Posted on : Tuesday June 11, 2013

By Brian Jones

It’s dark outside and the temperature is below freezing. I add the extra layer to keep me warm between the tent and the cafeteria where we’ll have breakfast, because being cold and tired is probably one my least favorite things.  "House A"

College students probably wouldn’t be awake at 6 a.m. under normal circumstances and especially not on their spring break. But this isn’t a typical spring break trip. I’m not in Florida, or any other location boasting temperatures above 70 degrees, instead I am at Staten Island, N.Y.

It’s an unusual prospect for a college student. Spend your week of vacation working in demolition and reconstruction of houses that were damaged in one of the worst storms to hit New York in years—and pay for the entire trip to do it. After a successful winter break student program, SBC Disaster Relief in Staten Island, which has its base at Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, decided to make a spring break program as well.

They set up resources to house as many as 150 students a night beginning March 1. Students, ready to work, came in by the hundreds.

“I believe that there is no way I could have had a more enjoyable spring break than by devoting it to helping in Staten Island,” Vince Kuyatt, a senior at the University of Maryland, said. He had never been on any kind of mission trip in his life.
Doing homework. Alex Bongiovanni.
These aren’t the sentiments of a lone Jesus freak. Rather, the college students who came to Staten Island came to get things done and spread God’s love. I found an attitude of no regrets, and a desire to make a difference in the lives of people who have been rebuilding since late October. In some cases we did homework while in New York to make the trip happen.

“Volunteering my body for the glory of Him, really isn’t so hard as I originally might have thought. The energy and ‘rest’ I got from focusing on Him in all things and from the constant fellowship with other followers of Christ I think really sustained me even when I might have been physically tired or my feet were in pain from standing,” Kuyatt explained.

My team, a collection of about 10 students from the University of Maryland, Towson University, as well as a community college student and a few graduated students, worked on insulation and drywall during our four days of work. We were on sight by 8:30 a.m. and worked until the evenings, which involved dinner, a debriefing and devotional time with worship music with our campus groups. Teams from Colorado, Alabama, Maryland and elsewhere were present during my stay in the third week of March.
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As to work, we had to reinsulate an entire floor in two houses, and we installed drywall in one of them as well. While few of us had experience with the work, we had a team leader with us who was a contractor and showed us skills necessary to produce quality work.

In our second house, we worked while the family was living upstairs, something they fortunately were able to do. One-level houses often were completely covered in water in the lowlands of Staten Island. Having the family there allowed us to have conversations about why we were there and who God is. For Michelle Patschke, a senior from Towson, the best part of the trip was “getting to explain as a team how we look different because of the Holy Spirit who lives inside us, not because "House A"we live in Maryland.”

“Thanks to this mission [trip] I could feel how… Christ’s love could really change a person’s life and how it’s worth it to keep fighting, everyday, to spread His Word. To put it in a simple way, He taught me that we really are the light of the world,” Lorenzo Artami, a student from Italy, said. Though this was his first trip, he assured me it would not be his last.

“I was really amazed at how [God] worked through us. There is no way that a handful of college students could build an entire basement and a half in that short time… It was God working through us that allowed us to do so much. He helped us spread His love into the people we helped through the actions He worked through us,” said freshman Andi Messegee of Towson University, who only had become a Christian a little over a month before.

There are people who are still struggling to put their lives back together up in New York, people who need God’s love. We are students who are living out James 2 and acting upon our convictions and the call of God to serve.

Brian Jones is a 2013 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park.