Students Hope to Serve Local Community

Hundreds of Westmont students returned to campus Jan. 16 after being evacuated following the deadly Montecito mudslides to resume the spring semester. Before classes began the following day, the community gathered in the gym for a time of music, prayer and inspiration.

The Westmont students, most of whom were evacuated from campus at the end of the fall semester due to the Thomas Fire, had returned for the spring semester Jan. 8 for one day of classes before being evacuated again due to a loss of water in the wake of the mudslides.

Students eat a catered meal in front of Murchison Gym

Students eat a catered meal in front of Murchison Gym

Although the campus was unscathed by the rainstorm and the mudslides, many in the community suffered great loss. President Gayle D. Beebe, whose daughter Anna is director of youth ministries at Montecito Covenant Church, offered the names of those who were killed or lost homes in the tragedy.

“In our church alone, 20 different members of the youth group have been impacted by this, and there will be more and more,” he said.

President Gayle D. Beebe

President Gayle D. Beebe

Beebe referenced Romans 12:15, where Paul writes that part of our responsibility as followers of Christ is to learn how to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

“Over time the way in which we respond to tragedy teaches us to find God in the midst of suffering,” Beebe said. “When we face these disruptions, inevitably we return to a predictable life pattern and we begin to experience again the love of God and his steadfast presence. But in the midst of it, it can be very choppy. The most significant growth in my life has occurred in moments like these, where we face significant challenges and setbacks.

Portable showers and restrooms have been brought onto campus due to lack of drinkable water

Portable showers and restrooms have been brought onto campus due to lack of drinkable water

“I have also learned that we don’t all suffer at the same depth or with the same complexity. And when we are not suffering, but we are around people who are suffering, it’s an opportunity for us to be present and to truly be Christ’s presence to others. It’s a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful privilege, and it is one that has come to us.”

Benjamin Peterson, president of the Westmont College Student Association, said that since Westmont has been largely spared by the disasters, students should respond by serving the local community with their skills and time. “A number of people from student government, student ministries and residence life are joining together to form a student response team or recovery team that will work closely with churches and local organizations to find need and opportunity to care,” he said.

WCSA President Benjamin Peterson

He mentioned local non-profits such as the United Way, the Food Bank, Red Cross, Salvation Army and individuals and families who may need help. “We will need groups of volunteers to address those needs and opportunities as they arise and taking hope that we can be a shining light in the darkness to those around us who need it far more,” he said. “This is our local community, and it needs hope more than ever. In the darkest moments, I think we should hold onto the words of Samuel: “You Lord are my lamp. The Lord turns my darkness into light.”


  1. I am so proud of Westmont’s relience and willingness to serve the Montecito community. Three of our children graduated from Westmont, and our eldest daughter attends Montecitio Covenant Church. I thank God that the campus was not hit by the mudlsides. When paradise is destroyed then you must know that the only place of peace and joy ultimately is in the Lord. We are praying for all the Westmont College students and faculty for your on-going safety, and that the Lord will multipy all your efforts in helping the Montecito community recover. Andrew Bush

    • Kathy Sheldon says:

      What an eloquent message – Montecito is paradise. Ten of my family members have been blessed to attend Westmont. We have been through numerous fires, floods and other ordeals. Our strength and peace is through the Lord. Prayers be with you our Westmont students. faculty and the entire Montecito community.