are those who have stepped up during this time–not only those on the front lines. The entertainment community has been amazing, providing free online entertainment for those of us stuck at home–streaming conventions, online concerts, plays, and even Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard on Star Trek the Next Generation) read a sonnet a day on Facebook! Those who can sew have been making and donating masks to essential workers, people have been delivering food to the elderly, and so much more.
A few Mennonite Insurance employees and board members wanted to share some of the things they are thankful for this year:
“I am grateful for my step-children and step-grandchildren (although, we don’t use the word ‘step’) because they have accepted me as a dad and grandpaw,” shares Board Chair Jim Brandt.
“I am excited and grateful that Julia is coming home Friday after a month and a half in the hospital and convalescent hospital,” says board member Dennis Langhofer whose wife Julia fell and broke her pelvis.
Staff member Dalia Jiminez is grateful for the support of her family and coworkers while she was going through radiation. “And the great staff at Community Cancer Institute Clovis for all their hard work and caring of every patient.”
“I am grateful for my faith in God,” shares staff member Yolanda Hernández. “This year has been challenging, not only due to the pandemic, but personally challenging. I can honestly say that without my faith in Him, I would not have been able to deal with a lot of personal things in my life that are still ongoing to some degree. Even with our churches being closed and no personal contact with our religious leaders, church friends, and church gatherings in general, it has allowed me to feel even more grateful in knowing that my faith in God is constant and strong.”
General Manager Jerry Linscheid is grateful for some stability in his life right now. “Covid has changed a lot at work and at home. It is a blessing to be able to work from home, especially when we were experiencing a shut down. Our extended family hasn’t gotten together in person in a long time. However, we have connected through video conferencing. That allows some of the more distant family members to participate. So, while there is great turmoil in our country in many areas, I’m thankful for a few small eddies in the current where the water seems calm.”
As we approach Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? We would love it if you would share some of the things you are thankful for on our Facebook page. If you need some inspiration to get you started, the website Lifehack has a great list of 60 things to be thankful for not just this year, but every day.
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