October 11, 2018
My Lessons Learned in Puerto Rico
I am constantly learning and growing on my volunteer-in-mission (VIM) journey. It’s true that it is a blessing to give, but it is also a blessing to receive. I found myself opening up deeper each time I go and help others in need. When I went to Puerto Rico in August, I grew in self-awareness and empathy when I had to face situations that were outside of my own world view. I try and be open to what the Holy Spirit might want to teach me in that moment. So, here are the collection of moments I learned in August while volunteering in Puerto Rico after the Hurricane Maria:
LIFE IS HARDER WITHOUT ELECTRICITY AND WATER.
This one is very obvious, but I had to state it because it was the first thing that really hit me. The day we arrived in Puerto Rico, the electricity and water went off. It was only for a few hours, and therefore a minor convenience for our team from Minnesota. We simply got a taste of what it has been like for folks who have gone without it for 10 months.
WIND, RAIN AND FLOODING CAN DO HORRENDOUS DAMAGE.
On the second day of our trip, the rains came. Squalls come frequently in Hurricane season. It only lasted about a half hour, but was enough to show us the minor leaks in our place of lodging. I can only imagine what is must be like to live through constant wind and rain for three days. Trees and electrical lines were down everywhere, making it hard for emergency vehicles and food supplies to get through.
IT IS POSSIBLE TO PRAISE THE LORD AT ALL TIMES (Psalm 34:1-3)
I am not trying to down play the suffering, but on the third day, we went to church. It was lively and joyful with a great praise band playing while children, youth, and adults sang and danced. You could sense God in the faces and voices of the people as they spoke prayers of thanksgiving for all God had done and is continuing to do for them. It was the same three days later at a beach side communion service.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO REPAIR A HOME
Cleaning, painting, and cement work was a cooperative effort led by the local people, some paid and some volunteers. A local policeman, Chenin, took time off as a to work all week with his family to work on his house. Neighbors stopped by to pitch in. I was blown away at how the community rallies together to go the extra mile not only to bring stability back into their own lives, but for their neighbors as well.
FAMILY IS VALUED
Chenin’s grandparents, who lived next door couldn’t have been more hospitable, as they cooked lunch for us in their outdoor kitchen. They had taken in their grandchildren ever since the hurricane hit, and of course, they couldn’t stop talking about them.
KEEPING CULTURAL NORMS IS ESSENTIAL
Our translator, Jose, loved to talk. He obviously was born for the job. While living with us 24/7, he regaled us with stories of living in the area for decades. Our cooks, Nora, Sonia, Tony, Lois Cathy, Angel and Pam, joined the conversation frequently at the dinner table. They shared a wonderful history and culture of Puerto Rico and its people, one they were proud of and eager to tell us about. The saying is true - we don’t really understand our own culture until we take the time to understand another one.
UMCOR IS A MAJOR PLAYER
The United Methodist Committee On Relief has done and continues to do great work. They deliver supplies and funds for thirty case managers all over the island who have thirty clients on a regular basis. I tell you, I know that they are in it for the long recovery haul. The need is still great for volunteers. Puerto Ricans are extremely industrious and are working hard, but they our help is needed and they want to partner with us. There is still much to be done by work teams.
Our Minnesota Conference is motivated and organized. We have two full teams leaving for the island in November and February. 2019 trips are scheduled for March 23 - 30, and April 6 - 13 and registration is open! Consider signing up for a team and invite a family member or friend to come with you. At 2018 annual conference, the Love Offering was beyond what we were expecting (thank you for being so generous) so there is a $300 scholarship for each participant, and an additional $400 for team leaders.
Join me on these trips and experience the people, culture and working of the Holy Spirit in Puerto Rico. Learn a new life lessons and get a new perspective on life and see how God works in the midst of tragedy.
Learn more about the March 2019 Puerto Rico Trip
Learn more about the April 2019 Puerto Rico Trip