By Tate Shannon, South Main member
While many college students take advantage of spring break to blow off steam, party, or just sleep, some are choosing to give up their time off for service to the Kingdom. The Rice University Baptist Student Ministry (BSM), along with the BSMs of other universities across the state of Texas, have partnered with the city of South Padre and the South Padre Police Department since the 80s to provide safe rides and food for partygoers, clean the beaches, facilitate nightly worship, and (most importantly) spread the gospel in a potentially hostile environment while ministering to the needs of a particularl vulnerable population. This work is one of the largest and most important missions that BSM groups participate in annually.
Unfortunately, the outbreak of COVID-19 led to greatly reduced travel to the island and grave concerns about increasing the spread of the virus. Because of this, the state leadership of BSM decided the most responsible course of action would be to limit travel and cancel the planned mission trips.
For those of us in Houston, this didn't come as much of a surprise. In response to the outbreak, Rice took unprecedented action by canceling classes for the week leading up to spring break and finally made the decision to hold the remainder of the semester entirely virtually to reduce the amount of contact between students, faculty, and staff. Other universities and schools throughout the nation have made similar decisions by now leaving many students isolated from their families and other important resources (especially in the cases of international students or students without the ability to travel). Working parents of younger children are struggling to find childcare during the day leading to economic and social hardships. Further, groups with elevated risks for complications relating to the virus are afraid or unable to leave their homes for important things like purchasing groceries or refilling prescriptions.
These are clear needs that, as of now, don't have simple solutions. Traditional methods of organizing service work all involve large amounts of contact between people--the very thing we need to avoid right now. Fortunately, however, thanks to recent developments in communication technology, we are more equipped now than ever before to deal with a problem of this nature.
For the students left at Rice University, we are using tools like GroupMe and Zoom to communicate virtually with one another. The ministries remaining on campus have teamed up to create the Coronavirus Care Initiative with the mission of "showing God's love to the community, mainly through care packages to those [trapped] on campus" during the outbreak. The group is working with Rice Health Services to take advantage of existing infrastructure and accomplish this safely and efficiently.
In a virtual interview with Patrick Bi (Rice Bioengineering, '21), one of the organizers of the group, he tells us, "We're also trying to provide spiritual relief ... working with other ministries on campus to help make and distribute the care packages as well as [establish] prayer chains." He continues to describe the Illness Info Committee which has worked to produce easy to understand graphical information on how people can keep themselves and those around them safe from infection. There's a Social Media Committee that has created a webpage (https://www.facebook.com/Coronavirus-Care-Initiative-104321907865726/)with all of the information about the work of this ministry.
Specific requests for service or prayer from the Coronavirus Care Initiative can be sent to [email protected]
In another example of how students are giving back,the BSM at Rice cleaned and sanitized church-provided housing for patients on chemotherapy (who are at high risk of complications from the virus). The housing is provided by West U Baptist Church as part of their Mercy House Ministries.
Other ideas that have been put forward are prescription/grocery pickup/delivery and childcare which may be implemented in the coming days if they can be done safely and effectively.
For more information, questions, or ministry requests, contact Andy Dennis (BSM Director, Rice University) at [email protected].