Students, DR volunteers rebuild homes in New York with God’s love
Jan 21, 2014
By MARGARET DEMPSEY-COLSON
Florida Baptist Convention

RECONSTRUCTION Florida volunteers lay floor board in a home of a Sandy survivor. Courtesy photo
STATEN ISLAND, NY (FLBaptist)—Although not wrapped in festive paper and bright ribbon, it was a Christmas gift wrapped in God’s love, given by seven students from the Baptist College of Florida to those in desperate need in New York.

While many college students were looking forward to a relaxing Christmas break from their studies, seven BCF students volunteered as disaster relief volunteers, traveling to Staten Island, N. Y., to help rebuild homes catastrophically damaged by Hurricane Sandy more than a year ago. 

Accompanied by David Coggins, associate professor of leadership at the college, along with eight other disaster relief adult volunteers, the group went into homes still deemed uninhabitable because of the devastation left in the wake of the deadliest and most destructive storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season.

There, one team of students erected stud walls in a basement apartment for an elderly woman who lives with her daughter, while another team installed insulation and flooring in a home with no floors. All the while they built relationships with the homeowners and shared their faith as opportunities arose to do so. 

“In providing help, we provide spiritual hope,” said Coggins, who has led two other student groups to minister through disaster relief in New York.

Helping people rediscover hope in the midst of disaster is an opportune time to share the Gospel, according to Marvin Corbin, Florida Baptist field missionary/logistics.

“By providing help in the aftermath of a disaster, we are showing God’s love. When is there a better time to share God’s Word than when you are showing God’s love?” he said.

LABOR OF LOVE Over the Christmas holidays Florida Baptist disaster relief workers unload lumber to help rebuild a home in Staten Island. Courtesy photo
The student trip to New York was a response to a two-year disaster relief commitment made by the SBC North American Mission Board to help rebuild homes on both Staten Island and Long Island.

The Florida Baptist Convention partnered in the collegiate team effort by covering fuel costs to and from Staten Island, helping enlist eight disaster relief adult volunteers, and providing necessary training.

On each disaster relief trip he has helped lead, professor Coggins has had a front-row seat to seeing lives changed, including the lives of students as well as the lives of those to whom they are ministering. 

As the Gospel is shared numerous times on each trip, those on the receiving end of the disaster relief efforts often make professions of faith. 

Sometimes opportunities to share the Gospel arise even outside of the scope of the disaster relief efforts. 

On the December trip to Staten Island, as the group stopped at a fast-food restaurant in Virginia enroute, one student shared the Gospel with a young person eating by himself.

“Although he did not accept Christ there, the Gospel was shared and the seed was planted for maybe somebody else to nurture it and for him to make that life decision,” said Gabriel Zavala, one of the student disaster relief volunteers who ministered in New York.

The Puerto Rican native, who has been in the continental United States for four years, acknowledged the positive impact he experienced as a result of his serving in New York.

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