Forty-three students and staff headed to the Gulf Coast for a week last semester to listen, learn and help people whose lives were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
The trip, organized through Campus Ministry, followed the ELCA model of accompaniment – the idea that we walk a difficult road together.
“This opportunity introduced the values of accompaniment,” said Jon Leiseth, a deacon in the Campus Ministry office and a coordinator of the trip. “With the recipe of direct service and accompaniment, we hope people will return to where they began with new eyes and transformed hearts and with a passion for mercy and justice.”
The students and staff did relief work on homes in the Pasadena, Texas, area. They painted, removed drywall and tore out floors while learning about the people who lived in the houses. They grappled with hard concepts about recovery efforts including whether people should spend money to travel to devastated regions or if the money should be instead sent to boost the local economy by hiring local laborers to do the work.
“One of the students asked, ‘Knowing what I know now – I wonder why we go about doing this?’” Leiseth said, acknowledging that tension is something that needs to be weighed carefully.
“I told him because I see this as an investment in you and the rest of your life,” Leiseth said. “As a college of the ELCA, we have a commitment to accompany our students for vocational callings.”
At a chapel service, several of the hurricane relief trip students talked about what they had learned and the ways they had grown. They each conveyed the expansion of their understanding of people in adverse situations.
“Every person on this trip adopted the concept of accompaniment,” said Lacy Tooker-Kirkevold ’18. “What gives me even more hope is seeing the love of and dedication to service.”
Another goal is to sustain more relationships within relief experiences. Campus Ministry intends to foster these Texas connections and build on them in the future.