Spring Break Highlight: UGA in Puerto Rico

Lily Gerrell is a Senior at The University of Georgia and will begin the RUF internship at Mississippi State after graduation.

This year for spring break I traveled to Dorado, Puerto Rico with 28 other UGA RUF students and our 4 wonderful staff members! We partnered with a local nonprofit called Hunger Corps that we have built a relationship with over the past three years. They are committed to restoring dignity to communities in Dorado through many different projects. This was my third time going on this trip, and with the first two years being impacted by covid, we didn’t think this year would be as logistically difficult! God had other plans and after several canceled flights, the team was all together in PR by Monday night. This rocky beginning to our trip was frustrating, but our team remained positive and the Lord provided a great week. We were reminded of his promises each morning as we saw rainbows on the way to the worksite! 

What We Did

Each day we would wake up, make breakfast, and head to our worksites. One group was repairing a store at a local school. This is used to teach the kids entrepreneurship skills and the profits are put back into the school and community. They scraped paint and primed the walls, sealed cracks in the roof, power washed sidewalks, and painted a beautiful mural. Our other group worked on a house for a couple named Camilo and Jossie. I got to be a part of the crew last May that demolished the remaining parts of their old house in order for the new one to be built. It was amazing to see what had been done over the past 10 months since we left. The four days that we were there, we worked on putting up metal studs in the ceiling that would be used to hang the drywall, stuccoing the outside of the house, digging a trench for the sewage pipe, and some work on the roof.

With an hour break for lunch, we worked from 8:30 to around 4pm. Each night was different, as we were making up for our lost days. We enjoyed time at the beach and learned to salsa dance in Old San Juan. These nights were full of memorable van rides and competitive games of Signs and Spicy Uno. We would also have nightly team meetings to debrief the day and take time to encourage each other. This was a really special time where we got to see others teammate’s perspectives on things and how they saw the Lord at work. 

What I Learned

The philosophy of Hunger Corps is people over projects. It is not only something they say but also how they live. It is incredible to see them serve in a way that values the people they are meeting more than the physical work they are doing. They want to build relationships that will last instead of just showing up, building a house, and leaving. This is not only seen in how they serve the community but also the way they lead us volunteers. They were patient in teaching us things 10 times when we kept messing up. They allowed us to take dance breaks when it rained and laughed right there with us as we mixed concrete way slower than them, realized we had been drilling in reverse for 5 minutes, and still couldn’t quite get the stucco technique perfect. This is exactly what God intended work to look like. Joyful and harmonious. People laughing and singing and doing it all for His glory. 

I will end by sharing a story that means a lot to me and how I saw Jesus reflected in it:

One of my favorite moments from the whole trip was one afternoon on the worksite.

We were playing the soundtrack from Encanto as we worked and I turned to Julio, a hunger corp employee who only knows spanish and said “ Tu sabes la música?” I can still picture the smile on his face as he nodded and I followed up with “ves la película?” which I am not even sure is grammatically correct. But again he smiled and said “Sí, no hablamos de Bruno,” which is the name of the song that was playing. I love retelling this moment where we were able to connect despite the language barrier. 

I realized that learning a few words in Spanish to have a conversation with the people we are serving is such a selfless way to love them– overcoming your pride and not being afraid to mess up the pronunciation or be a little embarrassed looks a lot like how Jesus calls us to live and love.