March 2, 2024

A team of 50 California Baptist University students and staff flew to Texas to serve homeowners affected by Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane that lasted nine days, spread across 3,100 miles and caused billions of dollars of damage in the coastal bend regions of Texas.

The team was split up into four groups, visiting different sites where the need was greatest during the weekend of Oct. 12-15.

Texan homeowners in the affected areas lost their belongings, houses, and in most circumstances, any hope of complete restoration. The inability to fix the damage to their homes was often because of the impossible financial needs the owners faced and their struggle to subsidize the costs required to fix their homes.

The group of CBU students was able to serve the hurricane victims by showing them love and giving them hope, but more so by making noticeable progress on destroyed homes.

Mary Brannon, junior nursing major, attended the trip alongside her fellow students and said she felt used by the Lord in an obvious way because of the manual labor and work she and her classmates were able to accomplish.

“What we did was really practical. It helped them in a physical and tangible way. It wasn’t just knocking on a door and presenting them the gospel without actually doing anything,” Brannon said. “We actually got in there and we helped them. If they were Christians or even if they weren’t, no matter where they were at, they still received that part of what we gave them and that’s impactful and going to change things for them.”

The service by CBU students was organized by the International Mission Board’s Send Relief. The Houston location was headed up by Gerald and Peggy Colbert, a retired couple who dedicated their lives to disaster relief service and partnering with volunteers to show God’s love through tangible support.

“The passion and drive comes from being able to help people and knowing that people really need help,” Peggy Colbert said. “It is a self-satisfaction of getting to see lives improve.”

“It’s part of who we are, the way God has wired both of us,” Gerald Colbert added. “My life purpose statement is to be at the very center of God’s will whatever that means personally, professionally or geographically. Personally, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. Professionally, I am a servant and my whole life is about serving and wherever that service is. The geography of it makes little difference to me.”

The Colbert’s spend their lives moving to different locations to help with the devastation left from disasters. Both said their true desire is to do the work of the Lord through service, wherever it may be. The Colberts have the role of facilitating the workers coming to aid those deeply affected by the disaster.

“We’re serving those who are volunteers,” Gerald Colbert said. “Our role here is to help make the volunteers who come have a good experience, get the work done, and have the tools and resources they need to do the work.”

The couple is able to assess the needs of those affected by the disasters and send groups with the right strength, availability and resources to most effectively help the local residents. The Colbert’s structure of teams is vital to alleviating as much financial stress as possible from the homeowners.

The Colbert’s estimated that for each group of CBU students working on houses, their service was saving the owners $20,000 a day in repairs. The students and leaders were divided into four different teams and visited more than eight different houses, adding up to about $160,000 in value.

In addition, for every hour that CBU students volunteered their time to work, they earned relief funds for the city. The team worked a total of 432 hours throughout the weekend which earned Houston an additional $8,640 in relief funds.

Most of the homeowners were faced with a great deal of demolition that needed to take place because of the damage to the houses’ infrastructure in the flood. The walls had to be torn down, appliances thrown out, flooring ripped up and possessions thrown away because they were all soaked by toxic floodwaters.

Many residents would have had to pay thousands of dollars to hire workers to do the job that CBU students completed for free in just two days.

Richard King, a homeowner in Cypress, Texas, experienced significant damage to his home because of the hurricane, resulting in huge financial needs.

“We’re in a mess right now,” King said. “We just got this house paid for three months ago and now I’ve gotta go out and get a loan to redo it. So I appreciate (the students and staff) coming out and helping me. This is a wonderful thing, a great blessing for me.”

King also said other workers offered him their service for a hefty payment of $5,000. He said he suffers from physical disabilities after hip and knee replacements in addition to being a veteran, which he said prevents him from doing all the work himself.

CBU students doing a majority of the work saved him not only thousands of dollars in repair expenses but lifted his spirits. It gave him hope that his home could be saved because he had no other option but to continue living the house after the hurricane.

“(The students) are doing a great job here,” King said. “I’m so blessed to have them come.”

All the students who went on the trip expressed a renewed love for serving others and said they loved to see that the work they did for these homeowners had physical results.

John Montgomery, dean of Spiritual Life, went to the work sites for one day of the trip observing the work the students did and encouraging the homeowners alongside them.

Montgomery spent time at the Kings’ home talking about the disaster and working on the relief team at the Kings’ home. Montgomery said the damage done to the home was immense and yet the King family had nowhere else to go.

The couple explained to Montgomery and the CBU team that they would not have been able to do very much work on the house at all if the students had not come to help.

“(The students) attitudes are fantastic,” said Montgomery. “They’re happy. They signed up for it, they knew what it was. We tried to scare them off at the entrance meeting – this is going be hard work – but that just fueled them to be a part of this. Everyone’s happy and working together as a team. Rick and Kay both are just very positive about how the students are working.”

Spiritual Life said they hope to offer more opportunities in the future for students to be a part of disaster relief work. All students are encouraged to serve in any way possible and to see real and visible results, accomplished through the work done for Texas residents this past weekend.

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