Texas service trip provides eye-opening experience

Brian Szipszky

The trip was not just about construction or hurricane recovery. It brought us closer to God and to each other.

During J-Term, two groups of Malvern students had the opportunity to travel to Texas to work with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian disaster relief organization, on several different rebuild projects in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. I went down on week two of J-Term with the second group, and had an incredible experience with my Malvern brothers.

The First Baptist Church, where we stayed along with other Samaritan’s Purse (SP) volunteers, was located in Portland, TX, right along the Gulf Coast and just outside of Corpus Christi. We drove roughly three hours from an airport in Houston, and reached the site at around 7:00 P.M.. An SP volunteer showed us our rooms, showers, etc., and told us that doors would automatically lock at 10:00 P.M. each night, leaving us in our rooms.

We woke up at 6:00 A.M. Monday morning so we could pack our lunches for the day at 6:45, and eat breakfast at 7:00. Though every night I would tell myself the next morning would be different, I was the last one up every single day. The lights would come on, my eyes would open, and somehow half the room was already out of their beds.

Prayer took place before each meal, before we began working, and after working. It involved all volunteers and staff members. Devotions were held every morning, where one person would talk for 5-10 minutes about a Bible passage or anything related to SP and their work. Most of the volunteers and staff have been living in very religious environments their whole lives, and their faithfulness was admirable.

The work itself was varied each day. For the first two days, I stayed at the church and sanded and painted a set of classrooms in its pre-school, classrooms that the students have not been in since September. Other tasks performed by volunteers at the school included tiling and drywall installation.

Throughout the day, you rarely saw complaining coming from a fellow student. We all knew the real reason we signed up for this trip. We typically worked from 8:00 A.M. to around 4:00 P.M. each day, returning to the church eager for a shower and some food. After dinner at 6:00, we would go outside and hit up the Walgreens, Starbucks, 7/11, McDonald’s, and others across the street. The McDonalds sign was essentially destroyed by the hurricane, bent over on its side.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I worked at a house about 30 minutes from the church. It was located in a neighborhood that received extensive damage, with a few houses all but destroyed. The area was also quite poor, and the hurricane only amplified their difficulties. Friday, I worked in an even more destitute spot, where the house had to be completely rebuilt. I noticed that as the week went on, I was also working harder every day. I began to realize, subconsciously or not, just how fortunate I have been in my life. I know I am constantly told just how lucky I am, but this trip confirmed the veracity of that statement. I also noticed this mentality in my classmates.

We also had a fair bit of religious discussion, not just with the chaperones, but with each other. I don’t think any of us had been exposed to this amount of religious devotion every day, but the experience certainly brought most of us closer to God. I absolutely hope Malvern decides to have a similar trip in the future.