Puerto Rico: A Lesson in Hope

Puerto Rico House

A week ago, I returned from Puerto Rico, where I’d spent the previous week helping to rebuild a home destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Almost immediately, my wife and I began preparations for Thanksgiving. It was, to say the least, a disconcerting juxtaposition of events.

Mixing plaster in PRPuerto Ricans have spent the last year working to recover from the horror that nature threw at them. That part of the island we saw has moved forward, but electricity is still an iffy proposition, and the town in which we volunteered went several days without running water while we were there, not an uncommon situation. The most profound impression I was left with as a result of my time on the island was an overwhelming sense of admiration for the way Puerto Ricans have pulled together to help one another.

Maria took the roof off the house we worked on, and everything inside was destroyed. The family who’d lived there—wife, husband, and five children—have been living for the last fourteen months in other homes through the generosity of their fellow townspeople. Like so many of those affected by the storm, they haven’t the money to rebuild on their own.

Digging a trench in PRThe concrete walls withstood the hurricane blast but everything else needed replacing. The team before us had put on a roof, a good thing because we often worked during heavy rains. Our team labored almost entirely by hand: digging the trench for the electrical line, a full day and a half using picks and shovels to make our way through hard clay and debris; daily sifting sand that had been gathered from local beaches until it was fine enough to be used for plaster; mixing concrete with shovels on the bare floor of the house, then pouring it bucket by bucket. At the end of every day, tired to the bone, we returned to the Methodist camp where we were housed in dorms.

We did this for a week, some of the hardest physical labor I’ve done since the decade I worked construction as a much younger man. And then we returned to Minnesota. But the people we left behind continue with the hard labor of putting homes, neighborhoods, and whole towns back together. This is the daily reality for so many on the island.

Sifting sand in PRThe economic situation in Puerto Rico is bleak. There simply aren’t enough jobs, so a great many Puerto Ricans have left. Official estimates are that by the end of 2018, 200,000 residents will have fled Puerto Rico for good. But what we found was that those who remain face the future with hope, with courage, with perseverance, and with an admirable graciousness of spirit.

So, at our Thanksgiving meal this year, in addition to all the usual blessings for which I gave thanks, I offered a thank you for the example of those we met and shared time with in Puerto Rico, a prayer for their full recovery, and a vow to return to do what I can to help.

15 thoughts on “Puerto Rico: A Lesson in Hope”

  1. Not everyone has the career freedom or the financial freedom to leave the mainland and go to Puerto Rico to help rebuild. You do, and you did.
    You have been blessed. Thank you, then, for accepting your obligation to give as generously as you possibly could.
    May all the works of your hands be blessed.

  2. What an amazing experience…can’t wait to hear motre stories… doing for others fills a soul up ‘real good’.

  3. What a wonderful present to the family… having dug in hard pan or caliche when I was younger, I can imagine how difficult your work was…

  4. I have read all the Cork O’Connor series and am now waiting to see when the next one will be out. Hopefully in2019??? Love them all. I’m going to read Ordinary Grace and then This Tender Land while I wait.

  5. Your words express the needs, the sorrows, and the hope of “the island” and its long-suffering but stalwart American citizens. Thank you!

  6. It’s really cool you went to help. Good for you and the others who has done this also. I have enjoyed reading your books. Thank you for being such a great storyteller.

  7. In a world where everything is fighting for your attention, it is great you have shut out all that noise and dedicated your hands to do God’s work. Your spirit has inspired others, not only in Puerto Rico, but here as well. May your experience change the lives of others, as well as your own.

  8. Kent,
    Thank you for sharing your experience and reminding us that while the plight of our neighbors in Puerto Rico is no longer in the news, there is still so much work to be done. Your kindness and generosity continues to be an inspiration.

  9. Kent,
    A lot of people “talk” but you do.
    When you posted you were going on this “mission”, I wasn’t surprise. I thought “of course” Kent always reaches out. He cares about people. And his actions speak louder than words!!
    You live your life with love in your heart for others.
    We see it when we “read” you and when we meet you.

    Bless you for the giving of your time.

  10. When the Susquehanna River overflowed its banks and its wall of water burst into Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, it destroyed so much. It was as if a hurricane and tornado flew through, moving cars from where they were parked to many streets away, crashing into homes and sometimes moving them from their foundations. My Lutheran church “adopted” one home and family and had crews going constantly to help rebuild. The weekend I went, we were tearing down the plaster and lathe of the first floor of “our” home. It was dirty, difficult work. Yet I felt so good when we left that yet another step forward had been made. It took months and months to finish the home, but we did. As the teenager I was at the time, I only went once, yet now, 45 years later, I still have vivid memories.

    I hope that you carry those good memories and the feeling of hope with you the rest of yours days, too.

  11. Mary L. Wilson
    Knoxville Tennessee

    Kent, my mother was the oldest of 11 Irish O’Connor children, who grew up here in Tennessee during the Depression…10 girls and finally a son for our GrandFather, ‘Papa John’. After the first Cork O’Connor tale, I was HOOKED…as you poured your heart, compassion and hope into this character. I have to have books in large print, and so far I have finished 5 that thankfully in LP, including your wonderful ‘award winner’, Ordinary Grace! Thank you for sharing your gifts with your readers and fans !

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