My Dear Family and Friends,
I want to start off by expressing my heartfelt gratitude for all of you. All of your prayers towards the lovely people of Puerto Rico, for my family and I and for our mission. I have felt the love of many through your emails, letters, and hand-written notes. There are not enough words, songs, letters that could describe the love I have for all of you.
These last 3 weeks have been without a doubt some of the most spiritual and some of the most faith-trying weeks of my life. A lot has happened so I’ll just start from the beginning. So, on Saturday the 16th of September we received a text from the Mission President, that we needed to go to the store and buy food, water, and any other supplies needed in preparation for Hurricane Maria. Everyone was already freaking out a bit, buying everything they could since we had just gone through Hurricane Irma a week and a half before. We were able to buy everything and all was well.
That following Monday night, a member had been accompanying us to different appointments and she was updating us on what category the Hurricane was at, and we knew the trajectory and that it was coming towards us, but we really still kinda had no idea what was going to happen. The next morning, we received a text saying that we needed to pack our evacuation carry on suitcase (basically, grab a change of clothes and leave everything else) and that we were going to the Mission Home. That was not what we were expecting, but we packed up and were on our way.
While I was packing, I wasn’t thinking that this might be the last time I would be packing, but I did get this prompting many times, that came to my mind saying, “pack what you REALLY don’t want to lose”. So, I followed it and packed my scriptures, missionary journals and memory cards of all my mission pictures, still not thinking anything severe was going to happen, but I followed the prompting anyways.
We got to the mission home and President came to the Mission home a bit later and showed us on his iPad the trajectory of Hurricane Maria, and told us that Puerto Rico would be directly hit. Surprisingly, I still didn’t feel fear. I think part of it might’ve been that we all thought that Heavenly Father was just going to shoo away Hurricane Maria magically just like he did with Hurricane Irma.
We had a great rest of the night, and we even had a cool devotional given to us by President Smart. One thing he talked about was making the comparison to a lighthouse and the gospel, and how the main light of the light house is supposed to light the way for all to see, so they won’t get lost or crash into rocks (Just like the gospel). He then talked about the lower lights at the bottom of the light house, that are there to help show any other dangers. He compared the lower lights to us, as Missionaries. We are here as these lower lights to help pave the way for those looking towards that main light of the gospel.
He then talked about how when Elder Andersen came and visited Puerto Rico, that there were wonderful things in store for this island and that it would be, “The Miracle of The Caribbean”. We knew that this Hurricane would be a trial and that when it was over, it is our time to rise up, to do the Lord’s work, and become those disciples of Christ these people need us to be. President Smart ended with, “these trials are in preparation for the vision and miracles that are in store for this island, and we have a BIG part in this”. He also mentioned many times that he felt that starting the next day, the 20th of Sept, that it would be a day that miracles began to happen to help the work of the gospel go forth. Now he was in NO way seeing the future, let me clarify, but we all felt the same. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we knew something good was going to come of all of this. We went to sleep on this spiritual high.
I woke up at 2:00 AM to the sounds of harsh, strong winds knocking against the house, it was so loud, I didn’t really know what was going on at first, but from where I was on the floor, I could see a window covered by a screen that led out to the patio, and shadows of palm trees moving like crazy. I turned around because a light from the neighbors house was casting into the room above my head. As I looked out the window I saw all of these palm trees bending in half, but not breaking. The best way I could describe it is like this: grab the most delicate flower you could think of and put it up to a blow dryer on high. Do that for about 8 hours. That’s what it looked like. I was just in unbelief! I was sitting there, watching all of this destruction happening, and I was just in complete awe.
I was completely safe, but no one slept all night because of how loud and strong it was. We were all trying to sleep but it wasn’t really an option. Every hour that passed, it got stronger and stronger. At around 5, our room was awake talking about what was happening. I was sleeping next to Hermana Post and she just kept saying how cold she was. A couple minutes later she said, “my feet are wet”, I said, what?! All of a sudden, we heard this huge RIPPING noise and a bunch of water starting seeping through the windows. We all stood up and started putting towels down. I looked out the giant window and saw something weird in the backyard. “What’s that?”, I said. “That’s our wooden window panel and part of our roof that flew off.” To my surprise, about half of this huge panel had flown off. Oops, sorry Mom, we were all fine and the window and roof were strong, but our room just kept flooding. At one point, later that morning, I was looking for my flashlight and I stepped in our room and it was up to my ankles full of water.
At around 7:00 everyone was moving in the house and we were all just watching the storm from the kitchen and living room. There are giant windows on the doors and I could not BELIEVE what the hurricane had done. It was pitch black outside even though it was in the morning, and we really didn’t know how much damage was done until later on that day when we went outside. Before we went outside, President Smart read us an article written by the Washington Post on the damage done in just 12 hours to the island.
While hearing it, my heart just sank. Then we went outside (Hurricane had passed off the island by this point) and he showed us what happened just outside our house. I was one of the first people outside, and I saw that the top layer of our roof had flown off, what was left was this tarp and some other debris, trees, light poles, and other sort of large debris was covering the entire area and the street. Trees had fallen into houses, breaking them and electric cables destroyed. In one moment, I realized that nothing was going to be the same. Tears filled my eyes and we all hugged one another, in complete shock, but in gratitude, realizing how lucky we were to be alive and how grateful we were for the Lord’s protection.
We had more devotionals later throughout the day. Then on Thursday and Friday we were able to do service for the people in this neighborhood. This is a SUPER rich area and no one ever can proselyte there because the guards at the entrance to the homes never let Missionaries enter, unless they are going to the Mission Home for a meeting. However a miracle happened! Through showing these people genuine love and concern, their hearts were softened and they were grateful for the help we gave. All day we were in our yellow Mormon Helping Hands vests, lifting giant trees with our bare hands, moving them to the sides of streets, helping people have accessibility to drive through the streets by cleaning them up completely. I really can’t describe how bad the damage was, but everyone was taking pictures of us, and with us, in tears thanking us for helping them.
We got everyone to also help clean up this Catholic Church in the neighborhood that was completely destroyed. We cleaned this church all day Friday and the Father of this church, also helped us. At the end, after many hours of work, we decided to sing a hymn, “I Am a Child of God”. The entire time the Father of the Catholic Church was closing his eyes, really taking in the message. After we were finished singing, he thanked us, and said, “wow. I could really feel the presence of God here, thank you”. He also said he would put all the, “lovely Mormon women” in their mass prayers, at their next service (someone told us that he actually did). Never have I felt so much love for these people and love for serving them until this point. Seeing their reactions over those two days were some of my most treasured memories.
Friday comes, we are thinking we are going back to our missionary homes soon, but were not sure when. Over the course of those four days we had been so spiritually edified, and it honestly was as spiritual as girls camp and trek combined. That night, I remember laughing and having so much fun with the other Sisters, when President Smart came in to the Mission Home, asking for all of us to come meet in the living room. We said a prayer and after it, Hermana Smart was already bawling. Something had happened!?!
President Smart started telling us how he had been talking with the leaders of the Church in Salt Lake, (including some Apostles) and he updated us on the severity of the damage to the island, and how our resources like food,water and fuel were quickly diminishing, and that we were rapidly running out. He then told us that the island was completely out of power, and running water and they weren’t expecting to have it repaired for a year. He then said, that because there’s no power and water, there is no way that we could survive.
He then stopped, and said, holding back tears, “Our Church Leaders decided that we are going to have to evacuate the island, and all Missionaries will be getting reassigned to different Missions”. In just one moment, my world, completely broke into a million pieces. The sound of hysterical crying, and almost mourning like sounds filled the room. He then continued, while crying, that this was decided by the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve, and then read off our reassignments.
He kept saying how this was not what he wanted either, that this was all inspired, for our safety, and that this was also an answer and a help to the prayers of our parents, and families. He then told us we had to start packing because we were going to leave the next morning, early around 6:00. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t sleep for a while to be quite honest. I felt very numb, then would start bawling, then felt numb again. I slept for about an hour. I maintained great faith and trust in the Lord, and as hard as this was, I know the Lord has a plan and that all would be ok!
|President Smart breaking the news of our reassignments|
The next morning, we went to the airport, only having to come back hours later because there was not enough room for everyone at the airport. They sent all the sisters who were told they were finishing their mission early, to the front of the line. They then moved the Latinas (native Latin missionaries) up to the front of the line as well, then the rest of the Sisters filled in behind them. Because I was a sister training Leader, I was sent to the back of the line, so that way the other Sisters who were not in any leadership would go first, and we would stay behind.
And just like that, 36 out of the 55 Sisters were gone off the Island, no closure, nothing. 19 of us stayed behind. It ended up being a big blessing having us stay behind, it helped me prepare a lot more spiritually and emotionally, but at times it also made it harder. We were able to see many miracles, and even say goodbye to the people we did service for, and had an hour to contact in the neighborhood around the Mission Home. We had one of the most spiritual sacrament meetings in the Mission Home, I had ever had in my life.
For the sake of time and this long email, I will continue next week because I have to go. But again, thank you, everyone so much. I will forever cherish the memories, spiritual learning and miracles I witnessed serving the people I love so much in Puerto Rico.
Hermana Kali Rae Green