Saturday at 6am Vital University Missions staff and students piled into cars and began driving to Rockport, TX for a Day of Service. In my car I had one student from Trinity University and one from the University of the Incarnate Word. Having these two students in my car headed to do hurricane relief sparked something inside me. You see, when I was a student at UIW back in 2005 Hurricane Katrina made it ways to gulf coast and for the rest of my time at UIW I made many trips to New Orleans and Mississippi in hurricane relief efforts. Those trips were taken with the ministry I currently serve in and at the time was partnered with Trinity University. Some of my good friends today are Trinity alum that I served along side when I was in college.
So in an effort to build connections with these two students in my car I told them this story. They both laughed and said that Trinity Students and UIW students don’t hang out together. I smiled because I believed the same thing when I was a student. I asked one of them to remind me of their academic major and plans after school. The next two hours of the trip was filled with conversations about both of their passions around food insecurity, poverty, global health and their hopes for their future careers. It turns out they had a lot more in common than they thought. I love how Jesus has funny way of making His way into the most ‘unlikely’ of people and building friendships.
When we arrived at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, we were met with students and Chelsea from the Valley. The nine of us stood in the hallway of St. Peter’s and got our marching orders from church members organizing relief efforts. Some students stayed at the church to help sort shoes and clothing donations from the University of Houston. The rest of us made our way to Fulton through narrow streets filled with debris that lined both sides of the road. As we arrived to the home of Mr. Greene, he was standing by the street ready to greet us. He had been staying in Alice, TX since the evacuation order went out and just returned home the day before. He was still taking stock of what was left of his belongings that were outside the walls of his cinderblock house when Hurricane Harvey hit. It appeared he was a lucky one; half of his neighbors lived in trailers that were mangled by the winds. We helped him sort through what had not blown away from his carport and storage shed, swept his driveway and picked up limbs from his yard. It didn’t seem like much, but it was the first step in allowing Mr. Greene to evaluate what needed to be done next as he transitions back home.
We headed back to the church to meet up with the rest of the group for lunch. We spent the rest of the day working at the church sorting a moving truck filled with boxes of clothes, sports equipment and shoes alongside our new friends Sarah and Ken. As members of St. Peter’s, Sarah and Ken were slowing sorting the donations for three days before we got there. The sanctuary at St. Peter’s became a makeshift sorting area with countless uniforms and team shirts from universities around the country. Witnessing the generosity of the universities, coaches, and student athletes was deeply humbling.
By the early afternoon we said goodbye to our new friends at St. Peter’s and our students from the Valley then headed north. The conversation wasn’t as lively as it was on the way down; we were exhausted and little overwhelmed at the incredibly small dent we made in the work that still needs to be done in the Coastal Bend Region. Vital will return with excited hearts to continue this work alongside each other and grow friendships with those we encounter in the places we go. I pray for those who we met and who we haven’t met yet, that they would be surrounded by the God’s grace and peace as they continue to sort out what is next. May God give us the endurance to meet the never-ending needs of those affected by Hurricane Harvey and the awareness to do what is needed today.