NCCS ST21: Puerto Rico

Saturday, March 27 + Sunday, March 28, 2021
We had a great trip to Puerto Rico from Atlanta. It was surreal to be in the Atlanta airport a year after Spring Term was cancelled. Walking through security and then to our gate was one of the first times that Spring Term 2021 actually felt real. God is so good! We had lots of extra space on our flight. Delta is doing a great job with their health and safety protocols!

When we landed in Puerto Rico, we took a few minutes to grab a late lunch and then met up with Matthew Brown, NCCS’s very own digital storyteller. Such a blast to have Matt joining us for a few days! The SEND Relief staff met us and gave us a quick overview of where we were headed and what to expect as we settled in.

Our group is staying at the Liga Atlética Municipal De Guaynabo City Police which is the Police Athletic League facility in Guaynabo. This campus has been used to host Police Academy training, summer camps for kids, and a variety of other things. SEND Relief started using this facility in April of 2019 and we had a great time hearing some stories about the groups they have hosted. We are their first GenSend High School group. They normally host college groups, so it’s fun to be trailblazers for other high school mission teams. The dorms are great, we have a nice area to gather to eat and hang out, and then there is a large outdoor area that has a basketball court, volleyball net, etc. The outdoor area is perfect for our crew that contains a lot of athletes!

The orientation time helped us learn more about the North American Mission Board and how SEND Relief came to be their crisis relief arm. The President of SEND Relief is Bryant Wright, the longtime pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. Several of our NCCS folks are connected to Bryant or JFBC, so that’s where this whole party got started for us to be here on Spring Term. We were super impressed with the intentionality of the SEND Relief team in helping us see the stewardship that goes into running an organization like this. We aren’t just here to randomly help with projects, we are here to help the gospel go forward in Puerto Rico by meeting the most immediate physical needs.

The sweetest lady named Elizabeth works as the caterer for the SEND Relief teams. We met her Saturday evening for the first time when she brought our dinner which turned out to be the best spaghetti most of us have ever had! We know that we will eat well this week! After dinner we played basketball, met some of the staff kids, played cards, and just hung out. The team gathered for team devotions centered around Philippians 2 and what it means to truly “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We handed out prayer partners for the week and prayed together before calling it a night. What an INCREDIBLE first day!

Sunday morning started early with breakfast at 7am. Again, the food was wonderful! Eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, fruit, etc. The team ate well! Normally we would attend a local church on Spring Term, but COVID restrictions are still pretty tight here and churches are staying with minimal capacity. Our team wouldn’t want to take away a seat from someone who lives here and goes to that church or is perhaps visiting for the first time…so we stayed at camp and had our own church. Coach Moore was telling us about the Romans study his church, Four Points, has been doing and we decided to tune in via their livestream. They were studying Romans 3 and we were pleasantly surprised to have our favorite Coach Steinichen doing the announcements for Four Points and praying over our time of worship…cool treat! After the message, we tuned into the closing song from Smyrna First UMC where Mrs. Wallace leads worship and joined them for “Lead Me to the Cross” to close out our Palm Sunday worship. We also found out later that she gave our Puerto Rico team a shoutout as the service was getting started on their livestream. Even though COVID kept us from attending a church in Puerto Rico, in God’s providence…COVID also had all of our home churches livestreaming…so it was great to worship with Coach Steinichen and Mrs. Wallace 1500 miles from home!

After breakfast we loaded up the vans and headed to Ponce on the southern side of Puerto Rico. The trip to Ponce took about an hour and a half and the scenery was BEAUTIFUL! We saw mountains, valleys, ocean, and some interesting traffic strategies…think Autobahn with limited lane markings and no traffic signs. We arrived in Ponce and made our way to the city square. Many in our group were struck by how much the architecture and color of the buildings reminded us of places like Charleston and New Orleans. Our group started out with a group picture at a beautiful fountain and then began our tourist adventures.

The SEND Relief staff gave us some great tips on restaurants and fun places to visit, but the one place they ALL agreed we had to try was…King’s Cream. They say it’s the best ice cream on the whole island. So, to be wise, we built our entire day around that. We parked near King’s, shopped at the stores by King’s, ate near King’s, and made plans to meet there as a group for ice cream at the end of our free time. Some in our group chose to try the kabobs from the street vendor. I was one of those people and they were SO GOOD! Another group enjoyed tacos at a restaurant called Jalepeno’s and another group grabbed burgers at a small place on the square. It was fun to hang out and learn more about Puerto Rico. We also learned they have a lot of pigeons who enjoy greeting the tourists…lots of laughs about that!

We checked out some souvenir shops, saw the artwork and listened to music at The Fox Hotel, used the fancy bathrooms at Hotel Melia Ponce, and met a guy who drives around a small purple car wearing a Joker mask…to each his own I guess! The team met up at the fountain and headed over to King’s Cream. Those people don’t mess around, they served all 15 of us in less than 20 minutes. The SEND Relief team was right, that ice cream was so good! I’m glad we walked around in the hot sunshine for a bit to make it extra special. We tried mango, guanave, chocolate brownie, and several other flavors. While eating our ice cream, we ended up experiencing a God ordained moment that we asked one of our seniors to tell you more about.

From Senior Macie Rainwater…We went to this place called Ponce that was super similar to Marietta Square. After exploring and looking around for a little while we met back up for ice cream and found some shade to enjoy it in. There was a nice lady who ended up coming over to talk to our group. She explained some of her story being a former alcoholic and her salvation. She told us that she had been praying for missionaries to come and when she saw us she immediately thought about it. It was really cool to just see another way God’s hand is in this trip, so much so that it is visible to other people.

Back to the storyline of the day. After having a chance to pray over our new friend Rosa, we left the square to begin making our way back to Guaynabo. Since we’ve been gone over 24 hours, we had a few that needed to hit up Walmart. It was fun to see so many things that were similar to home while other things were very different. The dorms here are a bit on the cool side at night, so lots of folks picked up blankets. We grabbed some snacks and Hallie even got a Palm Sunday oreo cake for the group to share. If you get a chance, ask someone from our team about the line for the self-check!

The trip back to camp took about an hour and a half and it was full of laughter, stories, and just enjoying the time together. Back at camp we enjoyed a great dinner of roasted chicken, mac and cheese, beans and rice, salad, and cupcakes. After dinner, everyone pitched in to do our cleanup chores. We take turns emptying the trash, sweeping, mopping, wiping down the tables, etc. It adds to the family feel of our experience! Victor Morales is the Construction Coordinator for SEND Relief and a pastor here on the island. Victor gave our team an overview of our projects for the week as well as a safety talk about how things should go on the jobsite. One part of our group will be helping finish up a roofing project while another part will be repairing a floor in a woman’s home and doing some yard projects.

We spent some time playing basketball, hanging out, and just talking for a while and then gathered for team devotions. One goal each evening is to spend time reflecting on “Where did you see God at work today?” What a gift of grace to know that it took almost 20 minutes to get through everyone sharing. We recognized that one of the best gifts of Spring Term is simply to get away from our regular schedule so that we can use the unrushed rhythm to see God at work. Coach Mercado shared his testimony with the group. He pointed us to how God has provided for him time and time again. This is his first mission trip and he has been such a blessing to our team. Since Coach Mercado is from Puerto Rico, he has helped us learn about the great need in this area for the hope that we have in Jesus.

After devotions, we spent some time chatting about the details for our work teams in the morning and got ready to call it a night. As I’m finishing this up, folks are taking showers, filling up their water bottles, and getting ready for bed. The laughter in the rooms, the singing in the showers, and the anticipation of what God has in store for tomorrow is a great way to wrap up the day!

Megan Strange, Puerto Rico Team Leader

Monday, March 29, 2021
Monday got off to a great start as everyone gathered in the meeting room for daily temp taking, prayer, and breakfast. Macie insists that we had pancakes because she’s really been wanting pancakes…seems like a good enough reason for the rest of us! Elizabeth brought our breakfast and all of our lunches as well. On Saturday, she had us all fill out a card with our lunch orders for the week and she brings them each morning all bagged up for each person. She is such a blessing to our team!

We gathered up the whole team for a word of prayer and Matt Brown read Psalm 103:1-5 over us from our team’s morning devotion. The devotion for our team today reminded us of The Compassion of a Servant. We loaded into the SEND Relief vehicles and then went to the SEND Relief warehouse to load up on tools and supplies for the day. The warehouse was super organized and they have a great system for checking things out. This is just another piece of evidence of the great stewardship of this organization.

We had two teams for today’s projects:
Team 1: Coach Moore, Mrs. Carr, Angela, Anneka, Kayla, Brianna, Rylee, Makenna, Hallie, and Macie

Team 2: Coach Mercado, Mrs. Strange, Riley, Alex, and Matt

Team 1 was working with Julia Maria Clemente to replace a deck and do some major yard work. They needed a large group and they got right to work! Team 2 was working at the home of a church planter to repair a roof project that had not been done correctly. By repairing his roof, we are helping free the church planter up to work on things for launching their church.

It was a beautiful day here in Puerto Rico, sunny and mid-80’s for the whole day. Each group did a great job of reminding each other to drink plenty of water and to reapply sunscreen. Team 1 ended up doing about 6 1/2 hours of pressure washing, scraping, shoveling, and sweeping to get the layer of sealant off that had been improperly applied. There was a lot of laughter in our group as Riley and Alex kept us entertained! Matt made sure we had pictures and videos of the whole thing. We enjoyed getting to learn more about Rudy, our construction lead from SEND Relief. He has a really powerful testimony of how the Lord intervened in his life at some pretty key places to lead him ultimately into the ministry he is in right now.

At lunch time, we took Matt over to meet up with the other group for the afternoon and Team 2 had already gotten a lot done! They had already ripped out the old deck that was in bad shape and got started after lunch with framing the new deck. You might want to keep Team 2 in mind if your family is thinking of doing some upgrades to your outdoor living spaces! Hallie was telling me a story of how much Mrs. Clemente’s son was impressed with their work. He told them “it was the best day of his life” and said that he would never forget our group. Super exciting to see what a difference a day can make in helping someone feel better about their home!

Once everyone got back to “camp” we started cleaning up and sharing stories from the day. It is always so fun to hear the variety of stories that people have to share based on their contribution to the project, someone they met for the first time on the worksite, or something that God showed them that they might not have considered before. Our group is trying to keep our focus on where we see God at work and looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2).

The group spent the time before dinner playing basketball, telling stories, taking showers, hanging out, etc. It’s been so fun to see how much “playing” our students have done. Real life doesn’t afford a lot of opportunity for that…so these are treasured moments! Dinner was awesome. After each meal, everyone says “this was my favorite meal!” Tonight we enjoyed salad, rice, chicken and veggie stew, plantains, and some amazing pastry…so good! After dinner everyone pitched in and cleaned things up.

We gathered for our team devotions and started with a time of worship singing together. Macie and Rylee led us while I accompanied them on guitar. We sant “Great Are You Lord” and “Goodness of God”. What a gift to hear all those voices lifted up together! Riley brought the devotion tonight and shared what he learned about Rudy on our site today. Riley pointed us to Scripture and the realization that God always provides what we need when we need it. After Riley’s devotion, we spent some time sharing prayer requests and then Kayla prayed for the group.

We wrapped up the evening cheering on the men’s basketball league game that was taking place here on campus and now the laughter is ramping up in the dorms as everyone gets ready to call it a night. Thanks so much for praying for us…we are having an awesome week so far. Mrs. Carr, Coach Moore, Coach Mercado, and I are so honored to be here with these awesome young men and women. We are so blessed by each of them and looking forward to what God has in store for tomorrow!

Megan Strange, Puerto Rico Team Leader

Tuesday, March 30, 2021
Just when we thought everyone would be quick to go to bed last night after a long day of work…some of them got their second wind and kept us entertained for a while last night! Others called it a night early last night and it was easy to tell the difference between the groups at the wakeup call this morning. They have a fun rule with SEND Relief when it comes to mealtimes. Breakfast is at 7am and Dinner is at 6:30pm. And no one eats until everyone is present. The kids have been doing a great job of keeping each other moving along. No one wants to miss the awesome food we have been having!

For breakfast today, we had sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches, fruit, cheese, an egg roll, and a powdered donut. We’ve also enjoyed some great coffee this week as one of the SEND Relief team members is a barista and he’s been brewing the coffee each morning. After breakfast, we watched a presentation about GenSend, the college ministry arm of the North American Mission Board. They share the same goal that we have at NCCS, to help young men and women live their lives intentionally on mission for the Lord. The SEND Relief team gave us a quick update on our projects, Bri shared Scripture and prayed over us, and we loaded up our vans to return to our projects from yesterday.

My crew went back to our roofing project only to realize that things were probably a little too wet for us to put the primer and sealer on the roof right away. We did some more prep on the roof and then drove over to meet up with the other team for a little bit to help them out. When we arrived, they had just finished up some major yard work…too bad we were just a few minutes too late to help with that! They also made some major progress on the deck they are building. All of the decking is down and they just need to add the rails tomorrow to wrap up that project. As a special treat, Mrs. Clemente made an amazing homemade rice and chicken lunch…and we just happened to be there in time to eat with them even though we didn’t work on their project. We call that God’s hand of providence!!

After lunch, the roof crew headed back over to the other place to continue our planning…and again were rained out unfortunately. But, the lady that was hosting us had also made lunch. If you are counting at home, that means we ate two lunches. Please don’t tell the landscaping group. Essentially, they did most of the work and the roofing crew did most of the eating!

It would be so easy for our roof crew to chalk this day up to somewhat of a rainout after we did a little work this morning. However, we quickly realized that God’s plan for the day included us being a blessing to Rudy, our construction lead. He told us lots of stories about his adventures as a SEND Relief volunteer as well as a divemaster and fisherman. He is very good to point to God’s grace at every turn in his life and we’ve learned a lot from him.

Another blessing for the roof crew is that we got to Google Meet for a few minutes with Mrs. Romine’s 2nd grade class who have been doing an amazing job as our Prayer Partners for this trip. We are so thankful for them. Being on the roof crew with Riley and Alex reminded me that they were the Lower School prayer partners what seems like just a few years ago. What a great way to grow up at NCCS!

Once the roof crew officially called it a day, we got our supplies organized for tomorrow and then headed back to the landscaping group to caravan home together. It was a HUGE blessing to be able to pray with Mrs. Clemente, the homeowner, before heading out for the day. To be honest, she also encouraged salsa dancing on the new deck because she was so thrilled out it. Our kids were happy to oblige…but then she sort of showed us up!

Because our team has been eating 24/7…we decided we better make a WalMart run for more snacks. We had fun chitchatting in the van and just continuing to get to know each other better. Coach Moore had a great opportunity to talk with a young man in WalMart that was asking him where we are from and what we are doing. We’ve all committed to being intentional about making those everyday conversations turn to gospel conversations as quickly as possible.

After WalMart, we headed back to camp for showers, naps, cards, and just hung out with each other before dinner. Everyone was excited when dinner showed up a few minutes early. Before breakfast and dinner, everyone has to have their temp taken. Praise the Lord everyone is staying safe and healthy. Super impressed with the great job our kids are doing with the COVID protocols. Their reward?? Tonight we popped open the dinner box to find rice, veggies, potatoes, chicken with some glorious sauce, and a piece of cheesecake.

The after dinner chores led into a time of worship when one of the SEND Relief guys picked up the guitar. What a gift to lift up Chris Tomlin’s How Great is our God in Spanish and English while we were wiping tables, sweeping, mopping, etc. Then we played basketball and volleyball before gathering up for our evening time of devotion.

Coach Moore and Coach Mercado gave some great insight into relationships that we are building here in Puerto Rico. During our worship time, we sang God of This City and Waymaker. We really needed Mrs. Wallace for Waymaker, but I think she’ll be proud that we gave it a go! We kicked off our time by asking the daily reflection question “Where have you seen God at work today?” Several people shared specific things and it is such an encouragement to see the way everyone is really looking for these things each day! Coach Moore shared some of his story about how the Lord has revealed Himself when Coach has prayed and asked God to draw him close. He challenged us to remember that God has us right where He wants us and that we should pursue that closeness with God. Nothing happens by accident. Reminds me of Colossians 1:17 “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” We closed our team time by praying together.

Everyone is hanging out and getting themselves organized for another great day tomorrow. We are thinking about and praying for the rest of the Spring Term teams. It’s been so fun to follow along with some of the other groups. What a gift it is to be able to serve this week!

Megan Strange, Puerto Rico Team Leader

Wednesday, March 31, 2021
We wanted to start off the blog today by giving you a glimpse of some of what our students have been experiencing.

Puerto Rico has been an amazing experience. These past few days we have gotten the opportunity to help Julia by building a back deck for her. The culture here is different but it has been very fun to see God work in the most amazing ways. This group has been hardworking through the early mornings and fun at night with card games and basketball tournaments. I’m so happy I have been able to experience all that God has done through this trip!
Anneka Clingman, senior

It has been a great trip so far, between having fun with friends, seeing the joy on people’s faces, and just the hard work. It’s great recapping the day with basketball and devotion. Then the meals have been delicious!
Alexander Nelson, freshman

These past couple days have been so eye opening! God is working so much in Puerto Rico after multiple hurricanes and earthquakes here!
These people are so kind and welcoming us with open arms!
Helping this family build this deck has taught me so much about patience & detail. We finished the deck today and the smile on the woman’s face was all so worth it! I can’t wait until we are all done, to show her how good God is!! So thankful to be here and for this experience!

Hallie Puckett, senior

Wednesday got off to a great start as we gathered for a breakfast of waffles, fruit, cheese, and oatmeal or cereal. Our SEND Relief staff mentioned to the team that Wednesdays are a hard day because you’ve been working hard and still have 2 days to go. So proud of the way our team has persevered!

We loaded up the vans and headed out to our sites. The roofing crew was pleased to find that the weather was perfect today for our task. We painted the entire roof with a layer of primer and then had to let it dry. While we were waiting, we headed over to meet with the landscaping/decking crew at Mrs. Clemente’s house. It’s incredible to see how different her house looks just a few days into this project. Mrs. Clemente was just beaming…and cooking thankfully! Yep, she made lunch for us AGAIN! Today was enjoyed rice, pork chops, and salad.

We had a chance to Google Meet with Mrs. Romine’s class (our awesome 2nd grade prayer partners). Some of the senior girls helps explain to her class the work that we are doing and Anneka gave them a tour of the property so they could see the projects. We wrapped up our time together by taking some questions and the 2nd graders asked some great ones!

After lunch, the roof crew headed back to put the first coat of sealant on the room. It was super sticky and we had to put it on real thick, but we got it done! The weather was perfect…bright and sunny with a slight breeze. After we finished that coat, we headed back to meet up with the other group where we all hauled trash, yard debris, and other stuff the rest of the afternoon. The decking crew got the rails and finishing pieces all screwed in and only have the stairs to go tomorrow! We wrapped up our afternoon by praying with Mrs. Clemente…such a precious time.

The crew worked super hard today and it was really hot and humid. They’ve been doing great with water and sunscreen. We love the way everyone is looking out for each other. To show our appreciation for the hard work of the team, we made an ice cream stop on the way home! Cold Stone seemed glad to see us!

Back at camp we took showers, played cards, and got read for dinner. Jonathan Morales is one of the SEND Relief leaders. He took time before dinner to tell the kids how impressed he has been with their attitude and work ethic this week. Jonathan has been a real blessing to our group and he has an awesome pastor’s heart. His family will be launching a second SEND Relief location in Ponce in addition to the one where we are serving in Guaynabo. Dinner was barbecue chicken, rice, beans, salad, and nutella crepes. Yet again…fantastic!

After dinner we cleaned up and got ready for team devotions. We were going to meet at the outdoor gym at 7:30am until Riley put a note in our team group text to come to the theater behind the gym. We hadn’t even seen a theater yet, but we were all intrigued! When we arrived, there was a worship service taking place and they were singing some of our favorite worship songs…in Spanish. The whole group grabbed seats and joined in worship. They sang “Waymaker” and “Oceans”…very timely with some of the discussions we’d be having this week about trusting the Lord. After worship, one of the worship leaders came up and asked if they could pray over our group. Once the young lady prayed for us, Hallie prayed over her.

We gathered back in the eating space for our time to discuss “Where have you seen God at work today?” and lots of people had things to share! Lots of emotion as we shared how God has helped tear down some barriers that have been built up in this season. Anneka shared a devotion from Psalm 36:5-11 pointing us again to God’s faithfulness and care for us at every turn. We closed out our evening by surprising the team with cards from our 2nd grade prayer partners AND notes and letters from their families. What a special moment of encouragement. Thank you everyone who sent letters!

The evening began to wind down as we chatted, reflected on the time we’ve shared together this week, and began looking forward to a great day tomorrow wrapping things up here. Thank you for praying us to the finish line. Our hope and heart is to not miss a single thing that God has in store for each of us this week. God is faithful and He is working!

Megan Strange, Puerto Rico Team Leader

Thursday, April 1, 2021
The team gathered for breakfast bright and early. Some folks were dragging a bit and some folks were nostalgic about it being our last day in Puerto Rico. Riley walked into the gathering area and declared “Last day. Best day” and that became our mantra for the day. We reviewed the 3 Circles gospel presentation, Hallie shared Romans 5:8, we prayed, and then hit the road. 

On our way we had to fuel up the vans and some of the kids wanted to grab snacks. Alexander did an awesome job helping us with our Spanish so that everyone got what they needed. The roofing crew only had one more coat of sealer to go, so we knocked that out in about an hour and a half. We cleaned up everything from that project and returned the tools to the SEND Relief warehouse. 

The roofing crew joined up with the other crew in time to help with the landscaping project and the last part of the deck…building stairs! Rylee led the way on hauling things to the trash heap down the road. Brianna, Angela, and Makenna were right in the middle of that with her. Kayla, Anneka, Macie, and Hallie kept us entertained by finding frogs, birds, bugs and other Puerto Rican wildlife. Some of the girls asked Coach Mercado to help them talk with Julia Maria’s granddaughter as the group really bonded with her this week. Coach Moore and Victor also got a good jump on another carpentry project in one of the bedrooms of the house once the deck was finished.

I have had a great experience on this trip. Getting to know Rudy, and getting to see the everyday things that the people in Puerto Rico go through is just so eye opening. It was so great to see the chapel from last night, it was so cool to see people singing about the Lord in a different language; and then pray with adults about how they have been distant from God. But, the cool thing was is that the majority were super young kids. Lastly, it was just a great group of people to share this experience with, getting to see Edgar’s reaction to being back in Puerto Rico and to see how the Lord is working in his life and the lives of others in this trip.
Riley Clingman, senior

The nice we wrapped up our projects for the day, we loaded the vans to head to El Yunque, the rainforest here in Puerto Rico. We were told it’s the only rainforest in the US National Forest system…and we are always up for an adventure! We stopped for waters on the way and then had the most beautiful drive into the rainforest. The group knew we’d found our place when we saw people playing in a pretty waterfall area. We stayed and played in the water for almost two hours. Several of us commented on how this is one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. Others simply entertained the group by slipping and sliding on the rocks and ultimately swimming in their clothes. What a perfect way to end the trip with lots of fun and laughter!

We stopped for some souvenirs at the entrance of El Yunque and then headed to dinner. Since it was starting to get dark, we made our way back towards Guaynabo and ended up eating Chili’s. We had the patio to ourselves and that proved to be a great way to reveal our prayer partners for the week. Each of us shared who we’ve been praying for as well as something we’ve noticed about that person over the course of the week. That is always a special time and this group really did a great job affirming and encouraging each other. We also laughed a lot about some jokes from the week! 

On the way back to camp, Alex and Riley kept The van Mrs. Carr and I were in laughing all the way! They even called some alums on FaceTime to add to the fun. We arrived in time to unload the vans, empty the coolers, and begin the process of packing for home. The 3:30am wake up call and 4am van loading would be here soon. 

What a week! What a team! What a Savior!

Adios from Puerto Rico 

Megan Strange, Puerto Rico Team Leader

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *