When the people of Maunabo, Puerto Rico heard about the devastating earthquakes that hit the southwest region of the island, they were quick to pack goods to send to those in need, despite the fact Maunabo is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which hit the area in September of 2017. 

Nineteen people with St. Francis Builds, an outreach ministry at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, traveled to Maunabo in late January to help families restore their homes to more comfortable living conditions. 

Franciscan Father Chris Posch, the pastor of St. Camillus Parish, said that upon arriving in Maunabo, the group found “a lot of homes were lying in ruins.” 

This trip in January was not the ministry's first visit to Puerto Rico, having served two prior missions to the area. Throughout the week that they spent in the community, the group worked on a total of five homes with various tasks such as repairing the foundation and roof of a home, painting, as well as making other homes better suited for the families who lived in them. To aid in the restoration process, St. Francis Builds partnered with the Fuller Center Global Builders for the housing projects. 

For Jonathan Tom, this Puerto Rico St. Francis Builds trip was his fifteenth with the ministry in the past decade. After retirement, he said he saw the program as an opportunity to “help people in a more direct way than I was” before. One of his favorite parts of St. Francis Builds is that not only do he and his fellow volunteers get to impact families in need, but that the families work alongside them, providing the opportunity for volunteers to really get to know the community. 

Tom remembers one evening after a day of work, walking up to an outlook on a mountain with some of the other volunteers. A woman saw them and invited them to sit on her porch for a drink. “It was a stranger welcoming the stranger,” Tom said, adding that the community welcomed them and was grateful for their help. 

While the team from St. Camillus worked hard to assist as much as they could throughout the week, certain jobs will be completed by other groups of volunteers that will come in the future. 

“It’s important for us to remember that we may not get a home half finished, but we’re doing something that will help in the long run,” Tom said. “They’re little steps to God’s work, we don’t expect to do anything spectacular.” 

Mary Anne Marcot, who joined St. Francis Builds for the first time in Puerto Rico, experienced joy in the community that helped her feel comfortable with the adjustments that went along with jumping into a new culture. 

Despite initially fearing the language barrier, Marcot shared she was able to communicate with the people in Puerto Rico using many hand gestures throughout the week. She said it was wonderful to see the delight from the faces of those in that town when they spent time with one another.

“The people there, amidst devastation, are filled with hope and faith. It’s a reminder of God,” she said. 

One moment Marcot said she will keep with her forever was during a visit to one of the bedridden in Maunabo. The woman needed her door widened so that her bed could be moved, and the group was able to help. 

Marcot described her connection with the woman as she sat with her. 

“You could see… the gaze. It was palpable; it was a beautiful connection,” she said. 

The week also allowed the volunteers to slow down from the business of life and focus on projects that required them to stay focused. Marcot saw that change of pace as one that led her closer to God.

“By slowing down and walking, and just staying in the moment, it was something for us to know that He is God, and He is here,” she said.

After being a leader for a couple other St. Francis Builds trips, Linda Ramirez joined the Puerto Rico team after hearing about the need in the area from past volunteers. The family whose home she worked on throughout the mission week had survived Hurricane Maria after finding protection by hiding in their small bathroom for six hours. But their home needed some additional care of painting that Ramirez and her fellow volunteers were able to provide. 

“There was a big transformation,” Ramirez said. “For her to see that, you could see her change her outlook toward us throughout the week… She was there with us every day.”

St. Francis Builds has traveled throughout the world since its first trip to Guatemala in 2006, and the ministry has two mission trips planned for this year so far: to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in May and Tijuana, Mexico in August.