Student Feature: Salt and Light
Salt and Light: Katie, CHS senior
We’re highlighting testimonials from students who have participated in recent SALT trips. SALT stands for Serving and Learning Together in Jesus’ name. For more information about SALT, click here.
With 2,975 deaths and $94.4 billion in damages, it is evident that the Puerto Rican community needs more help than ever before. It was my mission trip to San Juan that truly opened my eyes to the devastating damages that Hurricane Maria had left. Despite the brutal trials Puerto Rico has faced, their community glorifies Christ in all they do, proving that hope can be found even in the darkest of times. It was their kindness, love, and hospitality that ultimately made me want to raise awareness and open eyes to their darkness that is all too often mistaken for light.
I can specifically remember the day I first saw the warnings of Hurricane Maria blasted all over the news. Although this was terrifying, I knew many people who brushed it off their shoulders, as they knew this wouldn’t personally affect them. By the time the hurricane had passed, the island was unrecognizable. With the help of news teams and reporters raising awareness, Puerto Rico was flooded with donations and volunteers to help fix what had been damaged. However, after a month or two had gone by, it was almost as if everyone had forgotten about the severe physical and psychological damages left behind.
With advertisements of breathtaking pictures of sandy beaches and luxurious hotels, the wealthy ten percent of the island was all the public eye had been aware of. The public had been blind to the eighty-four days the community was left without power. They didn’t know the severity of the sixty-eight days without running water, the forty-one days without cell service, or the five weeks it took before the first public school began again. Families and children were bound to face the psychological impacts due to the trauma this hurricane had caused.
Feeling called to go on a mission trip, I chose to take my first missionary experience to Puerto Rico. At first, I was confused as to why we would be doing missionary work in San Juan. Like everyone else, I had a misconception that this island was mostly recovered. However, once I arrived, it was extremely obvious that Puerto Rico had been struggling to keep up. Not only were there demolished buildings, but there were houses made out of what looked to be cardboard boxes. While the media had been advertising Puerto Rico as a thriving island, they had been hiding the negative effects from the public eye. I knew it wasn’t just a coincidence me going on this trip. Not only did this make me want to raise awareness of this heartbreaking reality, but it also made me want God to use my team to help bring the hope that was so desperately needed.
One day in particular, my team and I had taken an hour-long bus ride deep into Puerto Rico - the side of the island nobody wanted to see. The untold reality broke my heart. This community no longer had structured houses or a nice street for the neighborhood kids to play on. Almost every house we drove by looked as if it could fall apart any second. In fact, half of the houses didn’t even have a roof to protect and give cover to these people for future storms. The streets had been full of dirty, recycled trash. It was obvious their community had been left to fend for themselves.
Despite the extreme poverty within their community, the people glorified Christ in all they did. Not only was their love for others so evident, but they sacrificed their own food and water to be sure our team was well fed and hydrated. It seemed as though they were more concerned about us then they were themselves. We were immediately welcomed with big, open arms. As we worked in the streets picking up the trash left behind, I can remember two Puerto Rican women preparing a meal for us in a nearby hut. Water bottles were continually offered to our team throughout the course of the day as well. Knowing that clean drinking water was a central problem for Puerto Rico, it was inspiring to see how this community was willing to give up their own clean water to take care of our team. Rice and chicken had been served to us all after we finished working. The women were beaming and took such pride in the home-cooked meal they had prepared for us. The hospitality this community offered was something our entire team could learn from.
Within the next couple of days, the compassion the community had for each other became so clear. It was moving to see how the Puerto Rican community worked together to help each other in such a desperate time of need. Among the many churches we visited, one church in particular, Iglesia Metodista San Pablo, provided a free breakfast and lunch every day of the week to their community. Hundreds of families had been fed and possibly saved from starvation, while thousands of plates had been given out every single week. It was extremely heartbreaking to see certain people walk in looking as if they hadn’t eaten a meal in weeks. Knowing that food was not always readily available for their community, it was comforting to see the church was so generous with their donations. This showed that God provided so much for this community and left their people with hope even in the darkest of times.
I can remember one woman in particular walking into this church, clearly out of breath and exhausted. It had been obvious she had been struggling, as there was a brace wrapped around her neck and bandages covering her arms and legs. After assisting her down several steps, she sat down next to me, telling me and a few other team members about her brutal accident. Only six months before, she had been hit by a car and left for dead on the street. This hit and run accident left her with broken ribs, arms, and legs, leaving the doctors shocked that she even survived. A smile was spread across her face as she said, “God is with me at all times.” She illuminated with joy. Those seven words were spoken with such power. Her positive perspective on life inspired our entire team, proving to us that light can be found in the darkest times. This elderly woman soon revealed her name was Miracle. We all sat in disbelief, as her name was a true representation of how she lived out her life. Miracle can be used as a perfect representation of the Puerto Rican community, as she had carried God with her in all that she did.
Despite all of the brutal trials this community faced, they had overcome their fears by trusting in God and having hope for their future. With barely enough to feed themselves, they sacrificed their own belongings and put everyone else’s needs before their own. I hope to not only raise awareness for the heartbreaking reality Puerto Rico is still facing today, but to also show that we can always count on God’s unconditional love for us. If we lived our lives focusing on our blessings and all of the ways God has provided for us rather than all of the hardships we face around us, we would be able to glorify Him in all we do. The community of Puerto Rico exemplifies His love almost perfectly. As Psalm 136:2 states best, “Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.”