By Sarah Jay Lewis
"Give us, Señor, a little sun,
a little happiness, and some work.
Give us a heart to comfort those in pain.
Gives us the ability to be good, strong, wise and free.
So that we may be as generous with others
As we are with ourselves.
Finally, Señor, let us all live as your own one family. Amen."
(UM Book of Worship, #465)
This prayer was the theme for 55 Ball State University and Purdue University students who spent spring break in southwestern Louisiana repairing homes damaged by hurricane Rita. The group consisted of students from the Purdue's Wesley Foundation United Methodist campus ministry and Ball State's College Connection United Methodist campus ministry, as well as members of the Columbia City UMC (bus ministry) and South Whitley UMC.
After driving all-day Saturday, the group arrived at First UMC in Lake Charles, La., at 3 a.m. Sunday morning. Following a few hours sleep, they awoke to worship with their host church.
That afternoon, the group hit the beach. With full enthusiasm they loaded the buses again and rode 30 minutes south to Cameron Parish. What they saw upon arrival was not a typical gulf coast resort, but instead a grim reminder of the devastation they were there to help put right.
The town of Holly Beach consists of hundreds of concrete slabs where houses once were. A full-sized refrigerator still lay in the surf, 17 months after Hurricane Rita. Though bittersweet, the Hoosiers made the most of their one visit to the ocean, doing the typical swimming and castle building, all the while Rita's destruction was on their mind.
The first day of work was hindered by drenching rain. Two of the work sites the Louisiana Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry had assigned them to required roofing, so they joined other groups to work inside on removing damaged walls and putting up new drywall.
Once the rain passed, the roofs were completed along with many inside projects including the rewiring of an entire house.
One team was working on the home of a young woman who gave birth during the week. Volunteers got to meet the new baby on their last day. Another team was working for a woman whose grandchildren lived with her - part of the ministry to the grandchildren was playing basketball and teaching them Ultimate Frisbee, a favorite sport of university students.
Throughout the week, the group discovered that while giving much needed hope and help, they received back even more. This included a little bit of southern hospitality with a traditional crawfish boil on Thursday night.
Friday evening brought an unexpected treat of watching Purdue men's basketball in the first round of the NCAA tournament in New Orleans. After the game both buses headed back to Indiana.
That wasn't the end of the adventure, for Purdue students at least. On the way back their bus broke down in Memphis, delaying their return by a full 24 hours - but allowing them to experience the National Civil Rights Museum housed in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The group then found overnight accommodations at the University of Memphis Wesley Foundation.
They prayed: "Give us, Señor, a little sun, a little happiness, and some work...." Their prayer was answered.