Grebel students serve on Reading Week service trip

Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring Break often conjures up images of students flocking south for a good time in the sun – and this year, a number of Conrad Grebel University College students did exactly that. Their idea of a good time, however, was less traditional: a group of 23 Grebel students along with the college chaplain, Ed Janzen, drove 20 hours south of the University of Waterloo to New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama to help with the ongoing reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina.

A speaker at one of Grebel’s weekly Community Suppers informed the students about the continuing need for help and work, and the ways that the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and other agencies were working together to rebuild the disaster-stricken area. Students responded keenly to this opportunity to put faith into practical service and began to organize the trip during the university’s February Reading Week. 

Half the Grebel group worked with MDS in Mobile, sleeping in trailers and working in warm spring sunshine, while the others joined an organization called Operation Helping Hands in New Orleans.

Organizer of the trip, Peace and Conflict Studies student John Wray describes the reconstruction work they did in Alabama:

We did everything from demolition to framing to dry walling, mudding and taping to painting to deck building to installing subflooring. Anything we didn't know how to do, we were taught.

Wray describes the enormous resilience and endurance of the residents who responded positively to the presence of the Grebel students and the relief they offered. He found many of the older volunteers to be inspiring examples of

what it means to live a selfless, servant lifestyle.

He was surprised by the character traits of his fellow volunteers and the difference this made to the experience.

Some brought a quirky sense of humour that made some of the harder experiences much easier. Others brought courage to tackle uncomfortable challenges head on, while others brought a willingness to learn.

Grebel students are planning to make this an annual tradition each Reading Week. 

I think there will always be a desire to get out and do good, hardy, productive work as a community,

says Wray who plans a career in pastoral ministry upon graduation.

We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Grebel’s Peace and Conflict Studies program has taught me that ensuring people are safe and have shelter is a basic way to guarantee security and well being; going to build homes is a great way to put this theory into practice.

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