Students Help East Baton Rouge Residents Rebuild

March 23, 2017 • United States

Dozens of college students spent their spring break rebuilding flood-ravaged Louisiana homes.

A 10-year-old boy burst into tears when he saw his belongings packed into boxes. The family has moved five times within the past seven months since record rainfall flooded their house in Denham Springs, Louisiana, located east of Baton Rouge.

Leah Calmes’ family hasn’t been able to stay with relatives long term because 25 people in her extended family also are dealing with flood damage to their homes.

1728US-C: students moving furniture at Leah Calmes home in Denham Springs, LA

Isabel Dowty and Emilie Schweikert from Virginia Tech help homeowners pack their belongings.

“It’s been hard on our older son,” said Leah, whose sons are ages 3 and 10. “It’s been hard on all of us, but especially hard on him to move so many times.”

Samaritan’s Purse volunteer Isabel Dowty said the most important thing that she and her fellow team members did while at the Calmes’ home was to pray with them.

“It’s easy for those of us living outside of this to forget or to not realize what families like this are still going through, seven months after they went through a flood,” Isabel said. “But when you’re here with them, you start to feel what they’re going through. It makes it personal.”

Isabel, a human nutrition, foods, and exercise major from Virginia Tech, was part of a group of five young people from New Life Christian Fellowship in Blacksburg, Virginia, who spent their spring break helping flood-stricken families in East Baton Rouge.

Sadness to Thankfulness

Baton Rouge homeowner Tamara Davis also had difficulty finding a place to live after the flood. It took her weeks to find the apartment where she and her 13-year-old daughter are staying. Her oldest daughter, 19, attends college out of state.

1728US-B: Cedarville students rebuilding at Bruce and Pamela Simmons home in Greenwell Springs, LA

Brian Parks from Wabash College in Indiana said his first missions trip was a rewarding experience of helping a family in Jesus’ Name.

The prospect of visiting their house, devoid of their flood-destroyed belongings, was gut-wrenching to Tamara for many months.

But after Samaritan’s Purse volunteers began to repair the house during the past two months, Tamara now looks forward to spending her lunch breaks with the volunteers at her home.

“I keep crying every day I come here. At first, they were sad tears. But today, my tears are happy ones,” Tamara said. “To have people to pray with me, to talk with me; it just means a lot.

“The people I’ve met—from a spiritual perspective, it’s uplifting to me and my daughters in ways I didn’t realize we needed.”

Tamara still agonizes over waiting to evacuate their home. She didn’t think the water would rise as fast as it did, so she and her daughters had to be rescued by boat.

1728US-B: Cedarville students rebuilding at Bruce and Pamela Simmons home in Greenwell Springs, LA

Dylan Mangold from Cedarville University in Ohio installs insulation with the help of Justin Miller from Wabash College in Indiana.

“I haven’t been able to forgive myself,” said Tamara, who had feared for their lives. “As a mother, you want to protect your children.”

The volunteers working on her house prayed and shared Scripture with her. The team that repaired the walls wrote verses of Scripture on its boards. A team from East Tennessee State University gave Tamara a signed photo of her and the group, including Scripture references.

It’s About Relationships

Tony Clark, Samaritan’s Purse program manager for the East Baton Rouge home rebuilds, told the volunteers that more important than the construction work are the relationships formed.

“I want you to grow closer to each other and to the Lord while you’re here,” Tony told the students.

It’s that spiritual emphasis that drew student ministries pastor Josh Pack and seven college students from Rock Point Church in Crawfordsville, Indiana, to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse.

“I like how much of a priority there is on the Gospel on the work sites, that you’re encouraged to stop to pray,” said Josh, who also has served as a Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief volunteer in Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

1728US-B: Cedarville students rebuilding at Bruce and Pamela Simmons home in Greenwell Springs, LA

Homeowner Bruce Simmons works on his home alongside Samaritan’s Purse volunteers.

“The benefit of a Samaritan’s Purse project is also that it’s a cost-affordable, well-organized trip for college students so they can go and serve,” said Josh, who expressed appreciation that Samaritan’s Purse partners with churches near the affected areas to house and provide meals for the volunteers.

The student volunteers in his group were from Cedarville University, a Christian college in western Ohio, and from Wabash College’s Christian Men’s group in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Brian Parks, a Wabash finance and math major and football player, is part of the campus ministry Athletes Making Plays Every Day.

“It’s my first missions trip,” Brian said as he hung sheets of drywall in the home of Bruce and Pamela Simmons in Greenwell Springs. “I’m having fun, working with my brothers in Christ. It’s satisfying to, at the end of the day, be working for Christ. That means something to me—to do something in the name of Christ for this family.”

Samaritan’s Purse volunteers first helped the Simmons clear water-soaked belongings from their house in August.

A few weeks before their home flooded, Bruce, a sergeant for the East Baton Rouge sheriff’s department, was shot in the arm during an ambush that killed three officers.

He gives thanks to God that he’s regained some movement in his wrist and fingers after the bullet shattered part of his upper arm bone.

“I’ve learned to put everything in God’s hands. He has the master plan,” said Bruce, who said that he’s drawn closer to the Lord. “I’ve walked away from Him a couple of times in the past, but He’s never walked away from me.”

Bruce, who was an electrician before joining the police department, worked alongside the students at his home.

“That these students would give up their spring break to help is truly a blessing,” Bruce said.

Volunteers are needed to help rebuild homes in East Baton Rouge. Individuals or groups can serve one to two weeks at a time.

U.S. Disaster Relief Samaritan's Purse mobilizes and equips thousands of disaster relief volunteers to provide emergency aid to U.S. victims of wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In the aftermath of major storms, we often stay behind to rebuild houses for people with nowhere else to turn for help.

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