HOUSTON--Home to nearly 2.2 million people, Houston is labeled the fourth most populous city in the nation and has over 145 languages spoken. Along with its large population and immense diversity comes more startling statistics:
- Houston has more victims of human trafficking than any other U.S. city.
- 6,300 people are without a home on any given night in Houston.
- Crime reports showed 283 people were murdered in Houston in 2015.
- There are more than 1 million foreign born residents in the Houston metro area, accounting for one in four of the population.
Over spring break, 130 college students embraced the city and its challenges by engaging in the first-ever "Houston Week," hosted by the University of Houston Baptist Student Ministry (BSM).
Students from Stephen F. Austin University, University of Houston (UH), Houston Baptist University, Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Arlington spent the week serving alongside ministries that are already actively responding to what UH BSM Director B.J. Ramon refers to as "the brokenness" in Houston.
During his seven years as a BSM director in the city, Ramon has strategically connected with ministries that are actively serving the community. In conversations with ministry leaders, he has discovered "the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few" ( Matt. 9:37). So, he invited other BSMs to bring their students to be those workers during the week of March 13-17.
Students fed and conversed with the homeless, prayer-walked in high-crime neighborhoods, spread awareness about human trafficking, sorted clothing and canned food at a donation center, did construction work at a new church plant, hosted day camps for children and ministered to refugees.
"We were working with groups that are doing this for the long-term," Ramon said. "We were not trying to do anything new, but coming alongside and having more hands in the field that these organizations really need to respond to the brokenness."
Hannah Heiser, student volunteer from Texas A&M, spent evenings during Houston Week stationed at the UH BSM building making phone calls to women who "sell themselves" by posting their information on websites. Heiser and other students participating called the women, prayed with them and directed them to a ministry that could counsel them further.
The task challenged Heiser and taught her an invaluable lesson.
"God uses you in places that are going to break you for such great things," she said. "Houston is like an hour and a half from where I live. (The brokenness) is in our midst and we just kind of go about our lives worrying about other things even though this is happening everywhere, all the time."
Such a revelation is what Ramon had hoped would come about from Houston Week.
"We were hoping that students would see that Houston is a place that needs more workers in the field and that they would see that in their state, in Texas, there is a place that has a million foreign born residents, that has the largest human trafficking port in the nation," Ramon said. "There's a whole a different world just down the road."
He also wanted students to see that though the needs are tremendous, there are credible ministries responding to the brokenness, and they need volunteers to partner in their endeavors to love people and share the Gospel in Houston.
"We hope they see the church can do wonderful things when they work together--responding to brokenness and responding to lostness," Ramon said.