JSU students opt to continue serving hurricane survivors despite disaster at home

By Jane Rodgers
Southern Baptist TEXAN

Even after an EF-3 tornado ripped through their college campus (see story, page 5), Jacksonville State University (JSU) students elected to remain in Houston to help hurricane survivors rather than returning to assess their own damaged living spaces.

It was not the spring break most expected. Then again, perhaps it was, at least in terms of mission and camaraderie.

The 28 JSU students and sponsors deployed to Houston with the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Relief/GenSend initiative. They joined 320 college students from across the nation to spend one of three spring break weeks in Texas rebuilding neighborhoods devastated September 2017 by Hurricane Harvey.

Determined to finish the job

When the JSU students learned of their state’s plight, Gary Brittain, JSU Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) director, asked the group what they wanted to do. They voted to stay in Houston, while Brittain and three students returned to Alabama to check on things at the university.

Peggy Colbert of Calhoun, Georgia, NAMB site director at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Northwest Houston where the GenSend volunteers were housed, marveled at the students’ determination to finish the job.

“They are an incredible group … committed to God,” she said. “Some had lost everything in their dorm rooms. Most knew nothing about their cars from the hailstorm and they stayed working every day.”

Colbert said she overheard students remarking how their newfound construction abilities will allow them to help restore their Jacksonville campus and town.

Most of the work involved replacing drywall and taping and mudding seams. Few students had prior construction experience but after a short orientation they learned on the job, supervised by disaster relief construction crew chiefs.

“We were quick learners,” said JSU sophomore Olivia Willoughby of Huntsville.

Elizabeth Rains, a JSU freshman from Scottsboro, called the missions trip, her first, both “super fun and super spiritually challenging to help people who literally have lost everything and are trying to rebuild their lives.”