For those of you who have asked about the mission trip to Puerto Rico, here is Jim's report.
Mission Trip 2018
On Fri. Jan 19, 2018 seventeen Ohioans and one Hoosier met at the Travel Lodge motel near the Detroit Airport. We got up the next morning at 3-4 AM to go to the airport, flew to Baltimore, changed planes and went on to Puerto Rico. As we approached the San Juan airport we could see numerous roofs with blue tarps on them, plus many damaged buildings.
We were met at the Airport by Pastor Marc of the Union Church of San Juan (if you google it is the one on Laurel St.). The church is a modern church on the outside and has a beautiful interior. It is a block from the ocean and is 8 feet above sea level. We found air mattresses, pumps, sheets, and towels waiting. We quickly “set up housekeeping” then met Neyda, the copastor of the church. Both Pastors are very energetic. That evening some of the congregation hosted a “meet and greet” at the cabana behind their apt. bld. The back of the lot was lapped by the waves of the Atlantic. We had a very nice selection of finger food.
The next morning we attended Sunday school and church. Church was at 10:30. There were probably 30 people there at the start of the service. By the end of the service there were more like 100 there. This is apparently normal for Latin America. Afterward, there was a coffee hour where many people wanted to talk to us. They also have a book exchange at the end of the service. People bring their old books and can take home something different.
Sunday afternoon we went to the festival of San Sebastian in old San Juan. This was a SERIOUS party. Several bands. Street performers. Food and drinks, etc. They had sound trucks with large speakers where the truck bed would be. They could be elevated to about 12 feet high. Really loud.
Monday we went to Morovius. This is a town about an hour’s drive west of San Juan and about 16K south. It is in the northern ¼ of the island. It is very rugged like SE Ohio or W Va. On the way in we passed numerous piles of downed trees that had been cut just wide enough to open the road. Crews were removing the remaining storm debris along the roadside.
We turned off the main 2 lane road and headed down a narrow road that turned into an even narrower one lane lane. At the very end there was a group of 5 cement homes and one frame home. The frame home had lost its roof and had some structural damage. The occupants had repaired the structural damage and had put tarps over the roof. We took measurements and went to National Hardware (3 stores) because National has a FEMA contract and will provide materials. All three stores were out of corrugated roofing. We ended up at Home Depot (where we had to pay, but at least we could get what we needed).
Tues. we returned to the home in the Morovois area. It measured 20 x 24 feet on the foundation. It was the home of 2 brothers, their wives, and two children. We split into two groups C.W. Harper, Jim Wenger, & Larry Creager went up on the roof. Ralph Gallagher, Ric Reed and I stayed on the ground. The Ground crew cut materials and passed them to the roof crew who installed them. We were able to finish the roof that day. We also fixed a couple of areas where there was missing siding. The occupants appreciated what we were doing. They got food and fixed us a nice lunch. Rice, red beans, potatoes (In PR most of the time they are boiled and seasoned with saffron so they are yellow) and a piece of chicken breast. It was very good. One of the occupants helped us unload the materials.
Wed. we went to a house in a Barrio in an older part of the city just west of the airport. This house was on a narrow “street” that was 6-12 feet wide. (too small for vehicles). The house was about 20 feet wide and 35 ft long and covered with owner-provided tarps. (You can usually tell between tarps put on by the owners and FEMA. The FEMA ones are stretched tight and fastened down better). We measured the home and went for the necessary materials. We returned and started working. We made good progress getting about 2/3 of the roof done that day. One of the neighbor ladies came out and put more ice in our drinks ice chest. Another had told us how we could use an approach to the other end of the alley. This saved a lot of work moving materials. One neighbor came out and thanked us for what we were doing. She commented, “I’m a Roman Catholic, but I have great respect for the evangelicals who come and do this kind of work. The Roman church is deficient by not doing things like this”. long navy blue bridesmaid dress
The next roof they had lined up was too big to finish in one day so they wanted to save it for the next group that was coming. On Fri. several of us went to visit Morro Castle. Its current state is the result of 400 years of improvements and rebuilding. It was originally a fort positioned to keep foreign ships out of San Juan harbor. Eventually, San Juan became a walled city. There were several other forts with walls connecting them that surrounded “old San Juan”. Puerto Rico was attacked several times in its history. Twice by the Dutch, twice by the French, and at least once by the Brits. And finally by the US during the Spanish American war. Morro castle is the culmination of fort construction in the muzzle loading, black powder era.
While the men were replacing roofs, the women were doing different things. I’m sure I am not aware of all that they did. Several churches provided quilts and little girl dresses plus assorted other supplies to take along. They put together “care packages” consisting of a cloth bag containing some food items plus an assortment of items from the donations. These were passed out several times during our trip. One day they helped prepare and serve food at a “soup kitchen”. On another day they cleaned a former Methodist school. It had not been used in several years. The plan is to turn it into a Mission Center. With sleeping space, showers, and a kitchen/dining area.
All too soon it was Sat. and time to pack up and go home. We all felt we had learned a lot. Only two of the group had been to PR before. We got to meet several local people that “tourists” wouldn’t get to meet and see the homes of ordinary Puerto Ricans. We heard a number of firsthand storm stories. After hours of 140 mph winds and heavy rains the people faced a real mess. No electricity, no running water, no phone service (either land lines or cell), most roads blocked by downed trees or power lines, no working traffic lights, the stores didn’t have electricity, there were no coolers so no fresh meat or produce. The cash registers didn’t work, the credit card machines didn’t work, the check readers didn’t work. You could only buy stuff if you had cash. Most gas stations couldn’t pump gas. Many hospitals were closed.
I think it’s hard for people on the mainland to understand the devastation there: the number of homes that need repaired or rebuilt, the difficulty of getting supplies shipped there, and the massive amount of labor needed to repair the damaged roofs and support structures.
I'll post pictures tomorrow.