By Mark H. Hunter, Regional Reporter
PINEWOOD SPRINGS, COLO. – Saint Manson was 1,400 miles away from his sea-level New Orleans home and about 7,000 feet high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains but despite the thin air, the athletic LSU freshman spent five strenuous days chopping tree branches with an axe and carrying them up out of a flood-damaged creek bed.
“I think it was pretty awesome being able to help people,” Manson, 19, a petroleum engineering major, said. “I enjoyed working and getting debris out of the river.”
Manson was one of 48 LSU students who, instead of partying away their Spring Break, served Colorado flood victims on the latest LBC/SBC and Baptist Collegiate Ministry Disaster Relief mission.
For two days a team of students mudded out a crawl space and laid down new flooring at an Estes Park bed and breakfast and re-wired and sheet-rocked it. Another team put down a new floor at a Berthoud-area camp lodge.
They worked on nearly 20 other projects, mostly cutting apart uprooted trees and brush with chainsaws and axes and pulling tons of debris out of the Little Thompson Creek so when this year’s snow melts it hopefully won’t flood again.
On Sept. 9, 2013, a cold weather front stalled into a warm, moist front and for five days, more than 20 inches of rain deluged Colorado’s Front Range. The flooding, now called by Colorado officials, “The 1,000 Year Flood,” killed 8 residents, washed out sections of mountain roads and many bridges, caused a billion dollars of property damage and forced the evacuation of 11,000 residents in a half-dozen counties.
BCM Director Steve Masters said the damage was worse than he expected and eye-opening for the students.
“I think the students realized the importance of serving God and serving others,” Masters said. “Trips like this help in four ways – to help students serve the Lord, to serve others, to develop close relationships with each other when they work together and they get motivated to serve the Lord and do things for others when they get back.”
The trip could not have been possible, Masters said, without the help from Gibbie McMillan’s LBC Disaster Response office and the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge led by Tommy Middleton. “We want to publicly thank them for that support.”
The high-altitude work, from Estes Park to Pinewood Springs to near Berthoud, was exhausting but the scenery was exhilarating and the residents were grateful.
“It’s been a struggle to smile for a long time,” said Jeff Sherman, 59, as he watched Korbin Law and a dozen students of several denominations gather debris into piles so Masters could haul it away with a 4–wheel drive tractor. “I appreciate it and my family appreciates it very much.”
“I’ve never done anything like this before – I really enjoyed it,” Law, 21, a master’s student in business from California, said. “I didn’t know anyone before – but I’ve made some new friends.”
Sherman, his wife and two college–age daughters only recently returned to their home in tiny Pinewood Springs after being evacuated by a National Guard helicopter last fall. Flood debris turned a nearby bridge into a dam that sent a ten–foot high wall of water into their house and gouged their acre–sized yard into a rock–strewn gulley.
“The sound was deafening – it was like Niagara Falls,” Sherman said. “You could hear the trees break like toothpicks about every ten seconds.”
Up in the scenic town of Estes Park, Lauren Young, 22, a graduating senior in public relations, and a dozen other students worked on the bed and breakfast project. She said she learned how to cut a straight line with a power saw and operate a nail gun putting down the sub–flooring.
“We wanted to help them with their homes but we wanted to show them who Jesus is,” Young said. “We prayed with them.”
Downstream near Berthoud, half the students stayed in unheated cabins, with 20 degree nighttime temperatures, at the Parrish Ranch and Campground. They removed downed trees and laid new flooring in the flood–damaged dining hall.
LSU freshman Pern Lundell, 19, and Don Watt, 53, a parent and van driver, laid the floor.
“These people needed some help and we wanted to share the gospel,” Lundell said.
“I’m glad to be able to share my experiences with these kids and have them share their experiences with me,” Watt said. “Kids like this just give me hope for the future.”
Watt’s daughter, Melanie Watt, 21, a graduating senior in biology, has been a BCM leader for several years and participated in other disaster trips to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Staten Island, New York for Superstorm Sandy.
“Now I’ve seen the impact of a flood, a hurricane and a tornado,” Melanie Watt said. “These people – their whole lives were turned upside down – and to have college students give up their spring break to clean up their yards and help get them back on their feet – it just opens things up for them to ask questions and have conversations about Christ.”
On the last day of work, the Pinewood Springs neighborhood fed the students a big lunch of barbecued ribs, salad, baked beans and Colorado Cherry Company pies at Steve Fitzgerald’s log home.
“These kids have done some incredibly hard work – it’s an amazing thing to see,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ve been a God–send.”
“Captain” Steve Novakovich’s house was not damaged but they lost a lot of big trees and were out of their house for three months.
“We’ve seen Christianity at its best – the Baptists were the first ones on the scene when the roads were washed out and we just had a group of Amish here doing a ton of work,” Novakovich, a Mormon, said. “All we hear about on the news is college kids on the beaches doing all kinds of stupid stuff – these are awesome kids and it really gives me hope for what is coming down the road.”
Kim Bologna, a Pinewood Springs coordinator with the Colorado Recovery Group, said other groups have helped but the LSU students were special.
“These students get an A plus, plus,” Bologna said. “I’ve never had such a kind, conscientious group like this before. The neighbors are delighted.”
Gray Pearson, pastor of First Baptist in Port Allen, drove a van and provided some adult guidance to the students.
“I was overwhelmed with their (students’) spirit – the majority of them – and they had great attitudes,” Pearson said. “The son of the owner of the bed and breakfast just couldn’t believe there were so many kids who would come and do that.”
“Support the BCM – these kids are on the front lines,” Gray said. “I teach the college–career class and I hear what they go through at LSU and at Baton Rouge Community College – the worldly influence that comes against them every day hits them hard. They need our support and our love.”
A PERFECT STORM – IN A GOOD WAY
Sarah Farley, the BCM/LSU associate director, said the trip was one of the best ever.
“It was a ‘perfect storm’ for a perfect mission trip,” Farley said. “We went at the perfect time of year – Passion Week – you can’t beat serving the Lord during Holy Week – and the students were a good mixture of Christian and non–Christian.”
“We had ethnic diversity, we had grad students and freshmen – the perfect blend,” Farley said. “We had a lot of adults (10) and I love that relationship between the adults as role models for the students.”
“I’m already getting e–mails from residents thanking us,” Farley said. “I’m very pleased – we had several faith conversations with students on the trip and good follow–ups with them.”