We are Sent Two-by-Two
As Hurricane Maria pours it’s destructive force upon Puerto Rico, my heart is drawn to the beautiful people that live there.
Puerto Rico was my home from the summer of 1999 until the end of 2000. I served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the San Juan Puerto Rico Mission. I remember when I read the letter about where I was going to serve for the next 18 months and saw Puerto Rico, I was not quite sure where that was.
If you don’t know much about what a Mormon Missionary does, well, we serve the people in whatever country we are assigned. Ladies serve for 18 months and young men for 2 years. We pay for our own missions and we go throughout the world as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. We teach others about God’s love and serve to lift the burdens of others.
As missionaries, we always go two-by-two and I was blessed with some of the best missionaries as my companions. What is a companion? They are kind of like a roommate except you always stick together. We serve together in the work of the Lord. In order to communicate in Puerto Rico, I had to learn the Spanish language which was not an easy thing for me to do.
I remember studying really early each morning from the Big Red language book while one of my companions would zig zag run in front of me before the sun was up. I studied the language so hard yet struggled to learn. In the end, it was only through the power of God, that I was able to speak fluently while living in Puerto Rico.
Each week we have one day to get our laundry done, go shopping and write letters home. If there is anytime left before we go back to church work that night, we love to squeeze in some play time! Here are some of the missionaries on P-Day, Preparation Day, at the beach in Ponce playing volleyball and having fun.
This past week, my eyes have been trying to glean anything I could from the news. Hurricane Maria is currently raising havoc in Puerto Rico. The hurricane hit land near Yabucoa which is where I lived right before I finished my mission. My heart has been squeezed the past two days as I think of all the people that I came to love while serving in Puerto Rico. I lived along the beach areas throughout my whole mission. I served in Naguabo, Ponce, Fajardo, Alto Rey (San Juan), Humacao and Yabucoa.
I think some people might envision that the beaches sit rather far from the road or homes. That just is not true in most of the areas. You will find about 10 ft of sand before you hit the road. A storm or hurricane can create a nightmare of destruction.
Below are a few pictures while serving in Fajardo which was hit with flooding during Hurricane Irma. My companion in these pictures is from Canada. We had some great adventures together like being chased through the streets of Fajardo which led us to open a new area for sister missionaries (that is what we call lady missionaries, Sister, or Hermana in Spanish, and the boys are called Elders) in San Juan. Pictured below is famous El Moro in the background. How many can say that they have played volleyball in this historic place!
Highlight of the Mission
Most of my mission was spent in a small branch in Humacao that covered Naguabo, Humacao and Yabucoa. I started my mission in Naguabo and ended up in Humacao and then finished in Yabucoa. During my mission, I was blessed to rub shoulders with some amazing Puerto Ricans.
One of the highlights of a mission is helping others learn of Jesus Christ and have a desire to follow Him into the waters of baptism. This was a happy day when we helped this young family understand that God loved them and wanted them to be happy.
My First Assigned Area: Naguabo
My heart has turned to Naguabo for many reasons. First, it is a pretty poor area along the cost that isn’t built to withstand a hurricane of the magnitude that is hitting the islands right now. Second, there is an older lady who all the missionaries love and served. We call her “Baby.” She is originally from Saint Lucia, but she has spent most of her life living in Puerto Rico.I reached out to her yesterday to see how she was doing since Hurricane Irma and preparing for Hurricane Maria. After Irma, she said, “I got damage very much the roof cave in the house had four feet of water every thing got wet but praise God I am alive.” My worry increased 100 fold since Hurricane Maria was suppose to be a direct hit.
Here’s a correspondence with her that broke my heart and made me wish I was a billionaire where I could charter a plane and get her out of there.
All this talk of hurricanes and Puerto Rico has had my heart turn towards my time living there. Here are a few thoughts from my mission journal of when we had a hurricane scare there back in 1999 when Hurricane Jose was going to strike.
October 19, 1999 “President Davies beeped (you might be too young to know what that was… it was a pager) all the missionaries yesterday and today about preparing and buying water, batteries for pagers, candles and food. So, my comp and I took some water to Lisandra’s family and stopped by Baby’s house and helped move things around. We went to the grocery store to get some water. You would not believe how many people were there. It was packed. They were all out of gallon jugs so we bought about 20 1 liter bottles. We stood in line to pay for our food for 45 minutes. Crazy! Then to get gas!
We helped our landlady, Anita, with preparing the house. My comp climbed on top of the roof and sent down to me rocks, wood and stuff so that it wouldn’t fly off and hit something. I guess tomorrow night it is suppose to hit.
Tomorrow we are going to do service all day to help people get ready for the hurricane. Crazy. I’m just experiencing everything on the mission. Now, we just wait for a beep from President…
October 21, 1999 “The Lord has blessed us the Hurricane has turned! Hurricane watch until end of November still.”
Pictured below are images from Naguabo. Yea, trash bags don’t seem to cut it, but it worked for us. There are so many houses left to rot in the area and many house roofs are not built to withstand a hurricane. Not sure why I was on the roof to begin with but I am hoping I was trying to help prepare for the hurricane.
Hurricane Jose 1999
November 16, 1999, I wrote a letter home that said, “Pray for us here. President said a hurricane could be coming!”
November 17, 1999 “Right now I am writing with 3 candles in front of me and I still can’t see very well and it’s only 4:30pm. Yesterday President called us a few times to see how we were doing. He was really worried about us because of the hurricane that was coming.
He told us on the phone to pray to see if we should go stay with him in San Juan. We prayed and felt that we should go, so quickly we got our things together and left. The President said we made a good decision. Yesterday we got to the President’s home at 8:30pm. It’s about one hour from Naguabo.
The AP’s and two of the other office Elders were staying there also. We played dominoes with President Davies, his daughter and wife and the Elders until 10:40pm. Fun times! We broke curfew, but that’s okay because President was playing too. Now we are back home with no water or electricity. At least the hurricane passed just some rain and wind. I guess it hit St. Croix bad.”
November 18, 1999 ” We have water and light now. Wow, I never really appreciated the bare necessities before, but now I sure do.”
The picture of me and the car is an experience I will never forget. While on our way to the mission home, that is what we call where the Mission President lives, my companion backed into our President’s mailbox and dented the car. Oh boy, did we just want to head back to Naguabo without having to knock on the door and tell him what we did! I blame my companion right? since she was driving and I was still new! See, there are certain rules we have on the mission to keep us safe and one of those rules is you always have to back up your missionary companion while driving. Well, my trainer had told me not to worry about it and not to back her up. I was trying to be obedient especially since my President said to follow my trainer! Let’s just say we both learned a valuable lesson that day on obedience. Love you, Hermana Toelupe!
One of the hardest things to go through on the mission is to be transferred which means you move to a new area to meet and help new people with a new mission companion. Here is a note in my journal from my first transfer experience.
November 20, 1999 “I’ve only been here for 3 months. I guess God knows what he is doing. Today, we visited Wanda and Che. I told them I was leaving. So sad! Wanda said, “No, I’m going to adopt you. You can stay here. President doesn’t know where I live!”A Plead to Pray
Please pray for the people of Puerto Rico. As you can see in the pictures, the homes are not built well. Most are made out of wood and already in need of repairs. The house below is a little shake above the mansions that sit at Palmas del Mar. We found this amazing family who were very poor, but rich in what mattered most. While living in Humacao, my companion, Hermana Pozo, taught me how to serve.
When I first met Gilberto and Maria for the first time while knocking on doors, I was a little nervous. Maria was confined to a bed and would be left alone all day long while her husband went to work. They had a little girl, she is pictured in the bottom right image, that went to school during the day. We would try and stop by during the day as often as possible. My companion had no problem jumping in and helping. I quickly learned what it meant to love unconditionally. We would feed her, which wasn’t easy since she had problems swallowing, fix her hair, get her food from a bug invested kitchen and help her in ways I never thought I would ever have to do. It was a humbling experience to say the least.
Here are a few journal entries about the wonderful lady pictured below in the bed. She loved it when I would braid her hair.
August 27, 2000 – “We talked to Maria in her room and we started sharing our testimonies about the truthfulness of the gospel. We talked about how the church was restored and then I taught her about Joseph Smith and the First Vision. She told us in her hard-to-understand voice that she knows that Joseph Smith was a prophet. My companion and I began to cry because we could feel the spirit and I was so touched by her faith and love for the Lord. She is bedridden, poor, can’t move her body, lays down all day alone with nothing to eat or drink, yet she is happy. She feels the spirit and wants to go to church, but can’t because of her condition. I have never met anyone with greater faith then Maria. My life will never be the same.”
What will become of her if she is alive, living right where the hurricane is in a wood shack without the ability to move? My heart yearns to come to the rescue. Will you join me as I continue to pray for not only those in Puerto Rico but everyone else around the world? There is much suffering right now due to many natural disasters. One of my favorite quotes from Gordon B. Hinckley says, “Get on your knees and ask for the blessings of the Lord; then stand on your feet and do what you are asked to do. Then leave the matter in the hands of the Lord. You will discover that you have accomplished something beyond price.”