Hey, friends! I’ve just returned from a mission trip with my church to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. It was a wonderful trip, and I thought that instead of doing a full-on blog post this week, I might just tell you a bit about the trip.
After Hurricane Maria ravaged the island two years ago, a member of our church found out that our denomination had a church that was affected by the storm. He reached out to see how they were doing, and that’s how we met Pastor José and the Iglesias Bautista Libre in Buenas Aguas, Puerto Rico.
Their story was tragic. José had grown up in Puerto Rico but was attending theological school on the mainland when he volunteered to go back to the island as a missionary for the denomination. He started the church in Aguas Bueans and over the next few years grew it into a thriving, self-sustaining community. Life was good; then Maria hit.
When the storm was over, José’s home had been destroyed, and the church building was in ruin. Most of his congregation had lost everything, and they left the island to start over stateside. The church basically had to start over, this time without the financial support of our denomination’s missions program.
Over the past couple of years, José has rebuilt the church community from the bottom up. They’ve been meeting in members’ homes and in a tent that they erected on the church grounds. But they haven’t been able to meet in their sanctuary because it didn’t have a roof. So they’ve been making due with what they have.
Last month, a church from South Carolina came and put a new roof on the building, allowing the church to finally resume worship indoors. Though their sanctuary was bare and without a bathroom, they were happy to have a permanent home for their church again.
That’s where we came in. A group of 38 people from our church flew down to the island and spent the last week working on the building and reaching out to the community alongside the church. We brought a group that ranged from teenagers to senior citizens, construction professionals to people who have no idea how to use a hammer (👋🏼), and everything in between. We spent the week getting to know the church members, hearing their stories, and joining together in helping them continue to get back on their feet.
The construction crew worked all week, transforming their bare sanctuary into a beautiful worship space. They built a stage, a sound booth, a bathroom, and even an office for Pastor José. Thanks to their efforts, the church now has an inviting space to worship and bring visitors, and they couldn’t be more proud of it.
While they were plugging away, the outreach group was canvassing the community promoting a huge carnival we put on Thursday night. We offered inflatables, games, prizes, and free food for everyone who showed up. When the big night came, we weren’t sure what to expect, but the response was overwhelming. Families came out in droves, there were kids everywhere, and the community was so excited to have something like this to bring them all together.
We engaged in some other outreach, too. A small team went out and painted the house of a church member who had been affected by the storm. Our children’s pastor brought a dozen ukuleles, and a group gave lessons to local children every day. Now, the church has their very own ukulele band! And on Tuesday night, we went into an impoverished neighborhood in Caguas and cooked a meal for the people there, singing praise songs as we handed out each plate.
My favorite part of the week, though, was probably Wednesday night, when our group got together with the church for a worship service. Pastor José shared his heart for his church, the ukulele band performed the songs they’d learned, and our pastor preached a message (translated into Spanish, of course) about having passion for God and for his work. It was a truly holy time as God’s people from both Arkansas and Puerto Rico came together in worship, and I’m so thankful I got to be a part of it.
Once all the work was done, we got to have a little fun, too. We went to a gigantic zip line park on Friday, and everyone had a great time. After a little bit of shopping and sightseeing, we were headed home. Everyone made it back safely in time to get a few hours of sleep before church on Sunday morning, and we all came back with hearts full of joy and love for our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.
I am so happy that my church decided to step out, try something new, and reach out to our friends in need. There were so many barriers that could have come between us, like distance and language, but when we chose to come together, none of that mattered. We were just brothers and sisters coming together to do God’s work, and I believe that he blessed it.
The church in Puerto Rico had some new faces this past Sunday morning, people from the community who had heard about them through the carnival. And those of us who had gone came back to our own church with a deeper understanding of the reach of God’s love all over the world. Our little trip to Puerto Rico was an incredible experience for everyone involved. I’m so thankful I got to go, and I can’t wait until I get a chance to see the island again.
Dios es bueno. God is good. God bless Puerto Rico. Thanks for reading, friends.