NEW YORK (BP) -- New York resident Josephine Prestovino was in her home when floodwater rushed into her neighborhood and battered her house as Hurricane Sandy made landfall.
"You could hear cars being thrown against homes, homes being thrown off their foundations," Prestovino recalled. "It was total darkness here."
One month later, Prestovino's life, like the lives of thousands in the Northeast impacted by Sandy, is still masked in some of that darkness as she waits for assistance to clean out and repair her damaged home. But with the help of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and a team of college students from Anderson University in Greenville, S.C., Prestovino is beginning to see the light.
"It's these kids, I think relief started with them," Prestovino said. "I call them my lifeline. Here they are showing me that we can make a difference.... They really made a difference to me."
The team from Anderson University is one of 27 groups of students from colleges around the country taking part in SBDR response to Sandy. More than 300 students have committed to spend their winter breaks making life livable again for residents in affected areas, doing tasks ranging from gutting homes and hauling off debris to ministering to residents with the love of Christ.
"The collegiate student disaster relief response has far exceeded our expectations," said Susan Peugh, a North American Mission Board staff member responsible for coordinating volunteer opportunities such as the collegiate response. "The students, as well as the local community, have embraced this initiative and are making a tremendous difference in the lives of hurting people."
The service students are providing in partnership with SBDR is not only allowing them to meet tangible needs of those they serve but also providing them with an open door through which to share the Gospel in a region where the need is great.
"The Lord has called us to reach out and share love, the same love that Christ gives us, in a tangible way," said Anderson University student Jordan Niemeyer, one of the SBDR volunteers.
This faith in Christ is evident to those whom they're serving, including Prestovino.
"They have a faith in God," she said, "and that's where everything comes from -- their serving, their purpose.... This is what they do."
Though the primary ministry focus has shifted to clean-up and long-term recovery, SBDR volunteers had prepared 1,788,034 meals in response to Sandy as of Dec. 18. By that date SBDR volunteers had given 29,937 volunteer days, presented the Gospel 779 times and seen 83 people come to faith in Christ as a result of their service.
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC's 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB's disaster relief fund via namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."
Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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