A Mission Trip
Excitement grew as Sunday drew near. We all began to prepare in different ways. Our Pastor requested we also add preparing for spiritual warfare. We didn’t know exactly what lye ahead but we do know this ~ when tragedy strikes, the enemy sees an opportunity. So we read through the gospel of Mark as well as any book(s) on spiritual warfare. And, of course, we prayed.
We said our farewells and headed off to serve the people of Puerto Rico in whatever capacity they needed. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale and after our layover there boarded the next flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Flying over the Atlantic Ocean we admired the blue waters and awed at the islands of the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos. Then we see it – the island of Puerto Rico. My heart immediately felt something different. An urgency of sorts. A desire to receive as much knowledge as I could. To make the unknown known. A call to action.
The plane touched down, we retrieved our luggage and set out to meet our week long taxi driver, Lenny, who would later become like a big brother to us. The eight of us loaded up into his van and he drove us to the church in Caguas where we were to sleep that first night, but not before a couple pit stops. One to a local grocery store as well as a local cafe` for supper. Now, on to the church. We met the pastor there (Pastor Willie) and began to set up our air mattresses. It was New Years Eve and he invited us to spend some time with some of his church folks to celebrate. This is where we began a strong bond with our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters in Christ. That night we were also introduced to their culture, how they fellowship, as well as how they celebrate the bringing in of a new year. First of all, the louder the better! Secondly, Dominoes is the popular game of choice. Lastly, and not to be separated from the first, Fireworks are a MUST combined with gunfire. When we arrived back at the church, Pastor Willie made sure we were all safe inside and locked in tight. This gave a whole new meaning to being tucked in and told to “sleep tight”. This area was not the safest and especially not on New Years Eve.
Time to begin our day. The men accompanied the Pastor Willie up to the second level to access the damage and help continue the process of restoration. Walls were torn down – temporary drainage holes were drilled and anything else we could help with.
Meanwhile, several of us ladies went on a touring prayer walk of the city of Caguas. This is where we began to view the damage first hand. Of course, we could see mangled metal roofs, power lines down, street lights bent in half, traffic lights all awry, and windows/glass broken just to name a few. Then there were the buildings that to the naked eye appeared to be fine until we looked deeper. Peering into the windows of store fronts, we could see the absolute destruction Maria had caused. “The buildings are sick” explained one young lady. We learned this meant that they are unusable due to the mold/mildew.
My heart grew heavy today. It didn’t appear good and we learned it was much worse than even that of the appearance. The city was quiet. It was New Years Day and there was desolation. There was an eerie stillness accompanied by sadness. We headed back to the church to eat some lunch and prepare to go to a house in the nearby town of Bayamon. This is where we would reside for the remainder of our time there. We had been informed there was no power yet at this location so we wanted to make certain we could get settled in before nightfall. When we arrived there was a power company crew(from S. GA) working diligently to restore power to that area. Literally within’ minutes that neighborhood received power. What a blessing it was to hear people cheer and clap as their power was restored. Tomorrow would soon be here and our purpose would continue. We settled in and had sweet restful sleep.
We arose early and took cold showers. There was no hot water but cooler showers were not necessarily unwelcome. You see, while our loved ones back home were experiencing extreme temps (12 degrees) we, on the other hand, woke to temps fairly tropical to us (low 70’s). Lenny, our driver, took us to another local cafe` for breakfast. After that we met the Pastor Willie, his wife, and some of the people from their church along with a flatbed truck loaded down with cases of bottled water and food boxes. We were ready for this days mission.
Today we were going into the nearby mountain region where conditions were significantly worse. It was an opportunity to share God’s love and grace to a people in need. As we traveled the narrow roads up into the mountains my heart opened even more for the people of Puerto Rico. Driving past villages we could see a speckling of blue tarps. They have not had power in over 100 days and will most likely be some of the last to receive it.
The truck was unloaded at a small community/senior center while some of the local residents arrived in anticipation. As their names were called we carried the precious cargo to their vehicles. We were able to minister to them on a level that didn’t really require words although many of them engaged us in conversations. I, personally, was able to connect with a couple who had family living in my home state of Michigan. She was a strong Christian woman. She shared how God was their refuge and strength during and after Maria. She also shared with me how she would be traveling to Michigan later in the month to be with her daughter during/after her shoulder surgery. She went on to tell how she would be also there for the birth of their first Great-Grandbaby. It was a privilege to listen and then to pray with her before parting ways.
After passing out the blessing boxes there at the community center, we loaded up a couple truck beds and drove deeper into the villages to deliver the supplies to those who, for whatever reason, could not make it to the community center. I was able to go on the final delivery to a home where several adults as well as several children were living. The children were jumping up and down shouting, “I knew you’d come back! I knew you’d come back!” The mother/grandmother invited us to her home around the back to see her living conditions post Maria. She was having to sleep in her daughter’s home as the damage was too great for her to remain in her own home. Her heart was hurting. We shared God’s love with them, prayed with them, and of course, took a group photo. What happiness and joy filled our hearts this day as we were able to bless the people in this mountain village.
We spent this evening eating and celebrating with our Caguas family of God. Our hearts are happy.
Today the pastor wanted to share a piece of Puerto Rico’s history with us. We all went to the Fort at Old San Juan. It was an absolute beautiful day. We learned more and soaked in the beauty of that side of the island and coast. We learned. We laughed. We shared. We loved.
Tonight we would join the church in their first Wednesday night service since Maria. There had been no power and even now it was surging. In order to keep from ruining the sound system/equipment, they utilized generators so we could enjoy a “normal” service.
Tonight we would worship together.
Tonight would bring hope.
Tonight we would cry together.
Tonight we would bid farewell – until next time.
Tonight Lenny would take us to one of his favorite local burger joints.
Tonight we would realize how it impacted his life.
Tonight we would have a new friend.
Tonight would be bittersweet.
With each passing day I fell deeper in love with a people and a culture that I, before this trip, knew virtually nothing about.
Tomorrow we would travel to the airport and begin to process all that had taken place during our stay and envision our next trip to that island.
Our lives would forever be changed.