Donning protective suits, gloves, boots and masks, a Baptist Campus Ministry contingent from the University of the Cumberlands readily took on such jobs as tearing out insulation, pulling up mold-infested floors and hauling mud and sewage from basements of homes flooded by Hurricane Sandy's storm surge.
"Anything dirty, we jumped into it," said David Dierken, a co-leader with his wife Christen, who said he was proud of the mission team's labors.
The eight-member group who worked during spring break joined hundreds of students from across the country who have served as part of the collegiate Southern Baptist Disaster Relief recovery response to Hurricane Sandy.
The current effort on Staten Island, coordinated by the North American Mission Board and the Baptist Convention of New York, will continue through mid-April. Project coordinator Bruce Poss said NAMB plans to have a two-year presence in the area. He said there is a need for more team leaders for the recovery and rebuild ministry.
The Cumberlands team members, who ranged in age from 18 to 28, hadn't known each other well before the work began. That ended quickly by tackling any job together with a willingness to serve, Dierken said. Students paid their own way, beyond transportation and some expenses provided by the Baptist-affiliated university in Williamsburg, Ky.
Cumberlands' freshman Brian Stills, 19, -- on his first mission trip -- said he was humbled by the devastation and loss that people suffered. He and others worked three days doing mud-out and cleanup on a flooded home less than a mile from the ocean.
The homeowner, a mother with two teenage daughters, was emotional when they met her.
"To see how little we did and to see how it touched somebody instantly slapped me in the face," Stills said, while 18-year-old team member Angeliccaa Williams was stirred by how the woman "almost cried before we lifted a finger. The house was just floors, beams and a roof when we walked in. There was nothing inside."
Graduate student Christen Dierken said the group went non-stop through the long days, from a 6 a.m. wakeup until bedtime at 11 p.m.
"It was exhausting," she said.
If they started to grow weary during the day, the 24-year-old Dierken said they would look to volunteer Ralph Payson, a 68-year-old Staten Islander, for inspiration.
Payson, a New York Fire Department retiree, helped supervise the Kentucky team's efforts and worked beside them. Payson has worked closely with Baptist volunteers since the storm ravaged his hometown last October. Payson helped set up the tent city -- temporary home for the students -- on the grounds of Zion Lutheran Church.
"All these kids are great to take their vacation to come here and help my neighbors," Payson said.
Payson modeled servanthood to the group, Christen Dierken said, noting that he would always look out for needs of nearby neighbors as the team worked on their assigned homes.
"At the end of the day, he would take the time to give neighbors gift cards from the church," Dierken said.
On the group's last day, they took a trip into the city. On the return ferry to Staten Island, members talked with a homeless man who had gone through rough times. He promised the group he would go to church on Sunday and asked them for a Bible, but he needed a big print one, not a small pocket New Testament.
"I didn't think twice about it," David Dierken said. "I had my Bible in my bag. I just gave him mine."
Noticing only bricks left from a home strewn in a flooded field while he walked through one of the neighborhoods the group worked in, Dierken said Isaiah 40:8 in Scripture stuck with him all week.
"All the stuff that we think is permanent, like a house, can be taken away in the blink of an eye. What's really left after that is God's Word," Dierken said.
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."
Laura Sikes writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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