Sunday, April 15, 2018

Serving in Puerto Rico as a family

I slept at the firehouse overnight during a snowstorm and spent part of my day at my house and the gym without any power before going on a week-long mission trip to Puerto Rico. Our power outage lasted two days and theirs has lasted six months in some areas. One area we served in had its power restored two weeks before our trip.

Five youths at Bethany Evangelism Presbyterian Church initiated the mission trip because they wanted to assist with the hurricane relief efforts. It finished with 38 people helping with repairs at a camp, a rehab center, the American School and visiting residents at the Elderly Center. We had signed up by January and we later learned that we were an answer to their prayers. Many of the owners and directors became emotional when they told us that they did not have the money for the necessary repairs, the materials needed or the labor to fix it. They had prayed faithfully, asking God for help. They were amazed at what strangers did for them. We each had our reasons for giving up a week of vacation time from work or a school spring break; it was a calling to serve.

The owners worked alongside of us as the restoration began. Some cried when they saw the amount of work that we had completed in a few days. The electricians and carpenters among our group said the workload could have taken up to 10 days. We learned that the camp, which will house future groups like ours to serve in other areas, was on the verge of being shut down. The owner had little money and no help to restore the buildings and replace the roofs. We were touched by his emotional reaction to seeing the restored camp because we had not expected to receive such gratitude from someone who was incredibly thankful for us.


Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - Pictured is the camp site after the church members helped restore the roofs of the buildings and clear the debris from the yard. 

The church services had been relocated to the school because our sister church was damaged by Hurricane Maria. We attended the outdoor Palm Sunday service with a beautiful view of a palm tree. We helped restore the auditorium in the school where the Holy Thursday service was held, the first indoor service since the hurricane. It was nice to attend that service where we could see our finished work of replacing tiles in the ceiling and the floor. We didn’t feel like workers, we felt like we were a part of their community because they welcomed us in like family.


As a journalist, I often see and report on people coming together in the midst of devastation. I had reported on several stories on the hurricane relief efforts, including how local residents collected and sent donations to help those impacted by the hurricanes that hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. The people I interviewed said it was about helping fellow Americans.

While I had fun using my hands to help with repairs, it was also amazing to use my voice for prayer requests. We interacted with the Elderly Center residents and they were most touched by us praying for them.

We had plans to attend the Sunday evening service in their apartment building and we asked the residents if we would see them then. Betsy told us she normally attends church, but she was staying in because her knees hurt. Before we left, we prayed for her, her family and that the pain would go away and her health would be restored. When we saw her the next day, she said she couldn’t feel the pain anymore and she walked to the mall, a distance away, to buy us a gift for our thoughtfulness to pray for her. It was the power in prayer.

"Praying Pelican" translator David Figueroa, resident Betsy and Ginger Rae Dunbar pose together. 
 
Some residents started crying when we prayed and sang Christian songs in Spanish with help from our translator, David Figueroa. I loved that he taught us to say “God Bless You.” It took me a few days to say it correctly, but it was a proud moment when I did. I’m inspired to brush up on my Spanish for the next opportunity to return to Puerto Rico. They will need help during the next few years to recover from the hurricane.

You don’t have to leave the country for such an experience. My first mission trip in Philadelphia, about 15 minutes away from my Havertown church, showed us that we made a difference in the lives of people in our backyard with our hands and our prayers.

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