After hurricane Maria, UMCOR approved $5 million between previous grants and other assistance to the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (MCPR). On April 13, 2018, UMCOR board members approved three separate grants to MCPR, including a grant for $15 million. These grants will allow the church to continue to expand its comprehensive recovery work through 2020.
“There is good, responsible, accountable work being done in Puerto Rico with all of these grants, and it’s a pleasure to associate with them and work with them.” Said Bishop Bickerton, who recently visited Puerto Rico to meet with members of MCPR.
We left Tampa on Sunday as a mixed group – male and female, families of varying sizes – many of whom have been longtime friends while others had just met. But there was a common thread that wove us together, we were each answering God’s call to serve. We were not traveling to the destination we had originally planned – but I suppose that is because when God calls us, he expects us to follow HIS plan. Although our intended destination had been El Ayudante in Nicaragua, the civil unrest there made it an unsafe option – so we traveled to Nassau in the Bahamas instead. While many of us were heartbroken not to be returning to El Ayudante, we also understood that our call was to serve God’s people, wherever there was a need – and to wherever he would lead us.
It might have been a change in our plans, but for Pastor Stubbs and his church, we were an answer to prayers. This church sees vacation Bible school as such a valuable way to give hope and share the love of God with the dozens of children who attend that they have expanded it to be a four week program. This year, while Hyde Park UMC was struggling with the question of where we might serve, St. Michael’s Methodist Church here had still not found volunteers for their third week – the same week that we had planned to travel. So here we are, answering Gods call as he answers this church’s prayers.
It hasn’t been a quiet week. The walls reverberate with the shrieking of children, the air bubbles with laughter, and songs of praise ring out. In the quiet, steamy atmosphere of the neighborhood the squealing of the children’s voices competes with the echoes of hammering. Settling down at night is hard – as there are many of us in each room – but the noisy, work-filled days make for exhausted missioners so sleep did eventually settle in.
Things didn’t always go as planned, and revamping our plan for the day became our norm. Fortunately we came with a willing heart and a flexible attitude and we adjusted as the need arose – in at least one instance our revised plan was only possible because of the yarn left by mission groups before us, connecting our groups in one continuous thread of God’s love.
As a family mission trip it has particularly been a joy to watch the younger generation. Although not much older than the group of children they were leading, they handled their charges with gentle patience, learning most of their names. The end result of these bonds they formed was tears from more than one Bahamian child as they said farewell to their new friends from Florida. How blessed we are to be able to ensure them that we will continue to be their brothers and sisters in Christ, we will pray for them, and we will see them again in our heavenly home.
It was especially heartwarming to see our own young people interact with each other. Although there was a wide range of ages, there was no silly pettiness among them. No one was ever left out and they were always moving around as a group. Where you would find one of them you would most likely find them all. This is not to say that they always agreed with each other. Whether they were discussing fashion or faith, all differences of opinion were handled with respect, humor and love. (And, Jack…. it is HI-biscus!). Their interactions personified the words of Corinthians 3:3 – “You show that you are a letter from Christ… written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.”
From the children we taught, to the kitchen staff who fed us, to the workers who oversaw the construction of the shed and those who drove us around, we shared our faith, shared our praise, shared our love, and expanded our own families to include these brothers and sisters in Christ. How fitting that today’s daily scripture from Hyde Park included Corinthians 4:5-6, for there is no doubt that this group of missioners has radiated “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” while making Gods Love Real here in the Bahamas.
I am writing to thank you for the way you continue to make God’s Love Real in the lives of so many, including me! The end of my three-year term of service in Cape Town, South Africa serving with the Bishop Michel Hansrod and with Alan Storey at Central Methodist Mission is coming to an end. Yet, I am so happy to announce that I will be returning to my home state after fourteen years!
I joined Hyde Park in 1999. In 2004, fourteen years ago, I left for seminary at Duke Divinity School. After graduation, I was offered a one-year fellowship to look at religion and race which led me to Jackson, Mississippi. So much of my journey every step of the way has felt like monumental amounts of learning and I am so, so grateful for every post I have served from Jackson, to Gulfport, to Charlotte, to Cape Town.
I will be flying into Tampa on May 29 to prepare for my next appointment which will be in Miami Florida serving Killian Pines UMC and with District Superintendent, Cynthia Dee Weems in her office. I am very much looking forward to leading my own congregation and to the gifts and challenges this next chapter will hold.
I want to thank you so, so much for the prayers, for allowing me to share stories when I have traveled home, and for the financial support you have provided that afforded me this possibility to serve alongside our brothers and sisters in Cape Town, South Africa. May your generosity be multiplied a hundred-fold in the world around us in the same way it has been multiplied in my life. Please know that I am so, so grateful to be…
Thanks to the determined support of members and friends who took to the streets of Tampa during this year’s Gasparilla Distance Classic Feb. 24 and 25, 2018. As the T-shirt reads, “Follow me to Hyde Park United Methodist.”
So our work here is done and we have headed to Managua to begin our journey home to our loved ones. We will spend one more evening enjoying, breaking bread, having devotions and recapping this week which has flown by way too fast.
We have learned so much here, about ourselves, about each other, about working as a team, and about the people here. We know that family is so much more than blood relatives. We are all part of the greater family of God and we are so grateful. We appreciate that having things is not what defines happiness and that living in a home with dirt floors doesn’t mean you don’t sweep daily. We have learned to take a good look at what we take for granted – clean water, enough healthy food for your family, access to good health care and social services, the importance of an education. And that tears can’t fix anything – only hard work and continued dedication can do that.
So many things have sent us into peals of laughter. When foul weather headed towards the construction site they joked that they would all be safe since they had Glenn with them – tall enough to be a human lightening rod. At one point on the Rhino Rally – our primary means of transportation with an open back and bench seating along the side – a sudden, unexpected stop meant Stephanie was thrown forward and we had a four human pile, where we remained for quite a few minutes because we were laughing too hard to recover. But that was just indicative of this entire week – we were always there to catch each other.
We have memories etched in our minds. People doing their first-ever devotional – and hitting it out of the park! Watching people step out of their comfort zone and pray aloud for the first time. The generosity of the Nicaraguan people with whom we worked who, having so little, still shared their food with us. The infectious smiles of the children and their joy in singing their hearts out. Seeing families be almost as excited for the gift of the box it came in as they were about the filters inside. The young mothers nodding their head as we shared new information. And Dr. Medina thanking us, time and time again, for the time we spend working for and with his people. The pride in the voice of the little boy who shouted out to us as we walked the barrio, “Hello, my friends. How are you.” We believe we are making a difference in Marañonal – it feels like a hand up, not a hand out.
We made rubber glove balloons and have a new appreciation for Miss Hawaiian Punch and Bozo the Clown. We know how to adapt – while one group has no basketball, they used a soccer ball instead, another had no soccer ball, and used a basketball. And we can tell you that what has been said for years is true, the chicken crossed the road just to get to the other side.
Goodbyes were sad because we know that the workers of El Ayudante are our family now. We will miss so much – we already do. The morning quiet time, the love we have felt here, the new friends we have made, both on the team and on the ground, and recapping the day together in the dim lights of the ranchero – with our quiet voices somehow always being audible even over the blaring music of the nearby Pentecostals.
Sometimes our tasks mean pushing ourselves through the uncomfortableness, doing the unfamiliar, and participating when we would rather not, because we are here not as individuals. We came as a team who help and encourage each other through the tough times. We were there to lighten each other’s load. We shed tears together – but we shed as many tears for joy as for sadness. We had crazy moments together, and we laughed when we felt moved – even if we were in the midst of praying. And we leave here as family.
Since this country has an election this Sunday, there were often times when trucks would drive through the streets, blaring music and shouting through bull horns. Each time we heard music some of us danced down the street – much to the amusement of the local residents. I would like to think they were laughing joyfully with us, and not at us, as we adopted the attitude of “Why walk when you can dance!” But there was one time when the tune was a familiar one. We were standing in the courtyard area of a home, having just delivered a filter to the homeowner. She said she is all alone and asked that we pray for her health as she is not well. Then Vicki called our attention to the song in the distance, Chris Tomlins’s “God of This City” – Greater things are yet to come, Greater things area still to be done in this city….. We believe that to be so.
I wish all of you could have been with us every night to hear our stories. This blog could have gone on daily for pages and pages, but even then it would be impossible to capture everything, and it shouldn’t try to. This is so much more than a trip – it is part of our spiritual journey, and can’t be fully captured in words. And it’s sometimes hard for us to put into words what this week has meant to, and done to, each of us. For me, the answer to “How was your trip?” is always, “Life changing”, for it affects me profoundly each year. Many of us will be back next year, and anyone who feels called can do this. Is God calling you?
Today started with the water filtration team accompanying Dr. Medina and our medical personnel on a house call – or perhaps a “community call” would be a better description. We ventured out to an area quite farther away where health problems are of great concern. Using a simple table as the intake, triage, and examining area, the medical team spent a few hours seeing, diagnosing, and treating ailments as they were able.
The water filtration team did not know until yesterday that we would be accompanying them, and that Doctor Medina had an added activity for us. You see, Dr. Medina knew that, as an ice-breaker activity this week at the clinic we had taught local women how to turn a t-shirt into a tote bag, and he thought it would be a wonderful idea for us to do the same with the 10 people in this community to whom we would be delivering the filters. While we were happy to oblige, we had not planned on this and did not quite have enough shirts. But that was no problem! So now there are some tote bags in this community that, yesterday, were missionary’s t-shirts! Oh, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that one of the families was represented by the father, not the mother as was the usual, but he eagerly joined in – and so did Omar, our bus driver, Oliver, our translator, and, not to be outdone, Dr. Medina himself!
We had two teams educating this week. One worked with the kids at the HCN, and the other, affectionately known as “Team Preggo”, taught pregnancy classes to expectant mothers in the nearby barrios. A highly abbreviated course in “What to Expect When Expecting”, we covered such things as body changes during pregnancy, how to care for oneself when pregnant, labor and delivery, and newborn care and breast feeding. Many of these women were not on their first pregnancy, yet they all seemed to appreciate the education that they had not been afforded prior to the birth of their other children.
In two days of classes we taught almost 30 women, many of whom brought their small children with them. At one point as Lissa taught some breathing exercises, one little girl stood behind her mother and imitated everything Lissa did. The conditions weren’t ideal. We taught the classes on an outdoor porch and at one point the rain was pounding so hard it made it hard to talk and almost impossible to hear. But whether it was the noise of the pounding rain, the blaring of speakers from trucks selling their wares, or the lilting of the children’s voices as the sang together while they colored, we raised our voices or took a short break and carried on.
Like young pregnant women at home, they were attentive and interested, oohed and ahead at the pictures of babies at each stage of pregnancy, and at times blushed and giggled when discussing uncomfortable topics. But we know we made a difference. At one point Lissa consulted the doctor – who had requested this program – and asked if there was anything we should change. He adamantly said no and thanked us for what we were doing. And this was especially brought home by our translator – Yordanka. She has been our translator for 3 years, so she has heard the lessons. What she did not know when she was with us last year is that she, herself, was pregnant. Now the mom of a beautiful baby boy, Odsyll, she told us how much she appreciated what we had taught her. She assured us, “You gave — so much!”
This year at El Ayudante they have a different theme each month for the children of the HCN. This month it was compassion, so that was the theme of our education piece. All the activities tied together to culminate in a visit to a local nursing home. The meaning of compassion was reinforced in ways such as making a “hand of compassion” – an outline of a hand on a wooden stick on which they wrote one word representing compassion on each finger. The children were highly entertained when the adults did a hilarious re-enactment of The Good Samaritan. In an attempt to bring home the idea of just how important compassionate people are, the Good Samaritan was labeled a super hero and thanks to one of our faithful supporters back home, Vicki Castells, and her creative sewing talents, each child was given a cape of their own to decorate with words and picture illustrating the theme.
The culmination of the week was a visit to the local nursing home where the children could put their understanding of compassion into play. They had prepared gift bags for each of the residents and learned two songs with which to entertain them. These gift bags consisted of such things as cookies which the children had baked earlier in the week, a coloring book, beaded crosses that the children had strung and a laminated copy of the Lord’s prayer in Spanish.
As we walked in to the inner courtyard you could see some of the children were uncomfortable. Many residents, most in wheelchairs, were already seated around the perimeter of the area. The children stayed close together and then gathered on a raised area to sing. While they were happy to sing, they were apprehensive when told they would go in small groups, along with an adult, and speak to the residents. One young girl was close to tears and did not want to participate. She told me that she was scared, and I assured her that sometimes adults are, too. So she wrapped her arms tightly around my waist and we walked to a nearby resident. I told her to just say hello, tell him she had a gift for him, and that God loves him. She needed a little prompting, and she hid slightly behind me when he reached out with his deformed hand, but I grasped his hand and spoke a few words and we moved on. I suggested we walk to the back of the courtyard to one man who was sitting alone, and she was not happy when someone beat us to him. After that she grabbed my hand and aggressively looked for someone else to whom she could share a few words – and her words were few – and this small gift. We had been told to stay in the courtyard area, but she saw a gentleman in the distance with his walker. When I told her that we were to remain here, she stood still and held her ground until her reached us. Nobody was going to beat her to it this time! His smile was radiant and he grabbed me for a hug. When I told him that the gift was from the children, he smiled at her – and she beamed right back!
As we arrived back at El Ayudante we thought it would be a good idea to debrief with the children and get their reaction to their visit. With shouts of “sharing”, “compassion”, and “giving”, they talked about the infirmities of some of the residents and the long discussion some of the boys had had with a man who explained that he could only see shadows. But I think one little girl summed it up best when she told us that one of the residents had said to her group, “You children are angels sent from God”.
As anticipated, the house was completed today. It went right down to the wire as the doors were delivered, on a horse drawn cart, at the last minute. Estebana beamed as she accepted ownership of her brightly colored house and much of the community joined us, as we once again stood together with our family from Marañonal and dedicated her new home.