For one week in Puerto Rico partnering with Hunger Corp and Crossroads Church, I worked on rebuilding a Puerto Rican woman named Barbara’s house that was destroyed in Hurricane Maria two years ago. I also participated in smaller activities along the way, such as weeding in a coffee plantation, teamwork activities with the group as well as reflection time with small groups within the trip.
I started this trip anxious. I had put myself in a vulnerable position as a young adult going on a hands-on labor-intensive trip with a large group of strangers. I have always tried to push myself out of my comfort zone when it comes to groups of strangers, but I wasn’t sure this experience was going to be fruitful or meaningful. I thought that there wasn’t anything I was going to be able to learn from these people or the people in Puerto Rico, but I was, of course, mistaken. Also going a little deeper, I thought that I was “Christian enough”. That although I wasn’t rebaptized again as an adult it didn’t matter because I have never not believed in God and that was enough. Again, I was mistaken.
Though the main “purpose” or the trip was to work with the Puerto Ricans specifically in a community called Vega Alta, the leaders of the trip emphasized over and over again that community comes before the task. In other words, if there was an opportunity to share your story, hear someone else’s story or build into another person, take it! While the work was important, building community goes much farther and is much more fruitful for both parties. But for me, trying to be vulnerable, trying to start conversation or trying to speak in Spanish and serve as a translator was when I would become most anxious.
But I persevered. I was completely alone on this trip and I did this intentionally. Past mission trips were with friends and family allowing me to safely retreat to the people I knew. Easy. Nothing to worry about, no need to work at friendships, and no way to grow personally and spiritually. This trip was different, and I made the effort to talk to people. I made the effort to listen and provoke deeper conversation with more questions. I even made the effort to formulate into words what I have experienced in my life and to my surprise I was not alone in my experiences. Through small group discussion, one on one conversations with leaders that are way ahead on me in their faith journey and talking to Puerto Ricans who are volunteering with Hunger Corp, I stepped through a new doorway that was challenging but relieving. Quickly I made friendships much deeper than any I had back in Columbus, I learned way more about myself and others in one week than all my time at Ohio State. It opened my eyes to the power of vulnerability and supportive, initimate friendships.
From what I learned from engaging with people on a deeper, spiritual level, I decided this was the best time to get baptized. Like I said, I have always been Christian and was baptized as a baby. But to make the decision to follow Jesus on my own and to fully embrace this community, is a louder statement than being baptized by my parents. My new friends all gathered around me during this moment and the rest of the group waited on shore to cheer me on as I came out of the ocean. People were coming up to me welcoming me into a family I thought I was already a part of, little did I know that this personal but public decision of mine to get baptized made my adoption into God’s family official.
Coming back home, I am full of hope for implementing my new ways of communicating with my friends and family. It has been a week now and I have already met with my smaller group of friends from the trip for brunch and engaged in meaningful conversation about what is going on in our lives. During trip, I met a man name Victor who invited me to conversation with after the trip. He wanted to finish up discussion we were not able to finish on the trip, in doing so we found out that we were more similar that expected. He is about 10 years older than me and graduated as an engineer, he is latino and has similar personality traits as myself. I look at him as a mentor who has mustered his way through the years that are just ahead on me. He has introduced me to his family and even taken me under his wing in some engineering work he is doing at his job. I never knew I’d come out of this trip with a spiritual and professional mentor!
This trip has blessed me greatly with friends that want to build into me, it had introduced me to an organization (Hunger Corp) that I want to continue volunteering with next summer, it has opened my eyes to how God wants me to interact with people and it has taught me more about myself that I ever thought the trip would.