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January 13, 2014

Press Photo

BCF students volunteer with disaster relief during Christmas break.

By Margaret Colson
Florida Baptist Convention

STATEN ISLAND, NY-(FBC) Although not wrapped in festive paper and bright ribbon, it was a Christmas gift wrapped in God's love, given by seven students from The Baptist College of Florida to those in desperate need in New York.

While many college students were looking forward to a relaxing Christmas break from their studies, seven students from The Baptist College of Florida volunteered as disaster relief volunteers, traveling to Staten Island, N. Y., to help rebuild homes catastrophically damaged by Hurricane Sandy more than a year ago.

Accompanied by David Coggins, associate professor of leadership at the college, along with eight other disaster relief adult volunteers, the group went into homes still deemed unlivable because of the devastation left in the wake of the deadliest and most destructive storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season.

There, one team of students erected stud walls in a basement apartment for an elderly woman who lives with her daughter, while another team installed insulation and flooring in a home with no floors. All the while, they built relationships with the homeowners and shared their faith as opportunities arose to do so.

“In providing help, we provide spiritual hope,” said Coggins, who has led two other student groups to minister through disaster relief in New York.

Helping people rediscover hope in the midst of disaster is an opportune time to share the gospel, according to Marvin Corbin, Florida Baptist field missionary/logistics.

“By providing help in the aftermath of a disaster, we are showing God’s love. When is there a better time to share God’s Word than when you are showing God’s love?” he said.

The student trip to New York was a response to a two-year disaster relief commitment made by the SBC North American Mission Board to help rebuild homes on both Staten Island and Long Island, explained Corbin.

The Florida Baptist Convention partnered in the collegiate team effort by covering fuel costs to and from Staten Island, helping enlist eight disaster relief adult volunteers and providing necessary training, Corbin said.

On each disaster relief trip he has helped lead, professor Coggins has had a front-row seat to seeing lives changed, including the lives of students as well as the lives of those to whom they are ministering.

As the gospel is shared numerous times on each trip, those on the receiving end of the disaster relief efforts often make professions of faith.

Sometimes opportunities to share the gospel arise even outside of the scope of the disaster relief efforts.

On the December trip to Staten Island, as the group stopped at a fast-food restaurant in Virginia enroute, one student shared the gospel with a young person eating by himself.

“Although he did not accept Christ there, the gospel was shared and the seed was planted for maybe somebody else to nurture it and for him to make that life decision,” said Gabriel Zavala, one of the student disaster relief volunteers who ministered in New York.

The Puerto Rican native, who has been in the United States for four years, acknowledged the positive impact he experienced as a result of his serving in New York.

“This experience definitely changed my life, burning within me a deeper and more mature passion for helping people in need. This trip fueled my heart for others,” said the ministry studies student.

Time and again, Coggins sees students discover that they “can be involved in disaster relief now, standing along with and working with those who are serving now.”

Many seasoned disaster relief volunteers are re-energized when working alongside students.

“My faith was renewed as I observed the hard work and great attitude of these college students. They were eager to work each day, and they never complained. It was refreshing to work alongside them,” said Kaye Dickerson, a member of Pensacola’s Hillcrest Baptist Church and one of the adult team members to accompany the student group.

As the seven student volunteers have returned to campus and their collegiate routines, Coggins’ hope is that the New York experience will be etched on their hearts and minds. “I don’t want students to see disaster relief as a one-time or just short-term experience, but a lifestyle of responding when others are in need.”