College students sat together in a large passenger van on their Christmas break, looking out the window in awe at the remains of Staten Island just months after Hurricane Sandy took its course across the east coast.
Nick Rohner, Worship and Ministry Coordinator of Campus Ministries at Central College, gathered up a group of ten students right after finals ended at the college, and drove through the night to Staten Island for a weeklong journey of mission work. Not knowing what to expect or exactly how the trip would pan out day to day, Rohner and the students arrived with open minds and open hearts, willing to help out wherever needed.
"This group was one of the best groups I’ve ever taken on a mission trip before. They had a positive attitude, and a willingness to serve wherever needed. The group had a real humble perspective from the very beginning of the trip before we even left," Rohner commented.
They connected up with Project Hospitality, a government organization that was first called to help with relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy victims. Project Hospitality lined up the Pella group with smaller organizations on the island to help out wherever needed. Their first day there, they handed out food at the evacuation centers and packed up Christmas baskets filled with clothing, toys for children and blankets for people who no longer had a home.
The second day hit hearts hard with the students as they got to interact with the victims. They were set up at a location where donations had been sent, and students witnessed families coming into the donation center for necessities. With their assigned FEMA number, families would fill out on a sheet what they needed, and the students would “shop” for them by looking through the donations.
"It opens student's hearts because their hearts break for others so they're more willing to explore and share what God has laid on their own hearts," Rohner commented about the affect the mission work had on the students.
The students saw numerous donations, but there was not enough manpower to sort through it all. So the students got to work sorting what has been donated from across the country.
“They [the workers] all had the same stressed look on their face. When we told them we were from Iowa, it brought hope to them. Just to know that we came all the way from Iowa gave them hope that people still cared,” Central College senior Mel McDermott said.
The students also helped out at a soup kitchen, helped demolish a house that had been damaged from the hurricane, and did a lot of behind the scenes work at shelters and centers. Having been on several mission trips before, this one was different from McDermott’s perspective.
“This trip made me a lot more humble. When you’re building houses you can see the fruits of your labor and it’s easy to get caught up in pride. Mission trips are about people, not the projects you do. I was really humbled by the people there and how gracious they were even though we weren’t doing the main physical work,” she said.
Central College Campus Ministries’ main theme is to be the “hands and feet of Jesus” through work like this mission trip and several others that they send students on, but this one just seemed to be a little different. The tragedy was from a natural disaster that had just struck the nation, an event that affected every single person on Staten Island and killed at least 23 people just on Staten Island.
“It was amazing to be there. The wound was fresh with people. I’ve been on other trips where the tragedy happened several months ago or a year ago, but this had just happened. People were still cleaning up and the gratitude that people had for us who came from Iowa to help in a time of crisis….it was very rewarding to be there for comfort,” Central College junior Jodie Landt commented.
After six days of mission work, the students packed up and headed back to Iowa or back home to spend the rest of Christmas break. More Central College students went to Texas after New Year’s for another mission trip.