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Collegians, on spring break, labor for New Orleans’ recovery

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Nearly 1,900 students are spending their spring breaks removing moldy sheetrock, insulation and flooring from the flood-damaged homes of New Orleans.

The students, many from Baptist Collegiate Ministries across the country, are spending their week-long breaks in March as part of the ongoing rebuilding efforts coordinated by the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

The students are staying in Camp Algiers, a tent city run by FEMA, that provides housing, meals, laundry and showers after a hard day at work. The camp even offers a relaxation tent to watch a favorite show on several big screen TVs and wireless Internet to keep up with e-mail or to surf the Web.

“When you come, you prepare yourself to be in a crisis situation,” Stewart Moody, college minister at First Baptist Church in Statesboro, Ga., said. “You can talk about that in theory and see that on TV, but you get in the midst of it and put faces to it, then it becomes reality.

“I realized I live my life so removed from the pain of people,” he said. “I’ve got to invest in the lives of people that I walk and breathe with [in Statesboro], just like people here in the city are doing. It’s about walking with people in their pain.”

New Orleans resident Edward Powell watched the students unload wheelbarrows full of insulation and debris. “It means so much to me. I didn’t have flood insurance, only homeowners,” Powell said while taking a break from pulling weeds, a task that his son said he should not have been doing because of health problems.

“I’ve been in this house 42 years; even in [Hurricane] Betsy I didn’t have no water [flooding]. I ain’t never had no water, even when these other people had water on these other streets,” said Powell, whose home was marked by two water lines, one four feet high caused by the storm surge and the other, about seven feet high, from the levee break.

Retired teacher Exie Harrison, who had lived in her home for 37 years, said, “I just love the students so much. They are all so sweet and they are working so hard.

“I know they are working hard,” Harrison said, “because my house is a mess.”

“To see this firsthand, six months after it happened, is more than you can imagine or believe,” said Kyle Johnson from the University of Kentucky. “I am just really blessed to have these people let us come in and serve the Lord. Hopefully, we will help them out in a way where they will not see what we are doing, but what God is doing in our lives.”

Page Sigman, a student at the University of Oklahoma, said God was showing her “how temporary life is and how we store up so many treasures on earth that just go away.”

She compared the work the students were doing to what God does in people’s lives: “Sometimes God does, or continually does, a mudout of our souls because we have so much filth in there. I realize it takes a lot of cleaning and a lot of work.”

The most unusual event of the week happened to Trista Wright, who attends Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah, Ga. While pulling sheetrock from the walls of a closet, Trista found an air conditioning vent and subsequently found at least $30,000 that had been hidden there.

“At first, I thought it was monopoly money,” Wright said. “It was just stacks of $100 bills. The money was very old.”

The owner of the home had inherited the house from her mother and was not surprised by the find because her mother hid things around her house all the time. She was, however, shocked at the amount. “The lady was speechless,” Wright said. “It was such a blessing to the family. The Lord really blessed the family at the right time because [the owner] had some medical tests done today and was very anxious about the results.”

Mike Morgan, a volunteer office manager for the NAMB rebuilding efforts, said, “We have had very, very positive feedback from those folks getting their homes cleaned out, many of them in tears. They are so thankful for the students being here. One lady that was helped by the students told me that the residents in her area did not expect their homes to be cleaned out until next fall.”
Keith Manuel is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New Orleans.

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