After the storm
In August 2016, Louisiana suffered the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The Salvation Army Baton Rouge Corps lost eight of its nine buildings.
The Salvation Army Student Fellowship (SASF) at Houghton College wanted this year’s annual missions trip to be unique and bigger than previous missions trips. Major Evelyn Hopping, corps officer at the Wellsville, N.Y., Corps, where the Houghton SASF attends service on Sunday, was pleased to hear the students’ desire to do something that would reflect their call and commitment to service.
“Besides worship on Sundays, the SASF is involved in the corps and in the greater mission of the Army,” says Major Hopping. “They do thrift store sales on campus to raise money for world services, and help with a Halloween party at the corps that brings in hundreds of people from the Wellsville community.”
“In the past, we had traveled to places like New Jersey and Ohio,” said Emily Wing, one of the six SASF students who took part in this year’s trip. “In those locations, we worked with people in poverty. But this time, we hoped to go somewhere that had been affected by something beyond that.”
Heather Phillips, a junior, agreed. “In Camden, N.J., we ministered and talked to people. This time, we wanted something hands–on.”
After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Houghton SASF had helped with the recovery on the east coast. The idea of being part of another recovery effort appealed to the group. Hopping arranged for her, Soldier Elizabeth Ramirez, and the Houghton SASF team to travel 1,300 miles to The Salvation Army Baton Rouge Corps in Louisiana.
In August 2016, Louisiana suffered the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy. Heavy rain fell on the southern and southeastern part of the state, which left areas with three times more rainfall than Hurricane Katrina delivered in 2005. An estimated 146,000 homes were damaged or lost.
The Salvation Army Baton Rouge Corps lost eight of its nine buildings, including its Corps Salvage and Rehabilitation Center (CSRC), its thrift store, and a warehouse to hold donations. The corps building also lost its kitchen and offices.
Genesis Powell Morales, Mission Specialist for the corps, had just moved from Jackson, Mississippi. To avoid the storm’s heavy rains, she remembers spending Friday night in the CSRC offices. The next morning, she looked out in time to see a motorboat traveling across what had been the parking lot.
“In one room, the water was up to my calves,” says Genesis. “It was above the electrical outlets and door handles in other rooms. We had 120 people in the center that Saturday, and we had to get them all out and across the street where the National Guard was helping people to safety.”
The men from CSRC were moved to the corps. A five–minute drive took hours. Families came to the corps, looking for help. Though the building had survived, many nearby houses were destroyed.
The owner of a local supermarket, now closed, lent the space to the corps to use as a storage facility for donations. The men from the CSRC stayed at a nearby summer camp. All cooking and food preparation was done from a single canteen.
“Due to the flood, every corps program was shifted around,” says Captain Mary Meredith, corps officer. “Almost six months later, our top priority now is getting the men from the CSRC back into the building, and emptying donations from the supermarket, which we are now returning to its owner.”
“When I received the email from Major Evelyn Hopping telling us the Houghton SASF students wanted to volunteer their help, I realized not everyone had forgotten there was still work to do here in Baton Rouge.”
The Houghton students on this missions trip did not come from an Army background before college, nor were they Salvationists. But they arrived at the Baton Rouge Corps and were warmly welcomed by Powell, Captains Brett and Mary Meredith, and the Baton Rouge congregation. The students spent the week cleaning out the borrowed grocery store, still full of donations to the Army. They also cleaned and prepared the bedrooms and bathrooms at the CSRC, made beds, and set up closets. The men from the shelter would be moving back into the CSRC that Friday.
“Helping clean and set up the rooms in the men’s shelter is rewarding. It’s something for people that need help right now,” said Brian Winn, one of the newest SASF members. He and the rest of the team stayed in the same camp with many of the men from CSRC, where the team and the men became familiar with one another.
Randall Smith, a Houghton graduate, says the corps’ southern hospitality reminded him of his early days at the college. While looking on campus for a service–based organization to join as well as a church, he found the SASF.
“Even before I had heard of the Army’s Kroc Centers and its service programs, I loved their mission of feeding stomachs as well as souls,” says Smith.
Ruthanna Wantz is a member of the Church of the Nazarene, and upon arriving at Houghton, she was familiar with the similarities between Nazarenes and Salvationists. “That got me to come to the SASF; but what got me to stay was the fellowship and atmosphere. I was allowed to be myself. SASF has been one of my most valuable college experiences. I’m a senior now, and I have been coming to SASF since my first week as a freshman.”
“Half a year later, it is surprising to see how much work is still needed in Baton Rouge,” says Wantz. “But everyone here has been so grateful and welcoming. I even enjoyed the road trip. It has been a wonderful experience.”
Between the cleanup details, teenagers from the corps who were off from school due to Mardi Gras played pick–up basketball with the SASF, followed by a southern–style barbecue lunch.
Soldier Elizabeth Ramirez, from the Wellsville Corps, enjoys this type of ministry for all young people. “This outreach is important. The kids we help and work with could be the future of The Salvation Army.”
It’s His work, not ours
On the final days of the trip, Brian Winn led the morning devotional. In his testimony, he spoke about the real purpose of mission trips, whether they be across the country or only a few towns away.
“At all times, we must stay humble and remember to keep the spirit of Christ in every task we do for others,” said Brian. “It’s His work that changes hearts and minds, not ours.
“Doing devotionals and sharing our testimonies each morning has helped keep us grounded,” says Brian. “It reminds us that it’s God doing this mission trip through us, for His people.”
Captain Meredith says the Baton Rouge Corps will remember the work done in God’s name by the SASF.
“The first weekend of the flood, as we saw the damage done, it made me sad to think we did not have our Salvation Army buildings anymore.
“But when we started receiving food and donations to help others, I realized that The Salvation Army isn’t a building. You can’t measure it by walls or rooms, but rather by what is done to meet the needs of people, like the SASF team that traveled miles to help us this week.
“Just as I felt after the flooding, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of people that I didn’t even know I knew.”
by Hugo Bravo