Seeing and Feeling Puerto Rico

Lara Schopp Articles, Corey Meyer

Rev. Corey Meyer, Director of Mission Partnerships

It has been tough to answer the question, “How was Puerto Rico?!” without immediately thinking of the warm 80-degree weather every day and stunning view of mountains for miles all around us. I was amazed at the beauty of the island from the moment that we drove from San Juan to Barranquitas (even if it was at midnight). From the vibrant colorful houses on the hillside, to the rolling greens of trees newly budded. It looked like somewhere that I would want to vacation every year, or even live there. I almost believed, for a second, that life for people who live in Puerto Rico was back to normal, that everything destroyed was rebuilt, that we could come and visit the island like the thousands of tourist who were on their way to the beachside resorts to soak up the sunshine and sip on some piña coladas.

This is the trick of the eye when it comes to rebuilding communities after natural disasters. And frankly, it’s the trick of “mission trips” to somewhere beautiful like Puerto Rico, or Ecuador. It’s easy to be enveloped by the scenery until the heart reminds you that the people whose homes were destroyed, families torn apart, and livelihoods uprooted in a matter of hours are still struggling, still desperate, still looking for signs of hope and resurrection. I think I feel it as a dissonance, a clash or tension, between the ways things appear to the eye and the reality that lies in the day-to-day trauma of experiencing something like Hurricane Maria. Alec, one of our team leaders, talked about the spirit and hope of the people of Puerto Rico for a more resilient tomorrow, and in the same conversation could recall vividly the despair and uncertainty of the hours of torrential rains.

It’s easy to imagine what we saw in the landscape of the island, but it’s more difficult to imagine what we felt driving around and working in the homes of people affected by Hurricane Maria. I caught myself thinking, “Wow! I would love to vacation here.” And “Wow, we need to keep coming back to do what we can to help repair homes.” I know, it’s both. I suspect many of you who have been on mission trips know that too. Perhaps that is something that God’s Spirit calls us to see – the beauty and the despair all in the same, all wrapped up in hope.