Baptist Campus Ministry Team Finds Hope, Joy in Work with Earthquake Survivors
In the terraced landscape of Nepal, a team from the Baptist Campus Ministry worked alongside residents disassembling crumbled homes and marking plots of homes that will be rebuilt following last year’s crippling earthquake.
The work was challenging at times in the mountainous conditions.
The welcome from community members, however, more than made up for the difficult conditions.
“They were so gracious and hospitable,” says Samantha Mozden ’18, who is studying psychology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Sciences. “As we were helping the Nepali people, we simultaneously were learning from them.”
Mozden was one of eight people who went on the trip Dec. 28 to Jan. 11 to Nepal to help out in communities affected by the April 15 earthquake. They partnered with Baptist Global Response (BGR), an organization that provides aid overseas following natural disasters.
For four days, the team helped homeowners in the village of Pokhare Basie to take apart the homes and sort the raw materials to be able to rebuild, says Devon Bartholomew, assistant Baptist chaplain at Hendricks Chapel and a a 2010 alumnus of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who organized the trip. The team worked with residents digging and picking through rock and wooden support beams.
The team quickly garnered a warm welcome from their hosts.
“The most challenging part of the trip was the uncertainty of knowing how to interact or behave in each social situation,” Bartholomew says. “The reality was that their kindness and hospitality outweighed any doubts we had of being able to relate and communicate friendship.”
Another member of the team, Timothy Callahan, a 2015 graduate of the SUNY ESF, found the best part of the trip was being part of the Nepali village community for a few days.
“Even though we were thousands of miles from Syracuse, I felt at home,” Callahan says. “I learned that smiles and simple acts of kindness can break any language barrier. Joy can be spread with a smile and a laugh.”
Peter LeDuc, a SUNY ESF senior studying environmental biology, says the team members were able to form connections that transcended any barriers through simple measures, such as accepting gifts of food.
“Some of the foods that we enjoyed were fresh citrus, sugar cane, tea, fruit foraged from the forest and water buffalo yogurt,” LeDuc says. “Any tension that may have been present as a result of the language barrier went away as we enjoyed food together, played soccer together or worked alongside each other.”
The trip gave LeDuc perspective. “When we hear about natural disaster and social unrest around the world, we don’t truly experience those events or the cultures where they take place,” LeDuc says. “Though there is tragedy everywhere, including America, there is also hope. The people that I met were resilient, happy and hopeful.”
The team also spent time in Petku to collect data points of the 442 houses that had been destroyed. Local officials escorted them to homes where team members used a GPS program to mark the location of each house, record the homeowner's name and photograph the site.
All of the information was collected in just two and a half days and will be used to help calculate the amount of materials needed and the exact location of each rebuilding site, Bartholomew says.
On the last day, the team went to the local school to teach English, share stories from their Christian faith and play soccer. Over the course of the trip the team met with and encouraged local Christian fellowships.
“It was a great opportunity to connect BCM students with our ministry partners and practically teach valuable ministry skills,” Bartholomew says. “Over the past few years BCM has worked at disaster relief sites in Binghamton, Utica, Staten Island and Long Island, and it was a natural step to take our skills and interests internationally.”
This trip comes at an important time in Callahan’s life following his BCM internship.
“Following this trip I am feeling called to travel internationally to share the love and joy of Christ with people who have yet to hear this good news,” Callahan says.
Other members of the team were Bartholomew’s wife, Katherine Bartholomew ’11, a BCM ministry assistant; Vivian Gomez ’15; Jeremiah Southwick, a 2014 graduate of Le Moyne College; and Ellie Bourque, a ministry partner. The team also worked with two SUNY ESF alumni, Daniel LeDuc and Collin Bartholomew, who have been working with BGR in Nepal since April, leading volunteer teams and assessing needs of the victims.
Along with learning valuable skills from the BGR leaders and learning to engage people through their Christian faith and service, Bartholomew says, “My hope is that the students would consider how they can combine their academic endeavors with their work of faith.”
Bartholomew is also working with Syeisha Byrd, director of the Office of Engagement, to offer two Alternative Spring Break trips. Based in Syracuse, the first trip will introduce students to programs that provide support for at-risk youth and prevent youth violence. The second trip is to New York City to work with Raleigh Sadler, the executive director of Let My People Go. Students can learn practical steps to stop human trafficking and end the exploitation of the vulnerable. Students can find more information and a link for the applications on the Hendricks website at http://hendricks.syr.edu.