In late January, 30 Disciples from six congregations in the Central Rocky Mountain region joined together on a mission trip to Puerto Rico.
Ranging in age from 17 to 80+ and spanning two states, this group traveled to Puerto Rico to offer support for congregations, families, and organizations impacted by the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Trip participants building new bunk beds at Camp Morton.
Led by regional vice moderator Rev. Brad Barton and board member Rev. Ruben Rodriguez, the team connected with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico to coordinate projects and offer support where they could be most helpful.
The group stayed at Camp Morton, the Disciples campground there, and completed a variety of projects onsite to help rebuild the camp, like painting, fixing leaky roofs, and building over 50 bunk beds.
CRMR Disciples also traveled to a refugee camp in Guánica, near the epicenter of the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the island earlier that month. The group talked and prayed with people at the camp and witnessed the work of National Guard troops calming people in crisis. They also toured a local congregation that operated a soup kitchen for refugees.
During a week of “powerful and overwhelming” days, Rev. Barton remembers, “the phrase ministry of presence kept coming up in our conversations. Our work was often to be present with people during a time of great anxiety.”
CRMR Disciples meeting with Rev. Miguel Morales, general pastor of the Iglesia Cristiana (Discípulos de Cristo) en Puerto Rico.
When the group met with Rev. Miguel Morales, general pastor to Disciples in Puerto Rico, he shared a similar sentiment, Barton says. Morales also joked that the group’s arrival was a “historic moment” because their group of 30 was the largest number of people that had ever been in his office at once. “We stood out by number, and by showing solidarity,” Barton says.
Throughout the trip, participants worshiped and reflected on their experiences together. Each day, trip leaders asked everyone, Where did you see God today? Almost every day, the answer was people, Barton celebrates. “We saw God in the people we met, in their strength and willingness to help each other. Everyone is trying to figure out a way to be helpful and share love.”
The regional mission trip is also a meaningful experience for people who may have never met to work and learn together in inspiring ways, and brought the region together in a powerful way, Barton suggests. “We want people to experience how big the body of Christ is. Sometimes we get lost in just thinking at the congregation level, but when we get together with new people there’s an opportunity to see how much power there is in what we can do together.”
For other districts and regions interested in designing a mission trip for a diverse group, Barton says that any experience that brings people together in new ways will be powerful. “God’s creation is bigger than what we experience every day. If you don’t get outside of your normal, you’re going to miss a lot of what God has going on out there.”