Thursday, October 27, 2005

next generation leadership

(Note:This is from the Jeff Myers newsletter I receive each week via e-mail. It was so good I couldn't keep it to myself!)

It started as a simple question. Bryan College student David Beisner wondered if anyone wanted to go down to Louisiana for a weekend to help with disaster relief. He felt he should do something, and he had four seats in his car.

David mentioned this in chapel--would anyone want to go?
Eighty students signed up.

By the end of the week, a full-out relief convoy was being planned, and not just for a weekend, but for the entire Bryan Fall Break--seven days.

David, who is in my leadership class, came to class with a stunned expression. "Eighty people means 2,000 gallons of water, several thousands dollars worth of food--in addition to housing and supplies!" David was totally overwhelmed, but he bravely pressed ahead, guided by faculty sponsor Dr. Travis Ricketts and assisted by several other of Bryan's outstanding student leaders, the team made the journey and returned last week.

Because so many of the students who went on the trip were in my leadership class, I asked them to share some brief testimonies. An hour later, the entire class had been moved, some to the point of tears, to see how God had worked through this trip to make His glory known, to provide relief for the suffering, and to set a practical example of leadership for those who weren't there.

For example, one student named Laura told of finding two children essentially abandoned by their drug-addicted mother and her boyfriend. Laura cared for them as her own for the week, and shepherded them through social services to be placed with their natural father.

Last week she received this letter from a co-worker on the

The troubled couple with two kids have been getting rides
to the methadone clinic everyday and are doing much better.
The girls are with the oldest one’s paternal father (who
apparently hadn’t seen her in years) and his wife and are
happy. I just wanted to let you know that it was because of
your team's intervention that their lives were changed
forever. Thanks for stepping up to the plate and doing what
God called you there to do.

One day Laura was on hand when a Marine Corporal showed up and announced that he was assigned to set up a medical clinic.
The FEMA employee turned to Laura: "Do you know anything about that?"

"Well," said Laura with hesitation, "my dad's a doctor."

"Then you're in charge," was the reply.

It was amazing how much of a difference one group of committed, hard-working and compassionate students could make during one week of time--and how much responsibility they were given. One 2005 Bryan grad was hired full time in a coordination role for all of the FEMA trailer-parks in all of the Southeastern U.S.

Another student, Timothy, told of how he and his team tore moldy plaster and insulation out of homes so that they may be rebuilt. They told of stunned and grateful home owners who were skeptical that anyone would work without pay--and who then dissolved into grateful tears when they found out it was true.

Perhaps the greatest testimony, however, came from two students from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania who had come to Louisiana on their own to see if they could help out.

These two students were taken in by the Bryan group, and while they found the Christianity of the Bryan students baffling and odd, they couldn't help but feel--and see--Christ's love in action.

Stephen St. Vincent, one of the Swarthmore students (they call themselves "Swatties") wrote about his experiences in the Phoenix, Swarthmore's online student newspaper. Note how profoundly the encounter with the Bryan students broke down his stereotypes of conservative Christians:

Trip to Louisiana an eye opener
The Phoenix, October 20, 2005

In the wake of the hurricanes that shook the Gulf Coast to
its physical and moral core, many thoughts crossed my mind.
The overarching theme of these thoughts was to do whatever
I could to help. Yet I found myself doing nothing. Musing
with Jonathan Ference '07 one night, I commented that it
felt selfish to want to do something yet care too much about
my grades here at Swarthmore to drop everything to help
these people in their most dire hour. So we made a moral
compromise and planned a trip to Louisiana for fall break
to volunteer.

Jon and I drove from Swarthmore to Baton Rouge, La., on the
first Sunday of break and ended up at the main Federal
Emergency Management Agency refugee camp. Despite the
recent condemnation of FEMA, this place was absolutely
astounding. An entire RV park with full hookups--electri-
city, water, and sewage. The camp contained about 700 RVs,
each holding between four and seven people. Residents got
three free meals a day and paid no rent. This program will
last for 18 months...

The FEMA camp had exhausted its need for volunteers by the
end of Tuesday, but we were lucky enough to meet up with a
group from Bryan College in Tennessee. The rest of their
group was working in Slidell, just north of New Orleans. The
next morning, Jon and I met the rest of the Bryan group in
Slidell. Their task was to gut houses that had seen up to
eight feet of flooding. Everything was disgustingly mold
infested. Our job was to go into a house, take out all the
belongings and throw them into a huge pile on their front
lawn. We then added to this pile every appliance, cabinet
fixture, door and all of the drywall, insulation and
flooring in the house, leaving literally a shell of what
used to be a home...

The Bryan group generously took us in, fed us, and
generally treated us like family. Granted, these kids have
some views that would not exactly go over swimmingly at
Swarthmore. Their school is named for William Jennings
Bryan, the pro-creationist lawyer in the Scopes trial...
I think I prayed more with those kids than I ever have in
my life...

I was forced to assess how much stuff I own and consider
essential to my life.... But more than that, I was forced
to wonder why, despite all of the talk on this campus
about a "social conscience", despite all of the
conservative-bashing and despite all of our resources,
there were nearly a hundred conservative Christians from
Bryan College volunteering there, but only two Swatties.

It was William Jennings Bryan who said, "The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error." When we act as if it was true, and the world sees it, God receives the glory.


At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Stephen St.Vincent said...

While I appreciate your mention of my and my friend's work in La., I am disappointed with your interpretation of my article. I grew up in Central PA (an extremely conservative area), and have no stereotypes regarding conservatives or Christians (or, I would like to think, any group of human beings). My point was that, at Swarthmore, we do a lot of talking about social issues but don't do much. Using conservative Christians as juxtaposition at an extremely liberal school was just simply my method of hammering home my point. What affected me most profoundly was not the Bryan students, although they are of course an inspiration. I was most affected by the terribleness of this tragedy and how little most people are doing to help. Seeing people lose everything is humbling. Hopefully, though, I've helped you to change your stereotypes about liberals.

At 7:06 PM, Blogger prairie girl said...

Hi Stephan,

I am sorry that I missed your comments until today (11-13-05) and I realize that you were commenting on Jeff's article.

I understand where you are coming from. I continally realized how unfair it is to categorize people as either liberals or conservatives. How much better it would be to discuss the actual issues and leave out the labels.

A while back a friend of mine, who labels himself a liberal, told me how much he hates Christians. He launched into this long speech, his list of our transgressions. I reminded him that I, too, am a Christians and he said "But you're not like those Christians I hate." I thought that really says it all...we have our preconceived prejudices and can't put them aside long enough to listen to each other. So....thanks for talking to me and giving me something to listen to. I hope you come back here and we can chat again.


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