U of A Wesley students started the year off right by cutting their winter break a week short to serve the people of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The trip, sponsored by Ozark Mission Project, focused on repairing homes that were damaged in the August flooding. Over 60,000 people had damage to their homes when some areas received over 30 inches of rainfall in just one day. U of A Wesley had 24 students, 3 staff and 2 volunteers join 60 other students and staff from Wesley Foundations all over the state of Arkansas to work on roofing, flooring, drywall, painting, and siding.
Students arose early each morning to spend a full day repairing homes. Some students spent all day standing in ankle-deep mud to repair subflooring while others conquered their fear of heights to repair roofs. At the end of each day, students were dirty and exhausted but couldn’t wait for worship to share how they had seen God move throughout the day. Whether it was through their interactions with each other or the homeowners they were serving, there were endless stories about how we had experienced God’s presence.
One of those stories was that of Gloria and Bill. They had met in Alcoholics Anonymous twenty years before and fallen in love as both made a redemptive turn in their lives. For the length of their marriage, they had lived in their home and served their community, Gloria working as a nurse and Bill doing HIV/AIDS testing and counseling throughout the Baton Rouge community. Since their neighborhood had never flooded before, Gloria and Bill, like all their neighbors, did not have any reason to think they needed flood insurance. Even as the water began to rise in other places in the city, they never dreamed it would reach their doorstep and were surprised when it did. As the situation became more dire, they hurriedly filled plastic tubs with important papers and belongings so they could float these valuables alongside as they waded their way out of the high waters engulfing their home and neighborhood. When the flood waters receded, Gloria and Bill went back to find extensive damage in their home.
They were not sure what to do. With Gloria on disability and receiving dialysis three times a week and Bill making a modest income, physical and financial resources were limited. Friends and family were pushing them to start the needed repair work to their home. But, Gloria would put them off saying she would deal with that after the first of the year. She didn’t know how they would do it, but she just felt the Lord would provide for her in His time.
And, the Lord did. Which is why when a team of seven students showed up to help on January 2nd, 2017, Gloria literally started praising God and dancing in her carport. For her, it was a clear answer to prayer! Only days before two volunteers had come to remove all of the damaged paneling from their home. Now, our team was there to replace that paneling with fresh drywall. As we hung drywall all week, Gloria kept celebrating, proclaiming God’s goodness, all the way up to our last day together when she sent us off with presents, hugs, her hearty thank you and a brightness in her eyes. We had helped her down the road to recovery and left with the confidence knowing that other teams would follow to finish the work. We had confirmed what she had always known and so enthusiastically reiterated to us – that God would take care of them.
U of A Wesley students left Baton Rouge feeling confident that their work made a difference for the families they served. Though the need is still great, students shined the light of Christ in all that they did. More than that, we were graced by the light of great faith, hope and determination that shown brightly among those who had lost everything. At least in a few homes, maybe the light now shines just a little brighter because we went and served. Most definitely, it shines brighter in our hearts from all that we received while there.
-Rev. Emily Burch