COLUMBIA — In New Orleans this year, the fireworks Friday night will illuminate a city brought one step closer to normal. Registered through Mizzou Students for Christ, 30 Columbia-area volunteers left Wednesday night to travel to New Orleans to join a massive cleanup effort in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward on the Fourth of July.
About 1,400 students from around the country will take part in the annual International Churches of Christ campus ministry conference held this year from July 3 to July 6 in Baton Rouge. The students will break into groups on Friday, take buses to between 50 and 100 different sites and do whatever work they find waiting for them.
Mizzou Students for Christ includes members from Columbia College, Stephens College and Moberly Area Community College, as well as MU.
Laurence Willis, a 2005 MU graduate, is leading the group and said this is a new direction for the conference. “This is the first time ever that I know of, at least in eight years, that we are actually taking a whole day to go serve the community,” Willis said.
The conference is a faith-based experience for all attendees, intended to help strengthen the international community and teach members about following the Bible.
MU junior Nate Hayward attended the conference two years ago when it was held in Los Angeles. “The experience for me was one of teaching,” he said. “There was a lot of wisdom to be learned.”
For him, the experience opened his eyes to others across the country who shared his mind-set.
“It was encouraging to see how many people were involved and were disciples and had the same goals as me.”
This year, he’s glad to see the inclusion of the scheduled work day.
“I think it's easy to throw money at causes, but to actually physically be participating is a really cool opportunity,” he said. “Not only can we give them our money, but we can give them our hearts as well.”
Yet, Hayward points out that acts of service should extend beyond the scope of this weekend or other projects.
“It doesn’t take a mission trip for me to be serving and loving to people, that’s just a part of my everyday life,” Hayward said. “It shouldn’t be a one-time deal, where people say, ‘Oh, I’ve done my service.’”
The day of service is sponsored by the non-profit organization HOPE Worldwide, which will provide transportation and resources for the volunteers in New Orleans. Students were required to pay a $75 registration fee to attend the conference.
Willis said he hopes the weekend will open his eyes to a world still in need.
"I think a lot of times I can get detached from the problems because I don't see them,” he said. “I'm hoping to be hit with the reality. I'm hoping that people will be inspired one way or another and go out into the world and make it a better place."