Dordt College News

PLIA group does hurricane relief work

January 25, 2006

Twelve Dordt College students and the vice-president for student services at Dordt College, Ken Boersma, used a week of their semester break recently to go to the Gulf of Mexico and assist with hurricane recovery efforts.

PLIA (Putting Love In Action) mission trip volunteers were Carol Baas and Jennifer Baas, Corsica, SD; Elizabeth Bock, Allen, NE; Mary Dekkers, Hawarden, IA; Justin Edmonds, Hanford, CA; Cassandra Lane, Minnetonka, MN; Brian Mathews, Palos Hills, IL; Nathan Mulder, Waupun, WI; Rebekah Tazelaar, Demotte, IN; Craig Van Drunen, Jenison, MI; Suur Yakubu, Makurdi, Nigeria; Kevin Zonnefeld, Sheldon, IA; and Ken Boersma, Sioux Center. PLIA

Boersma said even three months after the hurricane they were able to see the damage and destruction caused by Hurricane Rita. They were told that about 80 percent of the trees in Lumberton, Texas, (where they stayed) were blown down by the storm. While much of the area had been cleared of debris, the homes and property of many elderly, poor and disabled remained to be cleared of trees and debris.

“There was quite a bit of damage, and in some places everything was wrecked. It made me wonder about each person's story of what was going on in their head while it was happening,” commented Carol Baas. “I was glad that I had the opportunity to see the damage and know what the people are going through.”

Another student, Cassie Lane, returned from the service trip with some practical applications from her experience. “I did my senior research project on the Quality and Efficiency of Services in Natural Disasters for Minority Populations, so I was interested in seeing the hurricane damage. It was neat to see some of my research first-hand.”

Lane recalls a woman they assisted who was living off in the woods, where her trailer had been split in half by a tree. A FEMA designated trailer is temporarily being provided for her, but she doesn't expect to get electricity and running water for several months. “We were cleaning up trash and I noticed a pile of milk jugs,” recalls Lane. “I was going to throw them away, but then realized that they might serve a purpose. Later that day, we pulled a wagon full of the milk jugs a mile down the road to fill them up for her drinking and bathroom water.”

Ken Boersma recalls the grateful response of a widow whose yard they were able to clear. “She told us that she had prayed the night before telling God that she did not know how she would be able to clean up her yard and asked that someone be sent to help do the work.” The woman contributed to the church where they were staying to thank them for their work.

“It reminded me again how service projects such as this impact those who serve, as well as those who are served,” said Boersma. “The students and I were deeply moved by the expressions of gratitude from the people we helped. Those people gave back to us in both direct ways (lunch on a number of occasions) and by their words of encouragement to us. As a group we talked about the need to let ourselves be served even as we serve others.”

Craig Van Drunen echoed that sentiment. “The generosity of the people, both those we were helping and the people of the church where we stayed was amazing.” They were invited to people’s houses for the majority of their meals, and several high school and college age youth spent time with them at both the church and during their work days. “We got to know a few of them really well and formed some lasting friendships.”

Van Drunen said their mission trip opened his eyes to the extensive gap in social classes. “The richer households have rebuilt after the storm but the poorer people are still struggling to make it. There is still a great need for assistance down there.”

Mary Dekkers was surprised at continuing segregation of races, and as a group they were glad to help a variety of people: both young and aged, poverty-struck and wealthy, Christians and non-Christians. “It was neat to see where God placed us and used us, commented fellow team member, Cassie Lane.

Among the locations assisted was a homeless shelter named Some Other Place, where students cleaned the carpet. “[Chrissie] was so amazed that we would come from 18 hours away just to help clean their carpet when there were other things that we could have been doing … I just gave her a hug and she began crying.” recalls Libby Bock.

Bock said their team also cleaned boards from a small building that had to be torn down; helped with paperwork, cleaning and sorting clothes at the Hope Center (a crisis pregnancy center); and helped on a farm place replacing the tin on a chicken coop, fixing fence and raking leaves.

“I feel that when I left, I left family. We had only spent a small amount time with each of the people we had helped, but each family was eager to share their story and in some places it went much beyond that,” said Bock. In one place, she shared her own personal experiences with a woman that was going through something similar. “It was great just to meet new people. It was also humbling to see what a disaster can do and to feel blessed that these disasters are not constant occasions in all of our lives,” concluded Libby Bock, a senior psychology major who served as team leader.

“The people were amazed that a group of college kids would come down on their break and help them,” said Craig Van Drunen. “They were so thankful and I can tell that we affected their lives greatly through actions of love. A simple job of cleaning up yards is and can be a way of showing God's love.”

Bekah Tazelaar added, “At the beginning of the week our group was a little discouraged because all we were doing was raking leaves and sawing up trees … I learned that little tasks can mean so much to people. I don’t have to do something big that might impact a lot of people, but I can do something small and impact one woman who would appreciate it ten times more than anyone else. It was great to see.”

The work that students put in to make PLIA possible is an incredible gift to the college, said Ken Boersma, who has personally seen how the experiences that students, faculty, and staff have on PLIA trips contribute to learning and growth.

Each of this year’s participants enthusiastically agrees. “I would go back in a heart beat!” says Craig Van Drunen. “There is still a huge need down there and the people we met were probably the nicest people I've ever met in my life.”

Media Access: Download Word Version