Note: This reflection was originally published to the Experience Mission blog in December 2018.
The house is decorated to the nines. There are ribbons on everything and the simple four walls can’t seem to hold the excitement from all the guests who have arrived to wish Margarita and her family well. There is a feast prepared on the barbecue outside while everyone puts the finishing touches on the house. We scurry around adding ornaments to the Christmas tree and hanging lights as construction crews finish the paint and trim and install the kitchen appliances. This day is more than a simple holiday gathering. Today is the day that Margarita and her children will officially get the keys back to their home—14 months after Hurricane Maria destroyed it—and the entire neighborhood has shown up to wish them well.
Days like this don’t come around often. In the grand scheme of the rebuilding process, our community partners and volunteers spend far more days working alongside the community to rebuild homes in the small squatter village known as La Hormiga Project than they do celebrating a completed home. But, the hours spent working and getting to know the community members make this celebration so much more meaningful and I am humbled to be a fly on the wall for it.
For seven months, Hunger Corp—EM’s community partner in Puerto Rico—has shown up to the same scattering of homes on the outskirts of Dorado. This small little unassuming patch of land contains more than 30 homes with 30+ families living as they have for the last 50 years with no documented rights to the land. Since Hurricane Maria, this has meant disaster for these families already struggling to make ends meet each month. Now, with no deeds to the homes that are built here, families are ineligible for federal aid and have been left to rebuild on their own.
The hundreds of volunteers that have shown up to work on homes over the past seven months have been able to accomplish insurmountable amounts of work, but I can’t help think that there’s a greater hope being built along the way. In a community largely forgotten by the outside world, bonds are being formed by neighbors and a more holistic restoration is starting to take place.
Hunger Corp, Experience Mission, and a variety of churches have been present for this project, but the transformation is community led. Each house is selected for restoration by community leaders and neighbors work alongside volunteers with the common goal of fixing up each house one at a time. As families take ownership of putting their community back together, they’re being presented with opportunities to continue to take ownership in new ways for caring for their families.
Families in the community have been connected with advocates and legal aid in getting the deeds to their homes, local churches are stepping in to provide small business training and Bible classes along the way. The list could go on in all the amazing transformations happening in the community and the many—literally thousands—of hands that are playing a role in the transformation within La Hormiga project, but I don’t want to miss the point.
If there’s one point that I can take away from this incredible little community and the transformation that’s currently taking place it’s this:
God’s plans are infinitely better than our own and when we can join the processes that he’s already working on transformation will undoubtedly follow.
We might not get to be the heroes in the story or even get our names recognized, but witnessing the wild work that’s at hand will always be enough.
During the Christmas season, a time filled with hope and expectation for Christ’s continued work, I can’t help but draw a parallel to the hopeful expectation of new life taking place in communities around the world where God is working in and through people in so many exciting ways.
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