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December 18, 2012

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BCF Students working side by side to help with Disaster Relief efforts in New York

The first week of December was a busy week for students at The Baptist College of Florida (BCF) in Graceville, Fla., as they studied for finals, made preparations for finishing the fall semester, graduate, or head home for a well-deserved Christmas break. But for one particular group of BCF students, preparations of a different sort were being made. These students were preparing to head to Staten Island, New York to serve with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) in a first of its kind college student blitz.

The group of eager students included two brand new graduates who walked across the stage on December 7 receiving their degree from BCF and another student who was involved in a car wreck just days before the trip causing her car to flip, but only sustaining minor injuries. The team from Florida included a BCF professor, one staff member from the business office and her son who is a student, and students eager to serve for their first time in a disaster event response. So on December 8, the group of 21 from The Baptist College of Florida left Graceville for the 21 hour bus ride and life changing experience.

This disaster relief response was filled with many firsts. For the SBDR it was the first event of this kind with all college students and tent cities. For BCF students, it was the first opportunity for 6 of the 21 to respond after having gone through training held last spring in one of several pilot training programs for college students getting them credentialed to respond (Florida Disaster Relief (FDR) led the training at BCF last spring in which 86 students were trained). It was also the first time the other members of the team had ever been involved in work of this kind. Many had other kinds of ministry experiences, mostly camp related, but nothing to the level of a disaster relief effort. It was the first time for several of the students to travel that far from home and to visit a city like New York. It was the first time for many of the students to encounter the kind of destruction and see the hurt and hear the stories of people affected by disaster up close and personal. It was the first time for some of them to be involved in leading someone to faith in Christ. For one very precious lady that they encountered, it was a new beginning in her life because these students came and loved her and showed her what joy looks like and what was missing in her life. It was the first time she opened her heart to God's love and received the Lord Jesus and began walking with Him.

The team arrived on site early Sunday morning, December 9, with the intention of getting some rest after driving straight through and then visiting the city before starting a week of work. However, when they arrived, the SBDR staff was busy trying to get things ready for the college groups that would be coming to serve over the next several weeks. When the students saw the staff working, they immediately jumped in and began to work. The team worked half the day after the long bus ride and before taking a short visit into New York City. On Monday, the group continued working with the SBDR preparing large tents for the college groups scheduled to arrive later in the week.

According to BCF Team Leader and Professor David Coggins, once the students were able to go into Staten Island to work, they encountered many hurting and distraught people and families. As one man described it, "I just want to try to get back to some kind of normal in my life." The BCF group worked on six different homes over a three day period getting five of those completed and helping those families get one step closer to returning to their homes. During that time, the group was able to share the gospel message with six different people with one very special lady making a profession of faith.

The students met people they will never forget. For example, Mrs. Evelyn was there all day sharing her story and talking with the students and group leaders about her life and her experiences. She expressed many times how the students had the kind of joy that she had seen in her mother, who was a follower of Christ, but she had not experienced. When members of the team shared the gospel with her and how she could have that same joy, she was excited to begin her walk with Christ, stating that it was like a heavy burden was lifted from her life. The team heard stories of loss, hurt, anger, frustration, questioning why, all with a listening ear and a burdened heart. One team member stated, "It's like, all the people here have been able to do is share their misery with one another. Now they have someone from the outside to come and pray with them and talk with them; a burden has been lifted." BCF student Patricia Lally said, "I love helping people, and telling them about Jesus."

Coggins, the blue hat for the group, said this was definitely a life changing experience for everyone involved. "It is a new paradigm for SBDR and how it will be used in the future with all college student responders. For our students, it was a life changing experience for many of them. While there were many firsts, it will not be the last for these students. This is what many of them have been waiting on. Disaster relief is one of those things where you get trained, then wait for something to happen. These students have been waiting to use what they were trained for, now that they have experienced that, it makes them more eager to be a part of the ministry of SBDR." Many of the students who have not gone through training expressed the desire to get the full training when it becomes available. "This is our goal at BCF, not just to have a one-time response opportunity, but to equip students for a lifetime of ministry service. This opportunity, and others like it, will help us train and equip this generation of students to be good church leaders and servants for the future of SBDR. I am excited about these kinds of events and hopefully it will lead to more students becoming better aware and more involved in SBC life through training and service."

The event was filled with many firsts, but Coggins noted that it certainly won't be the last. "I believe it is just the beginning of many things to come for these students and others at our college," stated Coggins. "I hope the other colleges, once they get exposed to and hear the stories of giving help and hope in Jesus name, that others will want to be part of the experience. I am glad SBDR is broadening the tent in this way and I want to commend Susan Peugh and her entire team that allowed our group to participate. It was a great experience for our students and for me personally, as their team leader, to work with the SBDR staff and make a difference in Jesus name to people who are hurting."

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