By Northern Arizona University (NAU) Campus Minister Rev. Kathleen Day
Photos supplied by NAU Campus Ministry
Over spring break, United Christian Ministry at NAU traveled to Puerto Rico as a group of 10 to experience the hope and the challenges facing our brothers and sisters in the Puerto Rico Methodist Church. We were hosted by a 100 + year old Methodist congregation in Arecibo that poured out loving hospitality and friendship and were directed by the relief and rebuild arm of the Puerto Rico Methodist Church.
Throughout this year our campus ministry group has been talking about HOPE—the hope that comes to us through God and Christ—the hope that springs up in unexpected places if we have hearts and eyes open to experience it. In the midst of so many global, domestic, environmental, economic and political challenges, we have been training our hearts and ears to see signs of hope, grace, and transformation in our midst. For a week in March, we were immersed in the hope of a devasted and disappointed people. We witnessed and heard first-hand the stories of devastation and terrifying times brought on by Hurricane Maria last fall. The stories of struggle that continue for people continuing still without power or the most basic home repairs to protect from rain and the elements. People who in addition to having their homes and belongings destroyed, surviving without water or electricity, who did not even have cell phone access to check in with their children or parents living in other locations on the island or mainland to verify survival or need. Many told us of waiting weeks and then having to drive hours away just to find cell phone access and collapsing into tears at the sound of loved ones’ voices or news of more loss that they did not think they could possibly bear. And the fear and worry about what may lie ahead as hurricane season returns in June.
Despite all those challenges and heartache, the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico is choosing a path of “inconvenient obedience.” They are gathering for worship, they are opening their church to groups who can be deployed to help those outside their congregation—those outside of the Methodist Church—who are in need. The hearts of the Methodists in Puerto Rico are open to see the grace notes of God’s abiding, healing and transforming grace and through their path of inconvenient obedience, each of us became more attuned to the Call of Christ to welcome the stranger, serve others in need and to choose gratitude and friendship over despair and fear; and to pour out for others versus withholding for personal comfort and convenience. While we hope our efforts brought hope to those who struggle that they have not been forgotten, and we hope that our efforts will ease the path ahead for the two families we assisted, we were ever mindful of the generous gifts of friendship, faith, hope and perseverance that we were receiving.
In the midst of such hardship and loss, there was gracious welcome of the stranger. Each day, each member of our team was greeted over and over with a kiss and embrace and words of welcome and gratitude. Church members came each morning and evening to check on us—to talk with us and offer friendship. After long days at work, church members came to prepare unexpected late-night snacks and to continually express gratitude for our presence. We saw the difference the church made in the community and in lives of families. Sunday worship was lively and moving. We hung onto every word of Pastor Sergio’s sermon about staying on Jesus’ path even when the road gets difficult and you’d rather quit. We talked about what a difference that it would make to have the discipline that becomes the habit to greet one another, whether in disagreement or not—stranger or not—political ally or not—with warmth and kindness and the peace of Christ expressed in the gentle embrace or a kiss on the cheek. How different would our collective conversations and disagreements be if we individually and collectively intentionally chose the path of inconvenient obedience day in and day out. The people of Puerto Rico need our hands, our hearts, our advocacy and our financial support. Our campus ministry is looking forward to returning next spring bringing more NAU students to this transformative experience and continuing to be bearers of hope, grace, friendship and helping hands. We look forward to greeting our friends at Iglesia Metodista El Calvario and our accompaniers William and Joey who shepherded our team with grace, friendship, laughter, and kindness. It was a transformative trip in many ways and each of us is more hope-filled and committed to an inconvenient obedience to our Christian calling for it.