When college students go to Texas for spring break, it is hard not to assume their time will be spent on the sandy beaches of South Padre Island, the unofficial party capital of March.
However, for a small group of MSUM students, their week off was spent in the mud and rubble still left behind after Hurricane Harvey last August.
Two staff members and 21 students from MSUM’s chapter of Cru, a national Christian organization on university campuses, joined around 400 other college students in the Houston area to aid in the cleanup efforts.
The local volunteers donned “Jesus Army” shirts and rebuilt homes from the foundation up in the small town of Rosharon. The town, which is also called “Little Cambodia” due to the high number of residents that emigrated from the Southeast Asian country, is about 30 miles from the Houston city center.
“Following Christ calls us to serve others and show the love of God through that,” junior Sophie Friesen said. “The purpose of the trip wasn’t just to clean up and rebuild, but to take what the Gospel says into action.”
Not only did these college students volunteer their downtime assisting the hurricane cleanup, they actually paid to go.
According to senior Shay Dahle, another student MSUM volunteer, the $200 price tag covered everything once they got to the Houston area: food, accommodation and the supplies needed to work. In addition to those costs, the group traveled south in a rental-car convoy of five vehicles.
Paying money to spend time in the mud? Some may say they were insane, but the group was just following in the footsteps of their local leader, Steve Perry, who moved his entire life from Dallas after he saw what needed to be done in Rosharon.
“We had just given a week, but this man and so many others had given up weeks and months to help a community that they could have just forgotten about,” Friesen said. “The selflessness and servant-hearted attitude that those life choices result from is truly inspirational and convicting for me.”
Though it is an admirable act to pick up your adult life in pursuit of service, Perry is an outlier. Outside of the local area, one is hard-pressed to find stories of Hurricane Harvey devastation in any news cycle.
“I think anger came to my mind (when I first got to Rosharan),” MSUM senior Lee Muellenbach said. “It’s not being talked about enough. We just think it’s OK now. You hear about all these organizations donating millions of dollars to help (the hurricane relief). What they actually need is people to take that money and do something with it.”
The two-week storm that flooded 300,000 buildings in southeast Texas racked up $120 billion in damages. That sits just over Hurricane Katrina’s $108 billion. Not only did it take years to clean up New Orleans after Katrina in 2005, some homes remain abandoned, as the 2014 census came in almost 100,000 fewer than in 2000.
Like major storms of the past, the time and energy needed to restore Houston and its greater area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey cannot be calculated. Still, the group found real value in their visit.
“I definitely think we made an impact,” Friesen said. “We weren’t there long, but there were a lot of us, and we were part of something much bigger than ourselves. We were the first of four weeks of volunteer college students coming. Although we didn’t get to see the project completed, it’s encouraging to know that we helped start the work, and others will ‘carry the torch.’”