By Jim Gamble, Campus Ministry Coordinator
Puerto Rico is a beautiful place. In my time there as a missionary, I barely scratched the surface of what the island has to offer. The interior is stocked with rainforests and waterfalls, mountains with winding roads that offer inspiring views of summits and valleys, and farms full of delicious tropical fruits and vegetables. The shoreline is dotted with staggering cliffs and postcard beaches with abundant sunshine. Once a key location in the Spanish Empire, it has a rich history and a population of people proud of their Puerto Rican heritage. It’s a popular vacation destination, an island of stunning beauty, great music, and fantastic food. Still – it is an island in need. If you’ve heard news from Puerto Rico in the past few years, it has probably focused on the island’s economic crisis or the wave of violence that has accompanied the drug trade.
Camp Caribe fills a desperate need in Puerto Rico to impact people with Jesus Christ. The camp sits on the island’s southern shore on a narrow plain between the mountains and the Caribbean Sea. Many years ago, this ministry began as a school. Today, the camp still seeks to impact the youth of the island, but the classrooms have been converted to dormitories and the ministry operates year-round to serve people of all ages. In the summer you’ll find the camp crawling with kids from every part of Puerto Rico, from Mayaguez in the west to Fajardo in the east. They come to camp for activities, teachings, games, friends, food, and fellowship. When summer camp programs aren’t in session (and sometimes even when they are), you’ll often find churches, schools, or other groups using their facilities for retreats.
Last week, I was one of nine Grace Christian University staff and students who traveled to Puerto Rico to help the camp build an addition onto their multipurpose building. When finished, this addition will give Camp Caribe a second kitchen and dining room which will enable them to accommodate multiple groups simultaneously and reach more people for God’s kingdom.
On our first workday, I stood in front of the building we’d be working on and imagined what it would look like when finished. At that moment, there were only a few stacks of bricks and a few tools waiting to be used, but I could picture the cooks sweating in front of the future ovens and hungry kids banging their fists in rhythm on the tables that would one day fill the dining room. I could see the harried counselors pouring glasses for kids too small to lift the juice pitchers, the same kids who through the ministry of Camp Caribe will one day be equipped to lead their friends and peers to Jesus Christ.
For one week, we worked hard, sweating in the sun but enjoying the breezes off the Caribbean. We bent rebar, we tied rebar, we dug holes for footings and mixed cement and hoisted rebar towers and poured cement around them so they’d stand for years to come. And then – our time was up. Another group arrived and we took off for home by way of San Juan and Chicago while they picked up where we left off.
That’s how a mission trip often goes – you’re only a small part of a much larger, ongoing plan. We laid down footings and tied rebar for columns, but others will come along to build forms and lay bricks, and others will pour concrete and add a ceiling, and still others will add wiring for electricity and pipes for water. Through the efforts of a long train of volunteers, this addition will one day be a place where kids can fill the stomachs and Christ can fill their hearts.
This isn’t just how mission trips go, this is how ministry and the Christian life often go – We’re a part of a much larger plan, and we don’t always see our labor come to fruition. God’s plan is eternal, and we get to participate in it during our time here on earth. We will plant a seed, another will water it. God will make it grow.
There is much more work to be done in Puerto Rico. Camp Caribe continues to plug away, doing work for Christ and supporting churches and other ministries on the island. God willing, we’ll continue to participate in what He is doing there for years to come, sending other groups of students to Puerto Rico as we continue to train our students to be godly individuals prepared to serve Christ in church and society.
“The most amazing thing happened in Puerto Rico. I thought I was just going to go there to do some sweaty work, bend some metal, mix some cement, the usual stuff, which we did. I didn’t think I would use my musical abilities or anything of that sort at all – a week off of music, no big deal. But as soon as I got off the plane, I saw God working in my life. Not even 30 minutes after we landed, the missionaries asked me to give there kids guitar and drum lessons. They also needed several of their guitars and a drum set fixed, which I did! Working with those kids just amazed me how God can work in my life.” – Jake, Freshmen
“The most amazing part was seeing God use us and watching how he did it. Whether it was pushing hard to finish a project or having a member of our team help with the local youth group’s worship, we had lots of opportunities to see God at work. Not because we were awesome ourselves, but because as a team we served in the ways he provided for us. This was a beautiful thing to experience, and whether we were pouring concrete, tying or bending rebar, or jumping off a 30 foot cliff into a beautiful pool under a waterfall, God worked through and in us without a doubt.” – Lisse, Sophomore
“Puerto Rico – What a blessing. So very thankful to have had some time away to focus on God and seeing how big of a Creator I serve. My heart was spoken to in so many new ways and I will never forget this week and the people that I got to share it with.” – Victoria, Sophomore