After the tragedy of Hurricane Ike, thousands of Texas residents were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. While many seemed to stand idly by, junior economics major Tommy Wilson and a group of 23 other UMHB students saw an opportunity to serve.
“Tommy is the incarnation of the spiritual gift of service,” Baptist Student Ministry Director Shawn Shannon said. “If Pavlov’s dog’s salivate when they hear a bell, Tommy goes into action when he sees a need. He came in to contact me about the trip within a week of the hurricane, and this was while he was working with the evacuees at the First Baptist, Belton.”
The student-led mission trip to Bridge City, Texas, was independent of the university but was supported by both the BSM and the Bell Baptist Association.
Wilson, who has been involved in various mission opportunities throughout his college career, including spending a year in Hong Kong, was highly qualified to spearhead the trip.
“As I was nearing the end of my China experience, the earthquake hit,” Wilson said. “I was ready to jump out of a helicopter, with a Bible and a shovel and start digging people out. God gave me the opportunity to go in with a team there … and that experience really prepared me to jump in and lead ministry here.”
To Wilson, giving back to those in need is a way for him to show thankfulness for all he has.
“I’ve been blessed with a lot,” he said. “First off, I haven’t been hit with a hurricane. I have an able body and good health, and I want to use what I’ve been given to give back.”
The group of students and one adult sponsor from Wilson’s home church were able to serve for three days over fall break. During this time period, they were able to work on three homes as well as replace the roof of Lamar University’s BSM building.
“We mainly did mud-outs,” Wilson said, “which is going into homes … and tearing out anything that had water damage. We would tear it back to the foundations of the house and the wall and let it dry out and disinfect it.”
Houses in need of the same type of work number in the hundreds in the surrounding areas.
Freshman social work major Bethany Franz went on the trip.
“It was very humbling to serve these people affected by the hurricane,” Franz said. “I could not imagine losing everything; it made me truly thankful for the blessings God has given me. It really brought to mind that we shouldn’t take what we have for granted.”
Franz believes the experience was educational.
“I learned how powerful a hurricane can be and how it can change lives in seconds,” she said. “I was also reminded that God provides and works in ways we do not always understand. I also learned how to put shingles down and quicker methods of peeling up a linoleum floor.”
The church heading up the ministry work in the area is First Baptist Church in Vidor, Texas. Another ministry aiding in the clean-up is the BSM at Lamar University.
“We do a free lunch on the orange campus every week,” Lamar BSM director Darrin Ford said. “Six of the churches that used to provide the service and the food no longer have either the funds or the help to do that any more, so donations are needed. Seventy-five dollars will feed all of those students for the week.”
Ford spoke about the mindset of the people hit by the storm.
“I think there was a lot of hopelessness at first. People have lost everything, but I think there is a growing hopefulness in the people. A big part of that is the volunteer work and the donations of people that have been generous enough to give.
“We’re going to get through this. God is going to take this terrible situation and restore it. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to wake people up and open their eyes towards Christ.”
Ford highlighted how the tragedy has affected college students in the area.
“For most, taking a two-week vacation in the middle of the semester would be considered a good thing,” Ford said. “But when it comes to the reality of it, trying to cram the information that you were supposed to learn into a lot smaller allotment of time, suddenly there is less time for projects and homework assignments, and finals week is canceled. A lot of kids have given up on this semester and are dropping out until spring or later. But that is really making a bad situation worse.”
Ford said help can look a lot of different ways.
“The biggest thing we need is prayer to see this thing through and for the wisdom to know what to do,” he said. “This has really opened up people in the community to the gospel, so we need prayer that we’ll not waste any opportunities. Nothing is too small, anything from a package of socks to coming down for a weekend and serving.”
The BSM at UMHB will take as many donations as students have to offer and will ship them to Lamar. Those interested in serving may contact Shawn Shannon at the BSM.
“I would say to someone who wants to serve, just go,” Wilson said. “The hardest things is taking that first step and committing to do it. It’s not important whether you’re qualified or good at the type of work you’re going to do. The important thing is having a servant’s heart and saying, ‘I’ll do whatever needs to be done.’ The need will always be there, I’m hoping to that in the next couple of years students would couple with these people who desperately need our help.”