Faith Presbyterian helps rebuild home in Puerto Rico

by Rev. Sarah Hagena

In the summer of 2018, Faith Presbyterian youth and church members began praying and dreaming of a mission trip to help the hurricane battered Island of Puerto Rico. Fundraising began slowly but God and our community provided every penny we needed through generous donations, pizza ranch night, a yard sale/bake sale, eco-maniac garbage cleanup and a food booth. 

Just before we were to depart for Puerto Rico, a huge political uprising occurred when the governor’s emails were leaked in which he mocked the dead bodies from Hurricane Maria! Thousands took to the streets to call for his resignation and finally he did resign. We were a bit rattled but on Aug. 7 our team of seven arrived at the airport at 5 a.m.

Our first view of Puerto Rico, as we were descending, revealed blue tarps still covering the roof area of many yet unrepaired homes. Two years after the hurricane there’s still much work to do to restore Puerto Rico!

After a very long wait for our rental van, we arrived at La Casona De Monteflores – a church manse turned into housing for volunteers. There on a roof terrace with a beautiful view, we prayed and the host church fed us a typical Puerto Rican home cooked meal of rice, beans, chicken and salad. We loved it!

The next morning we made our lunches and headed to the work site driving anxiously trying to dodge the cars and trucks that would swerve in front of us with not a moment’s notice. The journey each day took us by beautiful beaches. We went to work mixing mortar and placing tiles on the floor of the home. Out the window we saw a huge avocado tree tempting, but next door was a sad skeleton home, apparently abandoned after being destroyed by the hurricanes.

It was hot work. For lunch we sat by a lovely beach in the shade and on the way home from work at 4:30 p.m. we put on our suits and jumped in the water to cool off. The next day was about the same, but Saturday was a day for exploration. We visited a tropical rainforest and learned the hard way about fire ants. We visited a couple of beaches for swimming. In the evening we went in to Old San Juan to host the homeowner and our work supervisors for dinner out. One of our women shared her testimony of God bringing her out of a dark life of addiction to find love and hope in Christ! She and Magaly, the homeowner, grew close since both are single moms.

The following day was Sunday and we went to worship at the host church – it was a beautiful service full of music, love, and people who wanted to hug you and kiss you! Everyone thanked us for coming to help rebuild Puerto Rico. That afternoon we visited the castle of San Cristobal. A man claiming to be from Wisconsin said he just needed a few more bucks to get back on a boat home because he had been robbed. One of our group gave him the money but long after he said his boat was sailing he was spotted asking others for “just a few more dollars.” Next day at work one of our supervisors said the same man hit her up for money two weeks earlier! From then on we decided to give only when we knew where the money would go.

Our team worked hard and by Tuesday we had nearly finished the floors in the home. We were told that for a group of mostly youth (four youth, one person 20 years old and two adults) our team did a great job. 

We are in touch with the project leaders and hear now that the house is finished! As a love gift to Magaly who has no furniture, we are sending donations to buy her a bed. In our time there we never experienced any threats other than  crazy driving! And we saw no protests but we did see some angry graffiti from those earlier protests.   

We praise God for the opportunity to serve Christ and help Puerto Rico recover. We pray that many more will go to share good news and help the people who still need so much help and have so little in comparison to here in the 50 states.  

In researching many possible mission opportunities, we found that the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Puerto Rico was the most cost effective of all programs. Our group was financially challenged but the total cost including airfare, housing, meals and work project costs was about $995 per participant for one full week. 

If anyone is interested in doing a mission trip to Puerto Rico, I can supply the contacts for PDA and La Casona de Monteflores. My number is 605-214-3864.