Helping rip out walls and floors infested with mold and damaged by mud and water wasn’t the most fun Mollie Jones had ever had during a spring break, but the experience was probably the most rewarding.
The sophomore from Appalachian State University in Boone was one of hundreds of college students who gave up a week of sleeping late to work with North Carolina Baptist Men and other Southern Baptist disaster relief teams. In recent weeks students have helped Hurricane Sandy victims rebuild and reclaim their homes in Allenwood, N.J. and in other areas of the Northeast damaged by the “superstorm.”
“It definitely wasn’t like most people’s spring breaks, sleeping on the floor and taking cold showers and working all day,” said Jones, a member of First Baptist Church, Hickory.
“I don’t think people realize how bad it is in New Jersey. It’s been four or five months, and it doesn’t look like anything has changed.”
Photo by Laura Sikes
Christen Dierken, 24, pulls up mold-infested flooring from a home on Staten Island, N.Y. Dierken, a graduate student at the University of the Cumberlands, worked long days with her team. “We just kept going because we knew it was for God’s purpose,” said Dierken, who helped lead the team with her husband.
While students have helped N.C. Baptist Men complete around 60 projects since December, more than 700 remain. During the week of March 11-17 Jones helped do her part, which included consoling one family who learned most of their house was infested with black mold and needs to be rebuilt.
“I think they were in shock a little bit … because they didn’t really realize how bad their house was,” she said.
“They were living there hoping they would be OK. One of the sons was really sick because of the mold he was living in. … It was an emotional day.”
Another day included prying loose a board that had more than “1,000 nails.”
“I’m not exaggerating,” she said. “For four or five hours. … We were pulling nails for the Lord.”
The experience for many of the students will change their lives, said Billy Layton, project leader for the N.C. Baptist Men’s team.
“These students have chosen to come and serve instead of going to the beach or to the mountains or to the Caribbean or wherever,” he said. “That’s very touching to me.”
Another collegiate team worked with Southern Baptist’s Disaster Relief ministry in Staten Island.
Donning protective suits, gloves, boots and masks, a Baptist Campus Ministry contingent from the University of the Cumberlands, the Baptist-affiliated university in Williamsburg, Ky., also tore out insulation, pulled up mold-infested floors and hauled mud and sewage from basements of homes flooded by the hurricane’s storm surge.
“Anything dirty, we jumped into it,” said David Dierken, a co-leader with his wife Christen.
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 Angelica 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.”
Most teams went non-stop through the long days, from a 6 a.m. wakeup until bedtime at 11 p.m.
“It was exhausting,” said graduate student Christen Dierken. 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.
Noticing only bricks left from a home strewn in a flooded field while he walked through one of the neighborhoods the group worked in, David 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,” he said. “What’s really left after that is God’s Word.”
For more information or to volunteer go to baptistsonmission.org or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5599.