It is a spotless home, just a few knickknacks, carefully placed on sparse but welcoming furniture, a soft breeze wafts through the cheery red curtains; the quiet abode of a fifty year old Puerto Rican woman who lives alone.
Pastora Alicia invites me to accompany her to visit this sister from her church. As we drive around the bend, we see Sister Elizabeth and her mother, who lives next door, scurrying around getting ready for the arrival of their special guests. I see Sister Elizabeth wring out a mop and hang it on a clothesline, and then put a dry clean rag in the doorway for us to wipe our shoes.
"During that first hospital visit four years ago, after sister Elizabeth had meningitis, I didn´t know how I was going to reach out to her," Pastora Alicia explains.
"Who is there? Who are you?" Sister Elizabeth whispered in a frightened voice from the bed in the isolation room. She had lost not only her eyesight, but her hearing, too.
"I took her hand and caressed it gently. And then, guided by the Holy Spirit without any thought of my own, I began to write the letter ´p´ with my forefinger on her palm. It took a long time before she understood my message. She finally spelled out ´pastora´ and exclaimed with joy, "It is you! You have come to me!"
I am in Puerto Rico, or Borinquén, as it is called by those who remember the island's original inhabitants, following up on the participants in the Roots in the ruins: hope in trauma program after the devastation of hurricanes Irma and María. I left Puerto Rico last September the evening before hurricane Irma struck, and have accompanied the lay leaders and pastors by email and whatsapp in the midst of the initial response and in the challenges of the aftermath including water and electricity shortages, in their trauma healing, post traumatic growth, and resilience development ministries throughout the congregations of the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ and surrounding communities. Pastora Alicia has participated in the program during the past five years and after completing the level 1 and 2 course work, is ready to become a facilitator.
Sister Elizabeth is a living example of the resilience of the Puerto Rican people. I have met with individuals and communities who have told me their stories and amidst the tears, grief, and anger have found some whimsical or comical incident to set us laughing and fill us with hope. With the strength of her African-Native Caribbean-European heritage, as soon as Sister Elizabeth left the hospital, she reengaged with life finding ways to overcome the challenges of facing her environment sightless and soundless. She keeps house, cooks, and washes for her mother, does her shopping, participates in church activities, and goes swimming with her grandkids.
On Pentecost Sunday, Sister Elizabeth will don her white robe, carefully washed and ironed, and will make her way down the steps into the baptistery where she will read on the palm of her hand the question Pastora Alicia will spell: "Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?" Today, as we visit her in preparation for this life affirming event, she tells us with a glorious smile, "I can't wait to tell everyone, yes I do!"
Puerto Rico, May 2018
Elena Huegel serves with the Intercultural Research and Studies Institute (INESIN) in Chiapas, Mexico. She serves as a consultant for peace (conflict transformation) and environmental education. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.