At the end of May, United Methodist volunteers from the Palisades District of Greater New Jersey travelled to Puerto Rico to help rebuild homes for families affected by the devastating landfall of Hurricane Maria in September of 2017. Some of the team members shared their reflections on the trip, listed below:
Rev. Gina Kim, Palisades District Superintendent
Last week, I returned from Puerto Rico after mission work. It was a humbling yet uplifting experience. I gained a deeper understanding about myself, other team members, sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico and their culture and history. I praise God for blessing the team and the work in a special way whenever we needed extra strength and grace.
Rev. Bridget Galvin, mission team leader, Grace UMC in Wyckoff
From May 25 to June 1, thirteen participants from the Palisades District traveled to Puerto Rico to help with relief work through UMCOR. Prior to leaving, the team worked to learn about one another and responsible mission work principles.
On the trip, the team stayed in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on the northern coast in a camp complex run by a local church. On Sunday after arrival, the team worshiped with the Methodists of Arecibo in a Spirit-led service and explored their home for the next week, visiting restaurants and shops.
They stopped by the world-famous Arecibo Observatory and visited the beach during free time before work began. The large group was split into three smaller work teams during the week. Each team worked with a foreman and an assistant on projects that ranged from concrete mixing and wall repair to roof construction. The hot Puerto Rican sun gave them a new respect for the workers who have been repairing and rebuilding houses for the past eighteen months.
Group members had the chance to meet the families who owned the houses and learn more about the stories of the construction workers and survivors.
Throughout the week, the team spent time in reflection and spiritual practices led by the group members. These practices helped them stay connected to God throughout the trip. On Wednesday and Thursday nights they had an opportunity to visit the local shelter and bring food from the camp. It was a great opportunity to meet local people.
By Friday evening, everyone was exhausted, but packed up to head to Old San Juan for some exploration anyway! The team learned about the history of the city and enjoyed a celebratory dinner together before heading home on Saturday. Many of the team members had transformative experiences while building relationships with God, Puerto Rican neighbors and each other.
Rev. Kay Dubuisson, Spring Valley UMC in Spring Valley, NY
Wow! The week in Puerto Rico was absolutely amazing. God taught me so much through this mission journey, my team and the people we served to in Puerto Rico. Although one can write an entire book on this assignment, my focus is to share what God showed and spoke to me.
First, the beauty of the island filled me with enchantment. From the sounds of the tropical island at night, the powdery white sand and turquoise waters, the rainbow color of flowers, plants and the endless chorus of the coqui (co-kee) tree frogs, the visits to local places like Old San Juan and the streets of Arecibo were amazing. Puerto is indeed a beautiful Island.
I was struck with a bitter cup of reality. It has been 18 months since the storm made landfall in Puerto Rico. Although there has been a lot of effort to rebuild Puerto Rico, clearly, the island is still confronting questions of status, economics and migration that Hurricane Maria helped expose.
Due to lack of resources, many families still reside in homes destroyed by the storm. Many homes are abandoned by their owners. Some are without electricity. Being that Puerto is a territory of the United States, I found myself questioning why more wasn’t being done for the people of Puerto Rico who are still clearly struggling and are extremely impoverished.
Another reality was the arduous work that was set before us. Cleaning up house debris, using forbidden tools, busting up concrete, building and putting up a permanent steel roofing foundation and mixing up cement made up our long days. We were stretched beyond our abilities and strength. Somehow, God and Motrin sustained each one of us daily.
Being in Puerto Rico was a time of healing.
Many rich stories were shared between the family and our team: stories of sadness and joy, of humility and pride, of despair and hope, disappointment and satisfaction. Healing came in the form of presence, service, partnership, friendship, belonging, caring, helping, welcoming, embracing and loving. Healing was mutually shared through giving and receiving and as we prayed with and anointed each other.
My heart was filled with gratitude.
Each day started at the camp with a time of meditation and breakfast with morning prayer and discussion following in the evening. We were without hunger. Delicious meals and snacks were served throughout the day. We were blessed with trickling, but hot, water as well as electricity the entire week. We were blessed with wonderful cooks who were gracious to cook extra meals (75 plates) in order to feed many homeless friends on the street of Arecibo. I thank God for the skilled foremen who patiently taught, guided, protected and sent us back home in one piece with our ten fingers and toes intact.
Puerto Rico was a time of connectedness on all levels.
Thirteen individuals of different backgrounds, cultures, physical features and mindsets came together for a common purpose: to help repair homes for the victims of hurricane Maria. Our wonderful leader and translator helped us to connect with each other beforehand by meeting several weeks before the trip. Our leader helped us to know who we are, our strengths and challenges and how we can support each other though good and tough times. This connection helped us to lean on, cry, laugh and support each other in many ways during the trip. The connection didn’t stay among us. We took with us a part of the culture. We made and will maintain long-lasting and enriching relationships with brothers and sisters on the island.
My life will never be the same because of this trip and I want to say thank you for your prayer, encouragement and financial support. Without your partnership my mission trip might not have been possible. Thank you for investing in me for the Kingdom’s sake!
Upcoming Puerto Rico Mission Trip: Skylands and Capital Districts October 2019
The Skylands and Capital Districts are organizing a joint district mission trip to Puerto Rico for October 2019. All congregations in the district and the Central Region are invited to participate. This is a unique opportunity to amplify GNJ’s missional impact and help families on the island rebuild their homes. Contact Norm Cetuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.