Our congregation has been active in supporting the recovery effort in Puerto Rico following last year’s hurricanes. In August, Lyndy Zabel, Director of Community Engagement for the Minnesota Annual Conference, traveled to Puerto Rico for a first hand look at how things are going. Here’s his report back:
… and then the electricity went off.
The day we arrived in Puerto Rico this past August, the electricity and water went off. It was only for a few hours and therefore a minor convenience for our team from Minnesota. But it was a reminder and real lesson of how hard it must be to be without it for 10 months. (Yes, there are still parts of the island where there is no electricity.) We found the people of Puerto Rico to be resilient. In Padilla, on the southeast coast where we stayed and worked, we were told stories of getting by without drinking water, toilets and showers, lights and televisions and laptops, and lack of diesel for generators for 90 days.
… and then the rain came.
On the second day of our trip, the rains came. Evidently, 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. Nidtza, our camp host, told us of living through constant rain for three days, with trees and electrical lines down everywhere, making it hard for emergency vehicles and food supplies to get through. And there was no wi-fi, of course, which made it hard for her to contact her grandmother, which did not happen for a week. When it rains, I think about this now.
… and then we went to worship.
Soon afterward, we went to church. It was lively and joyful with a great praise band playing while children, youth and adults sang and danced. The “full house” of worshippers greeted each other and us with hugs and smiles. 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. They prayed for our team and gave thanks for the way the United Methodist Church (UMCOR and Volunteer Teams) has helped and blessed them. Three days later the same was said at a beach side communion service, co-led by Puerto Ricans and volunteers. We were certainly blessed in return.
… and then we worked as the hands and feet of Jesus.
The five of us were partly an advance team and partly a work team. Cleaning, painting, and cement work was a cooperative effort, led by the local people, some paid and some volunteers. Chenin took time off as a policeman to work all week with his family and us to put on a new second story on his home. The first story was made of cement (and significantly damaged itself), but the second story made of wood had no chance against the wind and rain. His family and grandparents, who lived next door couldn’t have been more hospitable, as they cooked lunch for us in their outdoor kitchen. There are still many temporary rooms and tarps covering homes throughout the island.
… and then we talked.
Jose, our translator loved to talk. He obviously was born for the job. While living with us 24/7, the retired plant inspector and amateur photographer regaled us with stories of living in the area for decades. Nora, Sonia, Tony, Lois Cathy, Angel and Pam, our cooks and other helpers, joined in from time to time, 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. And they also told us of the great work UMCOR has done and continues to do, not only delivering supplies and funds, but providing thirty case managers all over the island, each of who have thirty clients and a regular basis.
… and then we planned together.
The need is still great for volunteers. Puerto Ricans are extremely industrious and are working hard, but they desire our help and want to partner with us. There is much to be done by work teams. So our conference is getting motivated and organized. We have two full teams leaving for the island in November, and opportunities in January, March and April. And there is room for more. Additionally, due to the generous Love Offering this year, there are funds to support those who want to travel there … $300 scholarships for each participant, and an additional $400 for team leaders.
Do you want to experience the people, culture and working of the Holy Spirit in Puerto Rico? If so, contact me.