By Katie Montei

Renewal in New Orleans

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina put 81 percent of New Orleans underwater and caused 1,800 deaths in the region. Recovery has been slow. About 85 percent of the recovery work being done is by faith-based groups. Without volunteer work, from Christians in particular, the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast would be much slower.

InterVarsity chapters in New England have joined together to create the Katrina Relief Urban Project (KRUP) to help clean and rebuild New Orleans. For the past three years InterVarsity chapters in the Northeast have spent their spring breaks in New Orleans.

The Purpose of KRUP
InterVarsity staff created a threefold purpose for KRUP. It’s first purpose is to walk alongside the people of New Orleans, to help rebuild the lives of families and the health of the community.

The second purpose is to foster community among students who may not naturally befriend each other on campus; the nature of the trip attracts people from various religious and social backgrounds who all have a desire to lend a hand to help others.

The third purpose is to facilitate discussion and reflection about the deep questions of life and to demonstrate the intersection of faith and social justice. The mission has provided an opportunity for students, whether or not they are Christians, to give themselves to a worthy cause.

The Influence of KRUP
This year 496 students participated over the four weeks that InterVarsity chapters worked in New Orleans. Since its conception, KRUP has drawn students from every point on the spectrum of faith – from those who have little interest in Christianity, to those who are committed followers of Jesus.

KRUP has not only brought restoration to communities in New Orleans, but it has also helped with the life of InterVarsity chapters. Tom Brink, the New England Missions Coordinator for InterVarsity, explained that the reason KRUP has been so influential is because it is central to their regional vision “to advance the Kingdom through whole life commitment to Christ.”

Every year more and more students with little faith background are coming. When Brown University first started participating in KRUP most of the students who went were already heavily involved in InterVarsity. This year, of the fifteen students who went, only five were part of the chapter. Oftentimes on-campus events will be designed for either the seeker or the Christian, but KRUP offers opportunity for growth no matter where someone is on their spiritual journey.

Although the chapters do not treat KRUP as a means to an end in order to convert their friends, the nature of the trip and their unabashed Christian outlook has naturally led people to faith. Sarah Cowan Johnson, Area Director in Rhode Island, said, “It’s so different from our models in the past, because we’re not just witnessing with the people there, we’re witnessing to the team we bring along.”

Lives that are Changed
Last year, a student from the University of New Hampshire named Pete, who was not previously involved in InterVarsity, came on the trip. Because of the Lord working in his life during the trip, he made the decision to follow Christ. He came back this year and brought ten of his friends from the Track team. His friend Jay became a Christian during the week and together they stood up in front of the whole team at the end of the trip to invite others into relationship with Christ. Another 6 students stood up to acknowledge that they wanted to take a step forward in their faith.

Tom Brink said, “KRUP is probably the most effective event I’ve seen in helping chapters move from a group that is internally focused, to a group that affects the campus.” Students are searching for ways to affect their campus, their country, and the world; and InterVarsity chapters in New England have met that desire.

Because of the community that students witness both within neighborhoods in New Orleans, and the group of people that they are working with, they leave the project feeling compelled by the person of Jesus and attracted to the community of believers that they became a part of. InterVarsity is reaching students by providing an opportunity to aid others in rebuilding their lives, and sharing who Jesus is along the way.