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Rejecting insurance, Mennonites depend on generosity of fellow followers after tornadoes

Thursday, April 6, 2006

CHINA GROVE, Tenn. -- Hours after the winds died down, a crowd of volunteers -- men in plain shirts and suspenders, women in bonnets and ankle-length dresses -- arrived in this farming community to help fellow Mennonites whose homes and barns were ravaged by twisters.

Most of the Mennonites here do not have insurance; they say it goes against their religious beliefs. Instead, families rely on each other to rebuild after disasters.

The 75 Mennonite volunteers brought canned fruit, generators and tools to assist about 22 families hit hard by Sunday's storms, which killed two non-Mennonite residents of China Grove and 22 other people in Tennessee, as well as four people in other states.

Oscar Yoder, his wife and six children lost the roof to their two-story brick home in the tornado.

"It's been overwhelming," Yoder said of the help. "It's been a real blessing."

In other tornado-stricken areas, the click of cameras shooting pictures for insurance claims has been as much a part of the background noise as buzzing chain saws and rumbling utility trucks. But at Yoder's farm, the sound of hammering and sawing filled the air.

Buying insurance "takes away from helping each other," said Yoder, 45. "I don't condemn it. But we choose not to. It draws us closer together. We believe God will provide and not to depend on insurance."

The Mennonite volunteers came from Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania and other parts of Tennessee, alerted by churches, phone or computer.

The Mennonites are similar to the Amish, but Mennonites accept more technology, including cars, telephones, electricity and computers for business purposes.

The volunteers in China Grove replaced sheets of tin that blew away from the community's church roof. They helped a Mennonite dairy farmer build a new tool shed and restore the roof on his barn.

They also pitched in to help non-Mennonite neighbors in China Grove, a community that is close-knit despite differences in dress and beliefs, Yoder said.

With more than 1 million members worldwide, the Mennonite faith dates back more than 475 years. There are more than 20 formally organized groups in North America with a total of 450,000 believers. Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania have the largest populations of Mennonites. Tennessee has close to 4,000.

Joseph Suarez, 14, helps his father run the Mennonites' China Grove Country Store, where three Mennonite women prepared cinnamon rolls Wednesday for volunteers and customers.

"We're thankful for the support," he said.


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