PLYMOUTH, MI – Why spend vacation days, in Puerto Rico, with seventy-five university students?
Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my wife and I decided, during the coming years, to do more with our vacation time. At the end of our holiday conversation, we decided we wanted to do something meaningful with our annual personal-days-off. After exploring our options, Puerto Rico, Send Relief and GenSend Spring Break added-up. Baptist State Convention of Michigan’s Disaster Relief Director, Bob Kiger (right) was the first to spark the proposal. We are so glad that we listened to his suggestion.
Send Relief offers meaningful pathways of service for university students and other pathways for high school students throughout the year. GenSend Breaks are one-week service opportunities during short holidays from school. GenSend Summers are longer opportunities, 6-8 weeks, where students experience what living life on mission looks like.
Having the Send Relief Team already on the ground in Puerto Rico made the mission so much easier and rewarding. At their invitation, we embedded ourselves into the Send Relief Operations Team, under the leadership of Itamar (Ita) Elizalde. Ita’s familiarity with Puerto Rico, the Spanish language, university students and the people on the island helped us discover more than we could have ever managed on our own.
Jamie and I set our goal to serve everyone we could with whom we had contact. We:
Shopped for food and supplies for 75 university students during two weeks
Served three meals a day and cleaned-up after every meal with the students’ help
Repeatedly filled one-dozen, five-gallon water bottles with filtered water
Washed and prepared ice-coolers for lunches during workday excursions
Made multiple runs to the airport, picking up and dropping off students
Captured images and videos to promote GenSend and Send Relief
Encouraged the students and their leaders through personal conversations
Counseled students who wanted to know what it was like to be a missionary
We were overwhelmed by the needs of three million people in Puerto Rico; while simultaneously, encouraged by the bold initiatives of Send Relief on the island.
New Send Relief Center Under Construction
A modern Send Relief Center is being built just forty-five minutes from San Juan’s airport that will allow volunteers to be housed as large separate groups of male and female, or as small families. Lodging, traditional meals and transportation to/from mission sites can be arranged with Send Relief Puerto Rico.
Established churches and new church plants in Puerto Rico partner with Send Relief as the local face, hands and feet in the towns and cities of Puerto Rico. Short-term volunteers who come to the island to help can rest assured that locals who are helped or who receive the good news of Jesus Christ will be followed-up by pastors and members of a local, Spanish-speaking congregation. We took part in the two-year anniversary celebration of a new church plant, One Church Comerio, under the leadership of Pastor Jorge Reyes.
New Southern Relief Center Almost Completed
On the south side of the island, within a short-drive of this year’s earthquakes, a local Baptist church shares part of its building as a site for lodging and traditional meals for volunteers. We saw where local families sleep in tents in their yards because they’re afraid an earthquake, during the night, might crush their families under tons of concrete.
Post-traumatic-syndrome affects many on the island who seem to always be preparing for the next big catastrophe. There are not enough counselors to help those who struggle with depression, and there are not enough engineers to inspect homes, schools and structures to restore confidence; but, Send Relief is there doing important things to remind the people of Puerto Rico that they are not forgotten.
School Under Tents in City Park
We visited a local school principal who manages over four-hundred students who meet under large tents as classrooms, guided by dozens of teachers and parents. This school is the only local school system willing to receive students with autism and other challenging behaviors.
The tents have been set-up in a city park where there is no danger of buildings or powerlines falling on students, in the case of another severe earthquake. Due to our early call back to Michigan as a result of the Coronavirus-19 pandemic we were unable to see that project get underway. The principal said she needed the following:
Tent wall partitions to lessen the distractions of students
Large garage-like fans and air-conditioners suitable for tents
School supplies for students and teachers
Handicap ramps for specific classrooms
To remodel a teacher’s lounge that has proven too sweltering for teachers to enjoy as they eat lunch, grade papers and return calls to concerned, overwhelmed parents
We would have loved to have remained two more weeks and see that project get underway. While visiting the tent-covered campus, we saw first and second grade children remove cell phones from their pockets to check-in with worried parents during recess when those children should have been giggling and playing with friends. It broke our hearts to see, on the littlest of Puerto Rico, the constant state of stress.
Adoption Center Partnership on the West End of the Island
One of the items that touched our hearts deeply was the big news that the government, because of Send Relief’s sterling reputation these recent years, will allow Send Relief to collaborate with the government to help children needing foster care and adoption. The action is unprecedented, and Send Relief is doing all it can to make this a high priority, which is challenging, in light of the obvious aftermath of the hurricanes and earthquakes. Let us pray that God will inspire all of us to help Send Relief Puerto Rico receive the resources it needs to make these important dreams become reality.
Generously Give to the North American Missions Offering
There is still so much that needs to be done for the people in this American territory. No passport is required if you are a US citizen. The 5-hour direct-flight from Detroit is much cheaper that you would expect. When current conditions clear and life resets to a new type of normal, I hope you will collaborate with those in your church and with Send Relief Puerto Rico, and go on a mission trip to the island.
Despite our current struggles and our daily worries in the States, I pray that all of us will do something through our local churches, our state convention or through the site of the North American Mission Board.
Imagine what it would feel like, to give generously in a time of fear to those on an island who have been enveloped by devastating hurricanes, shaken by earthquakes and now voluntarily quarantined to stop the spread of a pandemic during these past three years. They are acting to save our lives, let’s act to save their lives.
Click on the following link to give easily, securely and generously to the local ministry expression of the North American Mission Board: Support Puerto Rico Ministry Center.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.