Braden Hammond spent two years doing mission work in Bolivia.

Braden Hammond, a 20-year-old whose family moved to Kingwood in 2016, was not in town when Harvey hit. He was living in Cochabamba, Bolivia, serving a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He exchanged anxious emails with his family as he learned of their forced evacuation and flooded home.

It was challenging for Hammond to be so far from his family during recovery and rebuilding. He considered returning home, but ultimately decided to stay in Bolivia, where people he met also faced significant challenges. “Being able to help serve these people in the midst of their struggles was a surprisingly gratifying challenge,” said Hammond.

Five months later, Hammond himself was wading through floodwaters after significant flooding and mudslides in Tiquipaya, Bolivia due to intense rain. He and fellow missionaries donned the yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” vests that were also seen in many Texas communities after Harvey. Hammond helped get people to safety and even assisted in recovering a body (five people died in the disaster). He later ended up in the hospital with a parasite infection, probably from exposure to the floodwaters.

Hammond returned home briefly to Kingwood before setting out to begin his college career at Duke University. Shortly after, he voluntarily evacuated ahead of Hurricane Florence. Duke has since resumed classes, and the long-term impact of Florence on his life remains to be seen. He remains optimistic.

“When challenges come or disasters strike, we have two options: To sit back and give up, doing the bare minimum and cutting your losses, or to fight back and grow from it,” said Hammond. “Challenges are God given to help us grow and push past limits we didn’t even know we had. So in a way I consider these experiences a flood of blessings.”