Hurricane Ike was the third most destructive Hurricane to ever hit the United States, ripping through Texas and Florida. Ike tore through the heart of Houston, knocking out the power in entire sections of the city, including the University of Houston. Because of the anticipated destruction, the University had closed its doors on September 11, the Thursday before the hurricane hit, and sent students home. The school didn’t reopen until the following Tuesday – and only then with non-mandatory classes.
Jeremiah Situka, InterVarsity staff worker at the University of Houston, reflected with thankfulness to God for keeping the InterVarsity students safe. Students returned to a campus that was, apart from tree limbs scattered everywhere, undamaged. InterVarsity students were shaken by the storm, but otherwise unharmed.
The Effect on Students
Although no one in the chapter was hurt, several students came back to school having experienced the anger of the hurricane. Having felt the grace of God in avoiding the worst effects of the storm, those students returned to campus ready to serve those whose lives had been left in tatters.
One young woman, a key student leader in the chapter, is from Daytown, Texas, a town hit hard by the hurricane. While the University was closed, she went home, praying that her that her family and her friends from school would be kept safe. During the storm, over 30 trees toppled over in her yard; but not one tree caused damage to the family’s property, everyone in her family remained unscathed.
Another student leader was less fortunate. His apartment building in Houston had sustained so much damage that it was closed down. He was forced to find new housing. But even in worrisome circumstances, God’s hand was present. Not only was he kept safe during the storm, but within three days of leaving his damaged building, he found a new apartment to live in.
Both these students, along with Jeremiah and the other student leaders, responded to their own experience of the storm by returning to campus eager to reach out to the community around Houston. They began planning an event to serve the Sunnyside community, a neighborhood that had been devastated by the hurricane.
In leading up to the service project in Sunnyside, the InterVarsity chapter responded first through prayer. In the first week back to school, the leaders, along with Jeremiah, decided that they should cancel their regular meetings to have a week of daily prayer and reflection. As students slowly returned to campus, many joined the prayer meetings being held every day.
During the week of prayer, and for the two following weeks, the students planned the outreach to the campus and Sunnyside. They created a Proxe station, a table display set up on campus to stimulate people’s thinking about social issues.
The Proxe station centered on the issue of devastation; it encouraged students to reflect and respond to the destruction that they had dealt with in their own lives. Jeremiah reflected that the students hoped to communicate “our ability as people ability to comfort others in their brokenness, just as God comforts us in ours.” The InterVarsity students invited each person who stopped at the Proxe station to join them in helping to clean up the Sunnyside Community.
The Sunnyside Community, of which most of the residents are elderly, welcomed the help and cooperation of InterVarsity. For three weeks they had lived without power, which had been knocked out by the hurricane that had wreaked havoc. For an entire day, InterVarsity students helped to clear the debris that covered the community.
The first yard the students cleared debris from was at the home of a woman who was over 100 years old. The elderly lady and her daughter had been praying that God would send someone to help remove fallen trees from her yard. When the students started working in her yard, she came out to greet them with gratitude and kindness, smiling, laughing, and making jokes.
Given the destruction around the neighborhood, student leader, Nicole Brown, was surprised by the woman’s attitude, stating, “She’s so full of life, it doesn’t seem like she’s more than 100, I hope if I live to be that age I still have that kind of joy.”
Although the Hurricane damaged many communities, and left many lives in ruin, the InterVarsity students at the University of Houston held fast to the belief that God comforts us even when our world is in shambles, and with his direction, we can comfort others. Instead of allowing the hurricane to demoralize them and dampen their spirits, they took action – reaching out to their campus and community in need of comfort, hope, and restoration.