ANDS crossed behind his back and head tilted down, Rory silently, confidently strides into the library on the campus of Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU). His work boots make him seem taller than five feet eight. He says he?s just a normal guy, but his long, black ponytail and 19-year-old mustache say he?s a stranger on the campus. The four Japanese characters tattooed in black ink on his right shoulder declare his favorite sport, kendo, a martial art in which sticks are used to replicate ancient samurai swordsmanship. His muscular build and dull, army-green pants and sleeveless shirt make him look tough, like a survivor. Actually, he is one.
Everyone has a story of how they ended up at SWAU in Keene, Texas. Rory Hamer was forced. It would be his third semester at the University of New Orleans, but that school was closed; and when he left for Southwestern, his home was flooded with two feet of water.
Hamer, of Metairie, Louisiana (four miles from downtown New Orleans), moved out of his mom?s house for the first time in January 2005. He exchanged the company of his three younger brothers for that of his five best friends, sharing a house with them across town.
Living in New Orleans all his life, Rory was used to flooding, moving everything from the ground floor of a house to higher ground in 20 minutes. He has vacated twice before. ?It comes as second nature,? he says. Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina he expected water to rise to the outside of his front door, so he prepared his home and slept. He wouldn?t have been surprised had some of the wall-mounted action figures he collects, and who knows what else, drifted back and forth with the rising of the metropolitan swamp.
?Turn on the TV!? Rory?s friend urged him by phone at 2:00 a.m., Sunday, August 28. He switched it on sleepily. The last Rory heard, Katrina was a category 3 hurricane, which he?d seen before. Now, forecasters called it a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the most damaging kind. He felt a trace of fear.
Rory?s family had already fled for safety the day before. But Rory and his five friends stayed with the ship (their house) to ride out Hurricane Katrina?s wrath. ?They?re very stubborn,? Rory says jokingly. Rory?s friend, Chap, a National Guardsman, was activated for duty in the area that Saturday. After the activation Chap asked Rory to stay with Chap?s girlfriend, Olivia, and her family until the storm subsided or exploded. Chap said to Rory that morning, ?If I die, I want you to take care of Olivia.?
With $140, three days? worth of clothes, his college textbooks, and Olivia with her mother and sisters, Rory went north with a twinge of fear.
After spending Sunday in a cramped car, they finally found a hotel in Jackson, Mississippi, 200 miles north of New Orleans. The periphery of the storm followed them and took out the hotel?s power that afternoon, leaving them with uncharged cell phones and more stress. A few hours later New Orleans was devastated.
After another day in the car, they found that police blockades prevented them from returning south because of the damage and chaos that blanketed their hometown. They went west. Finally, with their money almost gone, they found a vacancy at a hotel in Orange, Texas.
Then Rory remembered his aunt, Donna Wilson, in Keene, Texas. Rory called and asked Donna to take in his whole crew. She asked for some time to prepare before she agreed, and by the time she called back with an invitation Olivia?s family had made other plans. They headed east, while Rory went north to Keene.
?Aunt Donna is superwoman,? Rory says, recounting all the strings she pulled to bring him to her home. Aunt Donna remembers taking Rory to the zoo when he was 3 or 4 years old. ?For some reason he was terrified by the peacocks,? she says with a chuckle.
Questions for Reflection
Or for Use in Your Small Group
1. What is it about natural disasters that makes people go the extra mile to help out?
2. When have you been lead to do something you wouldn't normally have done, simply because the situation demanded it? What was the result?
3. Should Christians help others for the sake of getting something in return? Or should they help others because that?s what we?re called to do?
4. Tell briefly about a situation in which someone joined the church as the result of an unselfish act of service.
With Aunt Donna?s kids at school in the daytime, though, he felt like a stranger in her home. Rory?s cousin, Jerrod Songy, is a freshman at Southwestern, and two of Wilson?s daughters attend Keene Adventist Elementary School. SWAU was willing to enroll Rory. With help from the government and others, Rory may end up owing the private school only $1,000 for the year. ?I?m kinda glad that [my displacement] happened, because I?ve gotten closer to Aunt Donna?s family,? Rory says.
A house in Burleson that Aunt Donna has been trying to sell will become home to Rory?s mother and younger brothers until at least January. His family is safe; his friends, whom he misses very much, are safe, but have diffused over the country. ?I don?t know anyone who died,? he says.
Rory is one of two Hurricane Katrina survivors who enrolled at Southwestern. It is only his second time on the campus of a Christian school. He attended St. Clement of Rome Parish Church when he was a child, but he maintains he no longer believes in any particular religion. Summing up his religious beliefs, Rory says, ?I believe in a higher power, and when I die, I believe I?ll have to face that power.?
Although Rory likes the SWAU campus, he does not plan to stay for more than a year. He?d like to move back home as soon as possible and eventually ?settle down with someone.? He already has the names of his kids picked out.
But Texans are starting to grow on Rory. He says SWAU is an amazing school: ?The people around here are the coolest people ever,? he maintains.
Rory is now majoring in education with a possible chemistry minor. ?Teaching is incredibly fun. It?s the greatest feeling in the world,? he says. But for now, he said he?s going to have to get used to the religious expression on campus. Rory said he was shocked when his chemistry professor began class with prayer. Rory is not opposed to attending a few religious programs. ?I like to keep an open mind,? he says.
Originally from British Columbia, A. J. Church is a senior at Southwestern Adventist University, majoring in journalism/prephysician?s assistant studies.