The Unexpected Stories from Puerto Rico
By Kate Berkey - March 29, 2018
Posted in Adult Ministry, Partnerships, Global Impact, Stories from NMC, Discipleship
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, pummeled Puerto Rico for 30 hours. Winds of 155 mph tore apart trees, roofs, buildings, and homes and knocked out power across the entire island. Families huddled together, wishing and hoping and praying for the storm to pass quickly, but some never saw the end of the hurricane. The official death toll reached 64, a conservative estimate by many experts’ standards.
Among the rubble, among the displaced families, among the broken trees and battered island, a piece of land lay littered with splintered wood and fractured concrete—the remains of Iglesia Evangelica Misionera Ebenezer, a small Missionary Church in Sabana Hoyas, Puerto Rico. Pastor Evelyn, who has served this church faithfully for years, wanted desperately to rebuild after the unexpected damage, but everyone on the island needed to rebuild something. In the wake of Maria, devastation was everywhere and hope seemed to be nowhere.
When NMC first heard of Iglesia Evangelica Misionera Ebenezer, our next steps seemed fairly obvious. After prayer and conversations and discernment, we decided to send four waves of teams in February and March to help rebuild the church. 29 NMCers cleared their calendars, took vacation time, and travelled to the small town of Sabana Hoyas with one purpose—to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Each team’s goal was to complete a different part of the construction process at the church, but as they worked, they learned of families who were still struggling to recover. Some of these families had relied on aid from organizations but were disappointed when little or none came their way. Through established relationships between the church and those in the community, our teams had the unexpected opportunity to come alongside
two couples—Joshua and Liz as well as Pedro and Wanda.
As the team purchased and assembled concrete blocks at Joshua and Liz’s home, they formed a relationship with Joshua’s dad—a man who did not go to church and was skeptical of Jesus. Yet, as he saw the love and kindness
and selflessness of our team, his heart began to soften. Even before that team left the country, Joshua’s dad did something unexpected. He went to church.
Pedro, Wanda, and their kids were helpless when Hurricane Maria tore apart the concrete roof on their
home. For months, they lived in a tiny section of their home, one that could be covered well by the FEMA tarp. Our teams hadn’t expected to meet this family, but as they worked alongside Pedro, they began to understand why God had put them there. Although Pedro sent his wife and kids to church, he hadn’t gone in 40 years. Yet, over the days our team worked with him, they watched God soften his heart, especially as they prayed over him and his family.
Our teams went to build a church, but God had even greater plans than that: plans to plant seeds in the hearts of those who were far from Him.
Construction on the church finished quickly, more quickly than anyone expected. Time and again, our teams watched God provide material, even when it was supposed to be back-ordered for months. At one point, a truck carrying coveted roofing material pulled up in front of our team. In moments like this, God seemed to make it as easy as possible to finish the project, because He had different plans for the final team.
When it came time for team four to leave, they had a different mission, an unexpected one—evangelism. One team member admitted that if he had known it was going to be an evangelism trip, he wouldn’t have signed up in the first place. Yet, everyone on the team laid down their expectations and asked the Lord to show up. Niel Diener, the team leader, told them not to count the number of conversions they saw. Rather, he wanted them to count the number of meaningful conversations they had, and God honored this in a deep way.
Every day, the team went into the community in groups, and they weren’t alone. They were joined by pastors and Puerto Rican families who had caught the vision and wanted to share the gospel with their neighbors. As they walked from home to home, the groups asked the Lord to show them who they should talk to. Sometimes, He made it obvious as people came out to greet them and asked for prayer. Other times, He worked in more unexpected ways.
Cassie Gaytan remembers meeting one woman, Carmen. They almost walked past her house, but one of the local women who had joined Cassie’s group decided to stop. They went into Carmen’s home and talked with her. They shared the gospel, gave her a Bible, and invited her to church. Carmen came, and as she heard more about Jesus, she decided to surrender her life to Him. To the team, it was obvious that God had been working in Carmen’s life well before they talked with her, and they were incredibly grateful to be part of her story.
Clayton Reed, another NMCer, didn’t have any experience with evangelism. He was great with construction, but he felt unsure of his skills in sharing the gospel. During the trip, his prayer was simple—“Lord, let me be an answer to someone’s prayer.” Time and again, people told him how they had prayed for someone to encourage them, to pray with them, to share love and kindness with them,and Clayton was the one God sent.
If you asked our teams to describe their experiences in one word, you would hear the word “faithful” from Brad Brail. You would hear the word “blessing” from Cassie Gayton. You would hear the word “glorious” from Clayton Reed. And you might also hear the word “unexpected” from others, but it was unexpected in the best way possible.
It was the unexpected from a God who is writing a bigger story than we could ever imagine, and we find ourselves incredibly grateful to be part of His story.