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Bethel students head south for hurricane cleanup over spring break

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- Fifteen Bethel College students are foregoing sunbathing or skiing over spring break in favor of hurricane cleanup in New Orleans. The students, along with three staff members, will travel to New Orleans March 19-25 to work on projects organized by Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).

New Orleans was battered by Hurricane Katrina and then inundated by flood water when levees broke in the hurricane’s aftermath in late August. Three weeks later, Hurricane Rita gave the city another slap.

MDS opened its long-term project in New Orleans in October, first located in the western suburb of Metairie, and now at St. John Berchmans, a facility owned by an order of Catholic sisters in New Orleans.

The work is still largely focused on cleanup and gutting water-damaged homes in preparation for installing new drywall and other interior structures.

"We’ve done things [to raise money for hurricane relief] here, we’ve seen pictures and listened to stories, but I’m ready to see and experience what it’s like for myself," said Lindsey Miller, senior from Haven. "I’d like to make the human connection."

"It says in the Gospel of Luke that we’re supposed to ‘be compassionate because God is compassionate,’" added Robert Weaver, junior from Wichita. "Just praying isn’t enough. This trip is the result of prayer, organization and preparation. This opportunity [to go to New Orleans] means there are no more excuses--here is what we’ve been talking about, now let’s go and do it."

The students going to New Orleans, in addition to Miller and Weaver, are Jerel Fast, junior from Boulder, Colo.; Adam Gaeddert, junior from Hutchinson; Peter Goerzen, junior from Newton; Heidi Johnson, junior from Topeka; Aaron Linscheid, junior from North Newton; Joel Linscheid, sophomore from North Newton; Peter Miller, sophomore from Partridge; Jonathan Nathan, sophomore from Moundridge; Miriam Regier, sophomore from Newton; Jess Rempel, junior from Denver; Tobias Ruhle, junior from Wuppertal, Germany; Bryce Schmidt, sophomore from Freeman, S.D.; and Tina Schmidt-Tieszen, junior from Newton. Bethel staff members Erin Schmidt, Brian Stucky and Melanie Zuercher will accompany the group.

Founded 55 years ago in Hesston, MDS is a faith-based, bi-national agency operating throughout Canada and the United States. MDS responds to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados and wildfires by providing volunteer leadership and labor for cleanup, repair and reconstruction of damaged or destroyed homes. MDS volunteer workers try to help disaster survivors recover emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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