Passionaries Serving in New Orleans: Linfield College, McMinnville, Ore.

In this 10th anniversary year of hurricanes Katrina and Rita’s destruction of the Gulf Coast, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) presents “Passionaries Serving in New Orleans,” a series about the volunteers and residents who have been faithfully rebuilding New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward through “Home Mission: ‘Til the Work is Done.”

Students and school staff volunteering in the Lower 9th Ward.

Students and school staff volunteering in the Lower 9th Ward.

“Life-changing.” That’s how Linfield College students describe volunteering with American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) during “Home Mission: ’Til the Work is Done” in the Gulf Coast. When students reflect, it’s obvious they’ve emerged from the experience just as—if not more so—positively affected than those they served.

For the past five years, six to eight students from the American Baptist-related college in McMinnville, Ore., have been volunteering in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward under the guidance of both the Rev. Dr. David “Chap” Massey, the school’s chaplain/director of Religious Life and assistant professor of Religious Studies, and Daniel Fergueson, director of College Activities.

Others’ retelling of their New Orleans volunteer experience inspired education major Cassandra Phillipakis, 20, to serve in New Orleans last summer.

“Little did I know that it would change my life,” she says. “I realized that we—myself and all the people who served alongside me—were actually making a difference in people’s lives. It’s not often in life that you can say that.”

Twenty-one-year-old Kayla Lisac, who graduated with a Communication Arts degree in December, says the experience increased her awareness of world and self.

“It helped me to step outside of myself and become more aware of the world around me. Through serving others, I became more aware of who I am as an individual,” she says.

“When I returned home from New Orleans last summer,” she continues, “I did a personal inventory of all of the physical commodities that I owned and rid myself of the unnecessary objects that I was allowing to take up space in my life. Spending time in New Orleans and getting to know all of the community members helped me to better understand what is important in life: faith, family and community.”

Students and school staff alike agree that forming relationships with residents is another benefit of volunteering in the Lower 9th Ward.

“The people I encountered while I was there is enough reason for me to go back,” says 20-year-old nursing student Hannah Tokstad. “Everyone was open to connecting and talking with us. Despite the horrors and tragedies they have had to go through, they are still so friendly, and connections were formed immediately.”

Linfield College representatives return to the Gulf Coast for a number of reasons, including the fact that the need continues.

“It is important for our students to see that—even though hurricanes Katrina and Rita were a decade ago—areas of New Orleans still have not recovered,” says Fergueson.

In addition, Massey says that Linfield volunteers are motivated by God’s call to be citizens of the world, Jesus’ command in Matthew 25:35-40 to serve the “least of these” and ABHMS’ commitment to Lower 9th Ward residents.

“We go not just to feel good or to pat our backs, but to show what true community is about—loving with our hands and feet until the work is done,” he says. “That is a lesson worth conveying to our students.”