by Zach Krauss
Over fall break, 32 Cedarville students and three staff members ministered to those affected in Houston, Texas by Hurricane Harvey.
The trip was led by staff members Keith Holcomb, assistant director for Global Outreach; Jim Cato, associate vice president of Christian Ministries; and Deborah Brown, UMS receptionist.
The trip began on Oct. 14, before fall break officially started. Students from every year and multiple majors were excused from classes in to go on the trip. Cedarville’s specific relief target area for the week was the heavily impoverished Fifth Ward.
Cedarville students worked alongside an organization known as the Farrington Mission. The mission is based in an impoverished area still struggling with large amounts of hurricane damage. Many local Houston churches support Farrington, which allows the center to run a food pantry, clothing closet, and a holistic women’s healthcare center. A major partner of Farrington is Northeast Houston Baptist Church, whose members provided host homes for the Cedarville students throughout the trip.
Ministry during the days of the trip looked different for different members of the team. Much work was done in the Fifth Ward Community in houses that had been damaged by flood waters, as well as in the flooded rooms of Farrington itself. Samie Scanlan, sophomore early childhood education major, said she mainly assisted in homes that had been partially worked on but still had final jobs to be done. Students working in homes pulled out nails, helped repaint walls, and tore down walls beyond repair.“A lot of times it felt like we were the anchor for the community,” Scanlan said. “We were trying to make the place more up to par and bearable. After this time of tragedy, it was really cool to be able to help even a little bit.”
Other students worked in the Farrington Mission food pantry. During the trip, the food pantry was open and functioning, allowing families to come and receive meals. Students working at the mission helped dispense meals and talked with families as they packed their food.
The students also had the opportunity to evangelize in the community. Scanlan said that they went into the ministry thinking that it might be easier to evangelize to people because of the tragedy that was going on. However, she said a lot of people were more closed off than expected.
“There were a lot of rejections, but the one person that listened was good, and that made it worth it,” Scanlan said.
Students said that even while they were at host homes, they were able to minister and grow. Erica Whittenberger, a sophomore early childhood education major, said that while she stayed in the homes, they were able to play with the host’s children and help them with homework. She also said they spent a substantial portion of their time off praying for the days to come.
“Even in the little things, I felt like I mattered as I continued to help,” Whittenberger said. “No matter where I was, I felt like I was making a difference.”
The bus drivers for the trip, Rich Coolman, Craig Smalley, and Mike Kerlin, were all members of a non-profit ministry known as Light Rider Ministry. The three drivers took turns throughout the night to transport the Cedarville students just as efficiently as on a charter bus, but for a lower price.
More surprising to the team was the rest of the ministry that the three men were able to be involved with. Throughout the trip, Coolman, Smalley, and Kerlin were all involved in helping students do the tasks they were doing in the communities. Their service allowed the group to have a broader impact because they could accompany more groups of students.
Midway through the trip, Jim Cato was admitted to the hospital due to a brain tumor. He had to undergo surgery in Houston and spend some of his recovery time there. Many of the students who went on the trip were afraid for Cato, but were comforted knowing that he was in safe hands. Whittenberger heard about Cato’s situation from her host family.
“We knew Grandpa Jim was where he needed to be,” Whittenberger said.
Holcomb said one of the most surprising parts of the trip was just how much there was to be done. At the time of the trip, it had been about four to five weeks since the hurricane had made landfall.
Many members of the team said that it was sometimes unclear what exactly had to be done in some situations because of how varied the damage and repair work was. Certain areas of the Houston area were not in as much need as the Fifth Ward, and sometimes the gravity of the situation became very apparent to the students and the team leaders.
“Imagining the way things used to be and seeing how they had to start from the ground up really helped me understand what the people went through,” Holcomb said.
The students and staff attested to the growth that they experienced as a result of the trip’s ministry. Being around such brokenness and seeing families still willing to work together gave students a greater view of the concept of community and service.
Holcomb was involved in several aspects of the trip, including accompanying students during evangelism. He said being able to share the Gospel with people that won’t necessarily respond in the way that is expected is challenging and one of the most helpful parts of the trip.
“It’s also very encouraging for us, however, as we speak with people who have lost so much,” Holcomb said. “We bring hope to a place where they didn’t have it before.”
Zach Krauss is a junior pharmacy/music double major from central Texas and campus reporter for Cedars. He loves music, theatre, biology, community, and meeting new people.