American Baptist volunteer group remains connected to those they served in Puerto Rico

When it comes to mission trips, both those who give and those who receive can find that they are blessed by remaining in touch long after the work has been done. Take, for example, the 23 volunteers who decided to keep in touch with the individuals and families they served in Puerto Rico in February 2020.

Ranging in age from 19 to the mid-70s, volunteers hailed from Grace Baptist, Esperanza, Cedar Hills and Iglesia Visión Nueva, all of Portland, Ore., and New Community Church, Menlo Park, Calif. They were accompanied by a contractor who is a member of a Greek Orthodox church in Portland.

Sponsored by American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) and American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast, the mission group resealed five house roofs; cleared debris at a church and a home; cleaned and prepared a home for renovation by another group; cleaned, painted and repaired another home; cooked with a team from Iglesia Bautista La Ciudad Deseada and distributed the food to the homeless and hospital workers; and prepared two of the 11 disaster-response centers that are being set up around Puerto Rico by ABHMS.

The group has remained connected to those they served via Zoom and e-mail. Several of the women have formed an American Baptist Women’s Ministries “Beloved Community” group to work at building multicultural relationships across the four Portland churches.

As Christmas approached, the team mailed to Puerto Rico a Christmas card with a photograph of the volunteers.

“The idea was we wanted them each to know that the team who met them in February had not forgotten them,” says the Rev. Dr. Christine Roush, national coordinator of ABHMS’ Discipleship Ministries. “Language was a barrier for half our group who did not speak Spanish, so we wanted them to be able to attach faces to the card and know we were holding them in our thoughts and prayers.”

In addition, the group sent gift cards for groceries and supplies. ABHMS staffer Abigail Medina Betancourt, who had coordinated the volunteer effort, used the gift cards to buy items that families and individuals needed. While one family received a washing machine, one man received a trimmer so he can continue upkeep on the yard that the volunteers cleared.

“Part of the reason we have stayed connected is our deep concern for those we had the privilege of working with while there,” says Roush. “As we built friendships with them, it changed us by putting dozens of human faces on a natural disaster. It is no longer just ‘Hurricane Maria’—it’s the storm that wrecked the lives and livelihoods of people we know and care about.”