By Fred Heggestad, Disaster Relief Coordinator for the Desert Southwest Conference
Recently, a Disaster Relief Team from the Desert Southwest Conference traveled to serve in the remote area of Jayuya, Puerto Rico, a mountainous region in the center of the island. Much of the area is still heavily damaged from Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Many power lines were still on the ground and tens of thousands of rooftops sported blue tarps, which indicated how difficult it is to get supplies to people living on the island.
The team of 7 pastors, a seminary student, and a certified lay minister took a break from their normal church duties and were assigned to Camp Corson, a Methodist retreat center in Jayuya for 9 days. On the way up the tight mountain curves, the team was told UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief) was the first group to Jayuya after the hurricane and when people see the Methodist cross and flame, they know help has arrived.
While cleaning, repairing and painting using minimal supplies and ingenuity, the team was graciously served many authentic Puerto Rican meals by a local family. During the mission, the team made minor roof repairs using mostly scrap materials, did some landscaping and debris removal, helped troubleshoot a generator and painted to avoid additional protection from the weather. Knowing more teams would eventually arrive at this location, a tool shed was also organized for the efficiency of future teams. After each day of work in the humidity, Mama Olga and her cooking crew shared stories and smiles with the whole team, wanting to show the appreciation of the whole community for their service. With full bellies, the team relaxed to the tune of thousands of Coqui Frogs chirping every night. Even though some of the comforts of home were unavailable, the entire team was disappointed when it was time to leave, knowing there was still much work to do.
Some quotes from the missionaries on this trip are listed below:
“We saw the devastating results caused by the hurricanes to this small island, yet our mission team was blessed. We witnessed the grace of God through the people who were placed in our path. They became family.”
“Retirees can feel displaced and as though they are no longer making a significant contribution to the life and ministry of the church. Being a member of an Early Response Team can rekindle one’s sense of purpose and realize the world is a Methodist pastor’s parish.”
“The devastation around the island is still intense”… “It was wonderful to be there with a great group of UMC pastors, seeing God’s hands and feet at work to share the blessings of God’s great love.”
“It often felt like a Mary and Martha Experience. The most significant and sacred moments were times of listening … to the locals who told their stories, to the sounds around us, and to each other.”
“This is an opportunity to be the Church, in working together with people from our Conference, learning to be of service to others on their terms, and accepting generous hospitality.”
“It was amazing to see how many different gifts we had to share with the people of Puerto Rico and with each other. We pray the blessings of this trip will benefit many others in the future!”
There is still an overwhelming need for disaster relief workers throughout the whole island. If your church would like to form a team, or any individuals would like to join a team to build new relationships throughout our Conference, contact the Disaster Relief Coordinator Fred Heggestad at email@example.com or the Conference UMCOR Trainer & Trip Coordinator Polly Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trip length and dates will vary, depending on team availability.