The killer superstorm wrecked businesses, destroyed homes and dealt a devastating blow to residents along the New Jersey coast and further inland.
World Changers and P2 Missions, both ministries of LifeWay Christian Resources, combined forces July 6-13 to offer help to those in need in Neptune, N.J., and the greater Monmouth County area. More than 600 students and adults from 26 churches and 11 states completed 90 local projects, including painting houses, building wheelchair ramps, installing sheetrock, conducting Backyard Bible Clubs, and even sprucing up the local ballpark.
It is the sixth straight summer that Neptune has welcomed students from World Changers, which provides students and adults with opportunities to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others. A key facet of World Changers' work entails improving substandard housing for low-income homeowners in cities across the U.S. and in Canada. Volunteers donate a week of their summer working in conjunction with cities, churches and community agencies to provide renovations at no charge.
That mission goes hand-in-hand with P2 Missions, whose participants focus their efforts on meeting needs and demonstrating God's love through action while partnering with and serving alongside local church planters in the nation's most strategic cities.
"We've had a tremendous partnership with the folks in Neptune and Monmouth County," said John Bailey, World Changers director. "When they asked us to increase the number of volunteers this summer to accommodate the needs in the community due to the damage caused by Sandy, we were glad to say yes."
The large size of the Neptune project required double the coordinating teams and double the resources. Local partnerships were key to coordinating construction materials as well as meals on the work sites. Neptune Township provided more than $30,000 for construction supplies, and local food banks provided lunches every day.
Students and adults worked with experienced construction crew chiefs, assisting residents affected by Sandy to clean up and repair damaged property as well as assisting low-income residents with ongoing needs.
Bobby Cartwright and his father, Bob, residents of nearby Oceanport, N.J., rode out last fall's storm in the family home, built in 1831. Bobby recalls the terrifying sound of 80-90 mph winds and the way the rising water from the storm surge shot through cracks in the dining room floor.
The two climbed to the second floor as floodwater rose to three-and-a-half feet on the lower level.
"It was like being on a sinking ship," Bobby Cartwright said.
Outside, the rising waters turned the Cartwrights' yard into a lake, and boats from a nearby marina began floating down the streets of Oceanport. Power lines kept a 46-foot boat from crashing into the Cartwrights' house.
Due to extensive flooding, the Cartwrights gutted the entire first floor. They did the work themselves, choosing to stay in their home after the storm. The second floor is the only livable space but still has no heat or air conditioning. They soon discovered insurance would only cover a fraction of the cost of the repairs.
"It's been hard for homeowners to obtain resources for materials," said David Flatt, missions pastor of First Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., and one of the coordinators for the Neptune project. "Many are having to face the tough decision of whether to keep their home or walk away. If we can get them back in their homes, that will help them tremendously."
A partnership between World Changers and Oceanport Cares opened the door for volunteers to be matched with the Cartwrights and other local residents. Oceanport Cares was established by the residents to provide assistance during the recovery and rebuilding after Sandy.
"I never thought the house would go back together," Cartwright said. "Just to see the progress they've made is absolutely amazing."
Robin Daly Lenorth, Oceanport Cares' volunteer coordinator, said the partnership with World Changers has been like a puzzle with all the pieces coming together perfectly.
"The families of Oceanport were overwhelmed with the after-effects of the storm, and now they're overjoyed to know they are not alone," Lenorth said. "It's been wonderful to connect these dedicated students to people in need. They take every project to the next level."
"We've been leveling the floor and hope to install the subfloor, insulation and drywall before we leave," said Duncan, a first-time World Changers participant. "There was no floor when we arrived; I had no idea how we were going to get it done."
For Duncan, World Changers has been a learning experience.
"I've learned how to hammer; I was terrible when we started," she said. "I've also learned a lot of patience -- waiting on God's plan -- and learning to be fluid."
Duncan said residents have been surprised to learn how far students have traveled to help.
"We've been able to tell people we're here because God loves them and we want to show that love in a tangible way," she said.
The participants stayed at Neptune High School, sleeping in classrooms and eating meals in the cafeteria. Each morning, they were up for breakfast at 6 a.m. and on the job by 7 a.m. The students paid $309 each for the week's experience.
"People in New Jersey have been blown away by the depth and breadth of ministry done by Southern Baptists," said David Persson, director of the North Jersey Network of Churches. "It's helping to lessen some of the negative perceptions people may have about Southern Baptists, and we're seeing God work through ministries like World Changers."
This year, more than 15,500 students will participate in 97 projects in 65 cities across North America and in Puerto Rico through World Changers and P2 Missions.
Carol Pipes is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. 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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