Disaster Relief and other forms of service trips are important to Northstar as a practical way to show the love and story of Jesus in a tangible way with our neighbors, both near and far. This past Spring Break, Northstar sent a team of students to Arecibo, Puerto Rico to aid in the ongoing relief effort related to the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017.
The team, led by Associate Pastor Neal Nelson, partnered with Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia Disaster Relief and First Baptist Church of Arecibo. Once on the ground, the Northstar team aided the church with work already in progress.
While there, the team worked on several different projects. As he was working on a man’s roof, Nate Deacon recalls that the team was able to spend two days on this project. Over the course of those two days, Nate and the other team members present had good opportunities not only to repair the man’s roof, but also to spend time getting to know him. They had meals with him, were able to talk to him about God, and had the opportunity to invite him to the local church.
Jordann Nemec spoke of a woman she met at a homeless shelter with whom she was able to spend some quality time, doing her best to listen well and show compassion. Jordan noticed the way the woman’s attitude shifted from coldness to softness and openness as she realized she was truly cared for. After returning to Virginia and resuming classes, Jordan felt the pace of life speed up and the memories of what she saw and experienced in Puerto Rico fade into the background. However, she has continued to think of and pray for the people with whom she interacted and the work still going on.
AJ Persinger had the opportunity to interact with some school children. He was able to spend time talking with the kids and even have some conversations with them about Jesus. AJ was surprised by how inquisitive the children were. Many of them said they went to church regularly, but they had many questions and were eager to learn more about Jesus.
Aryn Spence worked on one woman’s house which had been completely destroyed. The woman shared that her husband, sister, and niece were working abroad while the house was rebuilt. Aryn said this truly hit home for her as the team was not only working to rebuild a house, but to reunite a family.
Alyssa Williford recalls going through hundreds of donation items at the church with whom they were working. She helped to sort, separate, and bag the items in order to deliver them to drug rehabilitation centers, homeless shelters, and other locations. Alyssa had the opportunity to get to know the members of the church there and was touched that these church members, who themselves had been affected by the storm, were not only working hard to help their neighbors, but were doing it with such positivity and joy.
The team shared some of their struggles as well. Some of the struggles included living in such tight spaces with people who they didn’t know well, and who had very different personalities. Nate described sharing a small annex with 11 people, most of whom he didn’t know before arriving on the trip. Similarly, Aryn, an introvert, struggled with constantly being surrounded by people the whole week. For her, it was difficult to focus on the Lord and stay energized, but she shared that she was able to work through it and learn from it.
The team came away from Puerto Rico with a rich experience. They grew, they learned, and they saw God working in the lives of the aid workers as well as those who were being helped. Overall, the team was strongly impressed by the differences between American culture and the Puerto Rican culture they experienced. Jordan, describing herself as someone who values quickness and efficiency, watched as Puerto Rican people would meet each other in the street, stop what they were doing, and take time to catch up with one another. She saw the value of taking time to value people over efficiency. Nate noted that the country values family, despite a lack of resources. No one goes into retirement homes; rather, they’re taken care of by their families. The attitude of the local church and aid workers left an impression on Aryn. Even those who had experienced such great hurt and loss from the hurricane were joyfully helping those around them. Aryn contrasted that attitude with what might be met within American culture: frustration and irritation at small inconveniences and focus on negatives.
All of the team members were happy they were able to be a part of the aid work already happening on the ground in Puerto Rico. Each one was touched by cultural attitudes of positivity, joy, and caring for people. Despite inconveniences, each team member was able to learn and grow in their faith by being surrounded by those who had the same mission: help people and share Jesus. Jordan shared the conviction that “if you have the opportunity to take a trip with Northstar, you definitely should.”