PLAINVIEW – While some college students spent their Spring Break on vacation or lounging at home, several Wayland Baptist University students chose to spend their week in ministry.
A dozen students and three sponsors headed for storm-ravaged areas of New Orleans, specifically working for the week in Kenner, La. Another nine students and two sponsors headed for the shores of South Padre Island for the annual Beach Reach effort.
In the New Orleans area, the group worked on homes and businesses damaged in Hurricane Katrina and the flood aftermath, removing furniture and old sheetrock from homes that were salvageable, in preparation for other crews that will repair the homes. Working with a youth group from Weatherford, they also cleaned out a strip mall that had stood in nine feet of water for months.
Students shared an amazement of the devastation caused by the storm and the evidence still remaining. Homes marked with numbers indicating the dead found inside struck the coeds.
“Six months later, you’d think there would be some sense of normalcy, but that’s not the case,” said Joe Hoyle, as sophomore from Perryton. “I’ve never seen devastation like that in my life. The flood damage in this whole community is just amazing. I’m sure New Orleans will never be the same.
“God has really given me a heart for the people of New Orleans, and my heart goes out to those who were affected.”
Though the working conditions were sticky, dirty and foul-smelling at best, the students agreed the trip was an amazing experience and they got to see God at work.
“We were working at one house and the lady introduced us to a mailman who was known as a local hero,” said Molly Flowers, a freshman from Amarillo. “He lived on a boat and had used his boat to rescue more than 600 people trapped in their homes. But he didn’t really take any credit, just said that God had helped him. That really encouraged me.”
Another student, freshman Zach Hawkins of Burkburnett, was able to share the gospel to a family of drug addicts and saw them rededicate their lives to Christ. The experience was powerful for him.
“You never know how you can change someone just by talking to them,” he said.
Senior Hugh Ellis of Lovington, N.M. said he was impressed by the outpouring of love and support that faith-based organizations have provided to the storm-ravaged region.
“What struck me was the contrast of the unity within the religious organizations there helping and the backbiting and finger-pointing in the secular world,” he said. “The Wayland group was always hard at work and never grumbling or complaining. They really lived out true Christianity – loving each other and taking care of each other.”
Meanwhile, in South Padre, the Wayland group was part of a 300-student brigade spending their week ministering to their peers in the Spring Break party scene on the beach. The group cleaned beaches, witnessed to students, served free pancake breakfasts at an island church and manned free van rides to hotels, bars and restaurants, sharing the gospel during each ride.
Though the assignment was not easy for anyone, the group said God was working mightily thanks to a strong emphasis on prayer.
“At Beach Reach, I learned the power of prayer. We were on our knees before the Lord all day long, and He answered our prayers. He used us to do His will,” said freshman Sarah Ketchem of Lubbock. “Getting to share with someone how much Christ loves them and what He did for them on the cross, gives me more joy than absolutely anything else in this life.”
Ketchem and others said a series of huge sand sculptures – carved by a man from Maryland who makes the trip annually at his own expense – served as valuable conversation starters for sharing the gospel.
“I was standing near one that was a large picture of Christ’s face and I asked this girl what she thought of it,” Ketchem recalled. “She told me, ‘I came here to get away from Him and He’s still here.’ I got to really visit with her about her relationship with God and we exchanged email addresses so we can keep each other accountable.”
Nick Pruitt, a junior from Mineola, said the trip helped him grow spiritually as well, and one experience in particular reminded him that God was in control.
“We were on the last van ride of the night, about 3 a.m., and this one guy stayed in the van for a long time talking with Donnie (Brown, BSM director) about God. The next day, he shows up in the prayer chapel and we got to visit some more. They’re not even supposed to let people in there, so I know it was a God thing,” Pruitt said.
“We challenged him that either Christ is Lord of your life or drugs are lord of your life, and he left with a lot to think about.”
Joe Perez, a sophomore from Panhandle, echoed the value of prayer on the trip.
“To see how prayer fuels the entire week at Beach Reach was awesome,” he said. “You think sometimes that people aren’t listening when you share the gospel but they are. We took advantage of every opportunity, and God used everything we did that week.”
Donnie Brown, director of Baptist Student Ministries at Wayland and a sponsor on the Beach Reach trip, admitted that the week took him out of his comfort zone, but he got to see God work in the lives of young people. He applauded the work students did during the week normally reserved for playtime.
“Did the Lord save 30,000 spring breakers? Probably not. We don’t know how many accepted Christ, but we know that seeds were planted and students were obedient to the cause of Christ,” he said.
Brown encouraged students to live a life of integrity in everything they do, pointing out a lesson he learned while at Beach Reach.“The majority of the people on our vans said they were Christians but were ‘taking a break,’” he said.