PCA Students Travel to Puerto Rico for Missions Trip
During the week of April Vacation, while many of us were taking a much-needed break before the final sprint through the end of the school year in May and June, two teams of PCA students, parents, and faculty members traveled to the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico for the experience of a lifetime.
47% of the population of Arecibo lives below the poverty line. After Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, it exacerbated a lot of the community’s struggles. YouthWorks, a missionary organization that provides pathways for high schoolers to serve across the globe, has been in Puerto Rico since 2003 and partners with a local church that our students would be volunteering out of for a week in Puerto Rico.
Spearheading the initiative for a foreign missions trip, Upper School student, Sierra, said it was a 7th Grade Costa Rica trip that left her wanting to make an even greater impact on God’s world:
“After experiencing a cultural/missions trip to Costa Rica in 7th grade with PCA, I’ve developed a heart for missions and serving people in under-privileged countries. I believe, as Christians, part of our calling is to care for those in need and bring God’s love to others. I’m excited to experience a new culture and use the blessings God has given me to serve others in Puerto Rico.”
Leaving for San Juan on Sunday morning, the students were filled with pure excitement for what the week had in store for them.
After arriving at their destination, a small church in the hills just outside of Arecibo, the students headed for the beach for a quick swim and took in the overwhelming beauty and surreality of being thousands of miles away from their homes–the soft sand between their toes, palm trees waving in the breeze, and a painted sunset canvas of purple and orange overhead.
After a night of well-deserved rest, the students and chaperones made their way to a local farm, about 40 minutes inland in the hills–a rich, fertile area that is struggling as a community–to help clear, weed, and provide aid for a local farmer who is receiving support from a larger ministry called CAM.
After their hard work in the fields, the group headed into Arecibo to see the murals, get a surprise tour of a museum, and enjoy some ice cream. Some of the students met and heard the story of a homeless man and prayed and shared Christ’s love with him.
The next day, the groups worked in the gardens and in the kitchen of a community center in a town about 40 minutes up in the hills from Arecibo. The students were received with great hospitality and included in the ongoing work to love and serve their community. “Our higher-level Spanish students really stepped up…”, said Head of School, Mike Runey.
“…Even our first- and second-year students were engaging at a level they were surprised by, and the impact of having students from the continental US connecting with them in Spanish was such a bridge builder.”
“Knowing the grammar and vocabulary helped a lot with being able to speak to and understand the Puerto Rican natives. I’m really glad I was at a level of Spanish that let me interact with others in their own language.”, said Erick, an upperclassman in our Spanish courses.
Students moved heaps of compost; harvested, divided, and prepared grasses that will reproduce and help farmers arrest erosion. They assisted in preparing and refining herbs for medicinal and culinary support to the local community; and provided much needed people-power to weed, improve, and expand their vegetable beds, all fed by cisterns filled by rainwater. They also learned how to operate toilets that rely on the same rainwater to operate–a humbling experience for anyone used to running water in their bathrooms at home.
The teams finished the day off with a trip down to a beach of extraordinary beauty. The water was refreshing, and the breakers on the rocks were of a glory and beauty that is rarely seen. God’s presence was clear in His creation and in the fellowship between students.
On Wednesday, the students served with the Salvation Army of Arecibo and Dreamcenter, a neighborhood ministry.
While the students were certainly making an impact on the local community, God was making an even greater impact on their minds and hearts as they served, played, and interacted with one another for a week without any connection to their phones or their lives back home. Comments made in small group discussions showed the students were greatly impacted by the community they found themselves building with their peers, and sought to bring that spirit of love back home with them.
Spanish teacher, Miss Fontaine, shared her insight on the high levels of transparency and vulnerability the students showed as the week progressed:
“The trip was incredible, and we saw God move powerfully. It was a transformative experience for many of our students. They were authentic and vulnerable with one another in small groups, happy to serve the communities we partnered with, eager to learn, and sought to see people the way Jesus sees them, laying aside judgements. They pushed themselves outside of their comfort zone and grew tremendously in just a short period of time. Our Spanish speakers amazed me with their willingness to engage in the language and their ability to translate for others!”
On Thursday, half of the group went to the Salvation Army and painted the room where the iguanas were living and sorted clothes. In the afternoon, they went back to the Dream Center community initiative and picked up food to take out to the homeless in several of the local neighborhoods.
The other half went to the Dream Center service site, running a hot dog stand for the impoverished community. Students served the food to the locals, giving and receiving prayer throughout the day.
That night, students returned for a taco salad dinner, then went to the local church for devotionals before turning in for the night.
“My favorite part was seeing how the experiences impacted each person who went on the trip and growing closer in my relationships to everyone as well as growing in our faith together.”, said PCA Senior, Sierra.
“Watching how the people there prayed and were so faithful to God definitely was inspirational. My favorite day was when we were serving hot dogs to the community and praying for each person who came. I loved that we didn’t have our phones, so we were focused on building face to face connections with each other. I enjoyed going to the beach and experiencing the beautiful ocean and lastly, learning how to salsa dance was my favorite. I have a new love for Spanish music and dancing.”
The sun rose on Friday morning, and the students were excited to take advantage of every minute of their “free day”. It began with a walk to the neighborhood bakery for breakfast, followed by a 45-minute drive to the coast for a day at the beach. The weather and water were amazing, and the fellowship was sweet. The students had burgers and kabobs and pizza from food trucks, played soccer, tossed a ball, and even saw a sea turtle!
Some students, resting under the shade of the trees, reading and napping, missed the hard-shelled Puerto Rican resident.
After returning to their church base, the group showered and ate before going to the Boy and Girls Club in the impoverished neighborhood they served over the last two days. This event was an open house to the community, run by the Dream Center ministry. The students and staff joined their outreach, played games, sang worship songs, and listened to the testimony of a well-known Puerto Rican Christian singer/rapper. Most profoundly, the ministry prayed over our kids who came forward seeking prayer. It was deeply moving and emotional for many of them.
“This trip helped put into perspective what’s important.”, said one student.
“Before, I was too focused on schoolwork and performing well academically, but a week in Puerto Rico helped me to realize that there are so many people in need and I need to make it my life mission to serve others, not myself. I have the tendency to get stuck in my routine and comfort zone, but God does not call us to be comfortable, he calls us to go and make disciples of all nations. This trip rekindled my hope and joy that is only found in Jesus. I saw God working both internally and externally. He filled us with the Holy Spirit and I experienced a change in my heart and saw that same change for many others. The trip confirmed that my top priority should be serving God and others. When I was tempted to make decisions for my future based off of financial security or worldly success, God now reminds me that the things of this world will perish. Our relationship with God is the only thing that matters. My life going forward will center around being in God’s will because he has the perfect plan for me. I don’t have to try to work my way up or do anything to prove myself successful. As long as I’m living out God’s plan for me I will be satisfied. I definitely appreciate electricity and air conditioning here in the US. On the first day, we worked on a farm outside and it was hard labor. It gave me an appreciation for the people who do that work every day in the heat. The want for material things and possessions that I had before the trip is gone now, as I realize that those things won’t bring me true joy.”
Another senior, Greta, learned a lot about what her future holds after her experiences in Puerto Rico.
“Upon coming home, I had no idea where I was going to go or what I was going to do after graduation. However, after this trip I had really wrestled with God and looked to Him to ultimately guide my decision. Through much prayer, He had made it clear to me what He wants from me and what He knows I truly want as well! Had I not gone on this trip, I would not have been able to restore my relationship with God in the ways I had because of this trip. It is because of this trip, and because of the wonderful people I had around me, that I was able to not only reunite with God, but also find rest in Him and this group of incredible young men and women. I am so excited for where He takes the Missions Club in the upcoming years!”
“My favorite parts of the trip included getting to know those around me that much better and to see the light of Christ shine brightly through each of them.”, said Landon, another PCA student.
“For those I didn’t know well, my heart was opened to them and I began making beautiful connections with them, and even for those I do know well, I had gotten to see how much their faith really influenced our own friendships/relationships. I loved the beach and being able to soak up the sun and swimming with a sea turtle! It was absolutely incredible!!!”
As the night drew to an end, the students packed their bags and prepared for the early morning departure from Arecibo for their flight home. Each student experienced something profound – some in different ways. Many of them spoke about the mixed emotions they felt about returning to the lives they lived before. The pressures and patterns they experienced at home were nothing like what they experienced in their week in Puerto Rico. The deep, committed service for others and with each other were profoundly impactful for all involved.
Watch the Video Recap!
For an all-encompassing look at the week our students experienced in Puerto Rico, watch this vlog filmed and edited by one of our students, Isaac Kohl.