What we did in Villa Carolina, Puerto Rico
The two week mission trip to Puerto Rico, January 14 - 28, 2004, was another time of growth and blessings. I shared messages which I had received (both written and verbal) in support of our mission with the team and we all felt strengthened and uplifted knowing that you had us in your thoughts and prayers.
We feel that we were individually called together as a specific team for this particular mission and that prayers were answered in melding us together in fellowship and work, in performing the work that needed to be completed by us and in creating a special bond with the congregation. We thank God for His preparation, guidance and presence among us and you for your prayerful support.
At the San Juan airport we climbed into two vans and piled our luggage high on the back of a red pick-up truck to make the 20 minute drive to the church compound.
Our team of 18 arrived at
Iglesia Metodista in Villa Carolina southeast of San Juan to find that a lot of preparations had been made both to ensure our comfort and to facilitate the work that they wanted us to accomplish.
They had made four Sunday school rooms into two, one for the women
and the other for the men on our team and made up 9 comfortable beds in each section.
They had set up a very nice enclosed area with 3 individual showers and with hot and cold running water and
we added a flip board to designate who’s turn it was to use them.
They provided a stacked washer and dryer, fans in the rooms and a dining area. They did many other thoughtful and generous things to make us feel welcome and comfortable.
In preparation for our work, they had drawn up plans, removed the pews and other items from the sanctuary and covered furnishings for protection.
Though we brought some tools with us, they had gathered many tools for our use and had block, sand, gravel, cement and other materials on hand that we needed to begin the work.
Awakened by our live alarm clock – a rooster - we worked hard,
beginning after a 7 AM breakfast and going until staggered shower times started around 3:30
with a time out for lunch.
Their biggest concern was termites – finding and removing any damaged wood. To this end we removed and replaced three huge (around 18 feet) termite eaten beams with solid wood pressure treated ceiling beams going from the peak of the ceiling and
extending down and through the exterior wall to the edge of the eave on the outside.
We replaced a few other damaged items, and put up some paneling around the top of the wall that we treated for termites
and also painted.
Their second concern was security – both from vandals and from the weather (hurricane winds and in preparation for air conditioning). We blocked in four new small storage rooms,
closed in an outside wall and prepared two gated openings for double entry doors.
We removed a building wide stained acrylic paneled upper window and
replaced it with block.
Due to a misunderstanding we also removed the panels in a like window at the other end behind the altar and cross. However, they liked the way it looked without the color so ordered clear rippled acrylic panels which arrived in time for us to install.
Thankfully this turned out well and to everyone’s satisfaction and some termite damage was discovered and removed during this process as well.
Each side of the sanctuary was a window wall of acrylic panels. We removed the large louvered windows under the stained acrylic panels on both sides of the sanctuary
and built up the two block walls to around five feet.
We shortened the bottom acrylic panels and framed in one side preparing for the new smaller lower windows. We had the luxury of knowing that another team would arrive the day we left and would be able to do the other side and maybe install the doors to the new rooms and entry ways.
As we were leaving, a local company was there plastering the block walls we had built and other areas in preparation for paint. Maybe one of the jobs for the following team.
We began the work of making the janitor’s closet into the men’s bathroom and the men’s bathroom into a handicapped bathroom by removing and rebuilding a block wall to accommodate a wider door. (Yes, heavy duty demolition and more block and electrical work.)
High on their priority list was some rewiring, new wiring for the new rooms and replacing the old breaker box with a new one. Mission accomplished!
They also wanted a loft platform at the back to put their sound equipment on. We built and floored the base platform to be finished with railing and steps or ladder by others.
We hauled a lot of block and mixed and hauled a lot of mortar.
When on the mortar mixing crew you felt like you were a cross between Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson and Tom Hanks (with “Wilson”) in The Castaway.
The sand sifting screen and mortar mixing box were set up in the shade under a beautiful coconut palm tree with branch tips reaching to the ground
and coconuts overhead!
We even sent a coconut named “Harvey” up to the masons in a bucket of mortar.
We were treated to fresh coconut by one of the church members who cut open three coconuts that had fallen from the trees overhead for us to eat and enjoy. (Not Harvey)
We removed many nails from old boards and hammered in many new ones. We hauled old boards out and new boards in. We also reused what we could. We shoveled and wheel-barrowed tons (seemed like) of sand, gravel, mortar, concrete and block. We tore down and we cleaned up. We worked high up on scaffolding and down in the mud. We were busy, we were productive and we had fun.
Everyone wore many hats working at a variety of jobs as the need arose. We had on our team, masons, building contractors, carpenters, an electrical engineer, a bilingual (English/Spanish), musicians, multi skilled members and willing and able workers.
We were also blessed with the fact that camouflaged in our working members we had a physician and three nurses. Their medical skills were used on several occasions. Thankfully injuries and illnesses were few and relatively minor.
We appreciated the delicious food
and clean clothes provided by a very able kitchen/laundry crew, some of whom worked on the construction site as well. We drank gallons of lemonade and water and had wonderful popsicle breaks.
We worked half of one Saturday and did not work in the evenings or on Sundays. Both Sundays we attended church in the tent which they had erected for temporary use on the grounds near the church building while their sanctuary is under reconstruction.
Our team leader gave an inspirational message the first Sunday and we were also blessed by a message from their pastor the second Sunday.
Seminary students from their membership did the translating for the services. We were treated to wonderful solos and music and also participated by singing several selections for them. We sang both English and Spanish songs even though most of us do not know Spanish. One very special Spanish piece and ice breaker that we did the first Sunday – loosely translated – said that it isn’t important which church you go to, give me your hand, you are my brother in Christ. This was our last piece and we went through the congregation shaking hands while we and they sang. The Spirit of love was beautiful.
In the evenings we had times of fellowship and did things to get to know each other as individuals and as a group – talking, playing games, and going shopping or for ice cream. We had team meetings to talk about what we had accomplished and to find out the plans for the next day.
We had a blessing before each meal and team members took turns each evening leading a time of sharing and worship with special personal devotions.
One evening we worshiped through the saxophone music of a church member who has dedicated his musical talent to God’s glory and records with Daniel Calveti. Several of us went to the store and bought the wonderful CD “Solo Tu Gracia”. One thing that my two mission trips has taught me is that God’s Word and worship is beautiful in any language and though I do not understand the Spanish, I listen to the beautiful CD often in praise and can now even sing along in places. At the farewell evening gathering we heard moving personal testimonies, songs and thanksgivings by several team and church members.
There were times of frustration, misunderstanding, discouragement and tension but we worked through those. Many things were smoothed over by our interpreting team member. Her skills also aided in our communications with the congregation. Most of the congregation spoke English to varying degrees. Some quite well and others limited to understanding a few words.
Disregarding the language barrier,
they welcomed us with open arms and hearts.
The second week we were there this was shown in many additional ways – several women of the congregation bought, prepared and served us the evening meals of the week,
the youth group hosted a cook out and games evening for us and the congregation,
we were invited to eat dinner and spend an evening in a home,
individuals came to spend time with us in the evenings and accompanied us on several outings.
Dominoes was popular with all ages.
During the Saturday and Sunday time off we were able to see other parts of the island sometimes accompanied by members of the congregation. We went to the beach,
had a tour of the Nature Reserve,
El Faro, the 1880 Spanish lighthouse,
and wandered through Old San Juan.
We drove by two churches that previous teams had worked on.
We also visited a church built years before by a mission team that some of our members were a part of. In fact, some of our team members had also worked on the team that helped build the church we were now repairing.
We came back from one outing to find a special message left for us on the ground by a young girl from the congregation.
There were moments when we were not sure that our abilities and understanding would match their dreams and visions for what we would be able to do. In the end, though, we felt good about what we had accomplished, not only in the work that we had finished but also in the bridges that we have built and friends that we have made.
As expressed by members of our team and also members of their congregation – language and location does not matter, we are ONE body of Christ, bonded by His Love, working in His service to His Glory.
Thank you again for your encouragement and prayerful support of me, this mission trip and team.