Each August hundreds of new international students arrive in Iowa City to attend the University of Iowa. There is always a scramble for housing, furniture, and other necessities for their new life in the United States. InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF) has been active for years, assisting the university in the process of welcoming and orienting these adventurous students from all over the world.
GCF members have met people at the airport, offered temporary housing while longer-term accommodations are sought, helped with registration at the Office of International Scholars and Students, taught people to square dance, offered friendship, and more. We, in turn, are enriched by the friendship that internationals bring.
This August, our welcome campaign has been complicated by the fact that Iowa City experienced severe flooding in June. Despite an impressive effort of community sandbagging, the flood waters crested at record levels and millions of dollars of damage was suffered by this university with the Iowa River running through it.
The InterVarsity-connected director of choral music got 50 percent of his music, instruments, and files out of his building in one day, but when he arrived the next day with a team of helpers, he was barred from re-entering the building by National Guardsmen. (The newer, more expensive grand pianos were rescued, but the older, better sounding grand pianos were lost.)
The GCF faculty advisor was displaced from her office in the English/Philosophy Building. Mayflower dorm, where international students and scholars are housed along with US students, was evacuated. Graduate students and internationals were ordered to leave their apartments in Hawkeye Court as the waters continued to spread.
GCF members volunteered to sandbag, helped others move out of apartments, and assisted those displaced to find temporary housing. When the waters receded, this pattern of assistance was reversed. The work being done to clean up and repair will continue for years.
In the meantime, a record number of international students have arrived and not all the dorms have been re-opened. Emergency short-term housing was needed, so my wife and I decided to open our home to a student. My son (also part of the GCF community) – in need of temporary housing himself – moved back home at the end of July. He agreed to vacate our second bedroom and sleep on an air mattress on the study’s floor.
So we were able to welcome a twenty-year-old undergrad, originally from Lithuania, into our home for a week. She entered into our family life, joining us for outings and attending church for the first time in years. Though she lived with us for only a week, a relationship has begun that I think will blossom. She wants to visit church with us again and come see what GCF is about. Who knows what will develop as a result of a flood and the opportunities it has allowed for God to work through his people in unforeseen ways?
Kevin Kummer is Central Area Team Leader for InterVarsity’s Graduate Faculty Ministries and works on the University of Iowa campus.