Students trade long weekend break for mission opportunities

For most Wayland Baptist University students, Fall Break is a chance to relax, rest and rejuvenate for the remainder of the fall semester. This year, several students traded that opportunity for the chance to serve in areas of need.

Five Wayland students, along with Baptist Student Ministries director Donnie Brown and his wife Lori and sponsor Virgil Hart spent their Fall Break on a quick trip to New Orleans to help with cleanup after Hurricane Katrina damaged many homes in the area. The group left Oct. 19 for the 15-hour trek to Louisiana, then spent three long days working on damaged homes before returning Sunday to Plainview.

Another group of seven students headed for Graford,  Texas, near Graham, on Wednesday afternoon and spent three long days working on a family’s home lost in a recent fire.

Brown said the New Orleans trip was simply part of Wayland’s response to the great need in the gulf states, coordinated through Go Now Missions of the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Student Ministries office. The Wayland group worked with Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner, La. to coordinate their efforts there.

“We broke into two groups, and one group would ‘nuke’ the house, which is gutting all the sheetrock about four feet up from the floor and preparing it to be repaired,” Brown explained. “The second group was preparing homes for the nuking process, carrying out damaged furniture and items, cleaning and pulling out carpet and tile floors.”

While much of the New Orleans area suffered damage beyond repair, Brown said the Wayland group worked in homes that were salvageable but required heavy work. Many of the residents were elderly or disabled or worked long hours and simply could not do the work themselves.

The group tried to prepare for the landscape of the storm-ravaged area, but Brown said it was impossible to really know what to expect.

“We drove through neighborhoods where the levy broke and there’s just no way to describe it except total destruction,” he said. “There was no electricity for miles and the smell of death was just all around.”

One student volunteer, senior Jalissa King of Portales, N.M., had a similar amazement at the situation.

“We saw that it was an equal opportunity storm. The rich and the poor were both affected by it and life is not back to normal there yet,” she said, noting that after a summer spent in disaster relief in tsunami-stricken Thailand, she felt prepared for the trip. “It was a pretty overwhelming experience. There were all these signs around with people trying to make money off others’ misfortune and it made me mad.”

Despite the destruction, though, the students saw God working in the situation and left with a renewed hope.“We told one man that he was an inspiration because he was so upbeat after losing everything and he told us, ‘I haven’t lost everything. I’ve lost those possessions you see, but God is still in the blessing business and he continues to bless us with things unseen as well as seen,’” Brown said. “That passage in Matthew 25 about when we do it unto the least of these… it just hit me that when we looked into their faces, we were looking into the face of Jesus.

“God was blessed, honored and lifted up through our service, and that was our goal.”Other students participating in the trip were Jacob Flick, Colby Anderson, Austin Kane and Bekah Jackson.

Meanwhile, in Graford, students were putting in long hours of hard labor helping the DeHaan family, friends of Wayland sophomore Michael Aker of Fort Worth, recover from their loss. Aker said the trip came together after he and roommate Luke Loetscher were discussing how they could help. The pair began talking to other students and recruited a good group for the Fall Break venture.

The family initially thought part of their home could be salvaged and rebuilt. Once the group started working, though, the plans changed.

“We were planning on building a metal frame for the house, and we had to tear most of the existing structure down for that,” said Luke Loetscher, a sophomore who went on the trip. “We decided we weren’t going to be able to salvage the wood, and the family got a good deal on a mobile home, so we ended up tearing down the house altogether.”

The group said it was difficult to have their plans change after putting in hours of heavy work tearing down the roof and the tin siding from the house, but in the end it proved to be necessary to remove the fire-damaged home and make room for the new structure.

“It was hard to have the plans change, and it taught me to be patient. But our team was really good and we worked really hard. We definitely felt the presence of God,” Loetscher said. “We knew we came to help the family and we were able to. We got a lot done that we couldn’t have without God’s help.”

The group worked 12-hour days and spent their evenings at First Baptist Church in Graford. The work was tiring, but Loetscher and Aker said they felt it was rewarding for all members of the team.

“I think it was a good trip,” Aker said. “It was a lot of hard work that sometimes seemed pointless, but in the end it all culminated into one big point. A lot of people said they wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was worth it to give up the break.”

Other students participating in the service effort included JennyBeth Alford, Ryan Bleyenberg, Hannah Dillard, Scott Ferguson and Emily Robinson.