Fires spark compassion in students
With the smoke still settling in the aftermath of the wildfires and prayers for rain still on many lips, it is hard to imagine that just a year ago, it was floodwaters sweeping through Central Texas, not flames.
As Student Body President, senior international business major Kassidy Harris sat down at the first executive Campus Activities Board meeting of the semester, he looked over the agenda from the same meeting 12 months earlier, and saw that the main concern at the time was flood relief to the city of Belton.
This realization caused Harris, along with others, to question what the campus could do now to aid those affected by the wildfires, the way they had in the past.
Harris remembers thinking, “We have to step up. We don’t have a choice.”
Due to UMHB’s proximity to the communities of Magnolia, Bastrop and other surrounding areas, many students had family and friends who lost everything. In Bastrop and Magnolia combined, 1,630 structures were destroyed and four lives were lost.
“It was something that hit home. It wasn’t something that was far away,” Assistant Director of Student Organizations Tiffany Wurdemann said.
Wurdemann thinks the university has a responsibility to serve those in need, even if they are outside of the community.
“I think it’s important for UMHB to care about their neighbors… We are a Christian school, and part of that is showing love to our neighbors,” she said. “I think it teaches our students and our community what is important to us.”
“We decided we needed to do something, and something tangible was water,” Wurdemann said.
The Student Government Association, along with the Baptist Student Ministry, turned collecting the resource into a competition
between student organizations in order to further encourage others to give.
“We wanted to kind of have fun with it because we knew we would get more if we had a contest,” Harris said.
The organizations were asked to donate cases of bottled water, and the group with the highest number would receive extra funds added to its budget for the year.
“We started collecting water, and it never stopped coming,” Harris said.
The more than 400 cases of water donated were given to the Salvation Army and First Baptist Church in Bastrop, where some members of the congregation lost their homes.
Senior pastor at FBC Bastrop Dr. Raymond Edge describes the wildfires as stressful and full of anxiety because they dragged on for so long.
“Some knew they lost their homes early on, and others waited to find out. It was different. The disaster was not over in hours or even in a few days. It carried on for weeks,” he said.
For a time, the church served as a temporary haven for families whose houses burned down, as well as helping to feed firefighters and those at other shelters in the area.
The church property on Highway 71 was also used to stage cleanup campaigns for disaster relief teams.
“The donations we received were so appreciated. Many families have lost everything, so the donations have helped them get through a rough time,” he said.
While the flames were still roaring, the university also held a time of prayer for all those affected.
On Friday, Sept. 9, students, faculty and staff gathered at Luther Memorial for the event. The site holds special meaning, as it is the campus’ own reminder of the devastation fire can bring. In 1929, Luther Hall burned down and the memorial was constructed in remembrance of the building which had been the heart of campus.
Harris believes that while the raising of donations was important, this time was what mattered most during the relief efforts.
“We knew we could do all of this other stuff, but the purpose is to pray for these guys. That’s the main thing,” he said.
Though much has already been done, the process of rebuilding all that was lost is really just beginning.
Sophomore nursing and Christian ministries major Dylan Topliff hopes to be a part of the continued efforts.
He is working with First Year Council to gather volunteers at UMHB to partner with his home church, Rosanky Baptist, as they start cleaning up what was left from the fires.
Topliff grew up just outside of Bastrop in Cedar Creek and attended Bastrop High School.
“It is my home town. I grew up there. It’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody, and a lot of my friends are being affected,” he said. “It makes me feel like I need to be there to help out in some way.”
Edge is thankful for all that has been done to aid his community and asks for continued prayer, knowing that it is far from over.
He said, “No one would have guessed such a thing would have happened in Bastrop. The recovery — physically, mentally and spiritually will take a long time.”