Rebuilding homes and transforming lives in New Orleans

InterVarsity’s alternative spring break in New Orleans was all about transformation: transforming hurricane-damaged New Orleans homes into livable space while transforming student lives to more closely reflect the image of their Creator.

This spring break missions project was called the Katrina Relief Urban Plunge (KRUP), four, week-long segments mobilizing students from 19 New England colleges and universities. During the days the KRUP teams did clean-up and construction; during the evenings they studied Bible teachings about issues that define life in the city, such as poverty and injustice.

Denise Rosetti, a team leader for the Harvard multiethnic fellowship, was the onsite coordinator for the project. As she worked with the teams from each school, she enjoyed watching the students interacting with residents and studying Scripture.

“I see myself as a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord,” she said. “I help create an environment for the students to learn.” Her jobs included buying water, finding tools, and getting the sound system ready for the evening meetings.

During the day the KRUP team shared with other volunteer groups the important goal of helping New Orleans residents recover the homes that were damaged by hurricane Katrina. But KRUP’s evening meetings were distinctively different from activities offered by many of the other organizations. Months had been invested in planning to make KRUP a catalytic event for the students, to help them see how much God not only cares for each resident of the city, but how much God also loves each one of them.

“This event will start their transformation,” Denise said. “It’s not an end in itself, it’s a critical moment in a process.” As the students study scriptural issues, such as poverty and injustice, in the context of their daytime chores, they see that God has a redemption plan that applies to college students as well as inner city residents.

“Last year’s project was transformative in the life of our fellowships, especially for male students,” she said. The project improved male participation in the fellowship and helped members focus on evangelism and multiethnicity.

The 430 students who took part in KRUP this March doubled the number of participants over last year. More than half of the students were from eight Boston area schools, including Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rosetti said that about 40% of this year’s KRUP participants did not identify themselves as Christian. One group that came from a University of New Hampshire athlete’s Bible study had 27 students, 22 of whom were non-Christians. At the end of the week, 18 of the 22 expressed an interest in continuing Bible study.

Spring break urban plunge activities also took place in St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York. InterVarsity chapters from many schools participated in other alternate spring break activities: elsewhere in the Gulf shore region, in Florida farm-worker communities, on Habitat for Humanity building sites, in Haiti and in Mexico.