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Alumni Profile: Right Place, Right Time -- Dallas alums grateful for opportunity to help Katrina evacuees

By Andrew De Young

Our church was just in the right place at the right time,” said Rev. Don Draayer ('72), pastor of Cornerstone Christian Reformed Church in Dallas, Texas, and former Dordt campus pastor.

A year or two ago, that might have been a strange thing for Cornerstone CRC’s pastor to say. For the past couple of years, Cornerstone has been meeting in a Dallas apartment complex, a location which some might consider less than ideal. Even less ideal were the circumstances surrounding their decision to move to the apartment complex—a church-dividing conflict over women in office, a debate about whether to stay in the CRC, and finally, the decision to relocate and start over. To some of the church’s members, the place may seem like a bitter reminder of the pain they went through.

But this summer, when people fleeing Hurricane Katrina started pouring into Texas by the thousands, the apartment complex became exactly what Draayer says: the right place to serve in a time when service was needed more than ever.

“Being in that space allowed us to help,” says Draayer. “When the Katrina victims started coming to this part of the country, some places were slow to open their doors, and many waited until they were assured that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was going to be paying for it. The apartment complex where we meet opened their doors rather soon, without knowing that they were going to be reimbursed for it.”

Several members of the Draayer family attend Cornerstone CRC in Dallas: Joanne (Jasper,'71), CeAnn (Wissink,'01) Donovan ('00), Tanya (Draayer,'97) Baccam, Syla Baccam ('01), and Don ('72). Grandchildren are Landon and Avril.

Several members of the Draayer family attend Cornerstone CRC in Dallas: Joanne (Jasper,'71), CeAnn (Wissink,'01) Donovan ('00), Tanya (Draayer,'97) Baccam, Syla Baccam ('01), and Don ('72). Grandchildren are Landon and Avril.

Thirty to thirty-five apartments were opened to evacuees, says Draayer. He quickly adds that, although he and other church members are happy to hear about the apartment complex’s generosity, they themselves had nothing to do with taking the evacuees. That decision was made, and the cost absorbed, by their landlords. But it wasn’t long before Draayer and his church became involved.

“The apartment complex called us and told us that these people were in need of almost everything,” says Draayer. Although many of the evacuees were proactive about getting out of New Orleans, he says, most of them hadn’t expected to be away from home for more than a couple of days. Cornerstone CRC began by supplying them with the basics: food, water, and clothes.

“They also needed things that you just take for granted until you get in that kind of a situation,” says Draayer. “Diapers for families with babies, contact lenses and solution for people who had walked out the door with what they had in their eyes, prescription refills for people to keep them going until they could get to a doctor—those kinds of things that you just don’t think about right away.”

Altogether, the experience sounds like it’s been a taxing one for Draayer, demanding his personal resources even to the point where his cell phone minutes were “shot” by people trying to track down relatives, unsure if they were dead or alive. But he consistently avoids praise and goes out of his way to give credit to others.

Some of the credit, he says, should go to the members of Cornerstone CRC. “This particular group has been through a lot of stuff together, and they’ve come out of it all really united. That really shows in a time like this.” Draayer also points out that they haven’t been alone; other churches have shown their willingness to help without being asked.

But the main thing that Draayer keeps coming back to is that they were in “the right place at the right time”; that they didn’t go out of their way to help, but that the opportunity to help, to be a witness through service, was an opportunity that came to them. He’s also quick to point out that the witness goes both ways, because many of the evacuees came out of Louisiana with inspiring stories and indomitable spirits that inspired Draayer and the members of Cornerstone CRC.

There’s one story in particular that Draayer keeps coming back to. One of the evacuees that Draayer met, an older woman, had a son who was stranded back in New Orleans. He had stayed behind to be with his wife, who, as Draayer puts it, “was great with child.” For a while they were in the hospital, but soon they left and went to the Superdome.

“They saw some pretty amazing things in that city,” Draayer says. “At one point they came across a baby seat, and when they went to pick it up discovered that there was a baby, still alive, sitting inside. When they couldn’t find the parents, they just decided to take it with them to Dallas. On their way here, they made one wrong turn and eventually—just a fluke, an accident—found the mother of the baby.”

It’s stories like these that help remind Draayer and the members of Cornerstone CRC that, amidst the horror of the Katrina tragedy, there is hope. At a time when the media coverage of the disaster is mostly negative, they continue to remember the many examples of God’s grace: the story of a wrong turn that turned into a family reunion, the evacuees who are already starting new lives for themselves, and the fact that they happened to be at the right place in the right time to do what they could to help.