“Imagine caring for a family, a business, a church, or a school without steady water or electricity. There are people all over Puerto Rico that still have no running water or electricity. There was much work that needed to be done where power tools or machines were needed. None were available and would not be available for months.” – Mary Cowdrey, member of Marshalltown First United Methodist Church.
Iglesia Metodista Villa Fontana, a large church in a suburb of San Jaun, Puerto Rico, suffered under the wrath of Hurricane Maria on September 20, 2017. The roof of the sanctuary was destroyed. The wing that held classrooms, a kitchen and bathrooms was destroyed.
When Mary Cowdrey first heard about a mission trip to Puerto Rico while looking through an email from her district office, she didn’t think that she would be able to take the time away from her busy life to go and serve.
“I have a busy work schedule and when I saw the notice I thought, ‘I can’t do that because I have so much work to do,’” she said. “All day, it kept coming to my mind. It just would not leave me alone, and it finally hit me: What is preventing me from going? Sometimes we need to change the question to find where God is leading us.”
She immediately contacted Reverend Hugh Stone, pastor of Polk City U.M. Church who helped organize the mission trip, to get more information on how to join the group.
“We were able to get a good group of people from many denominations from all across the state of Iowa, and the Iowa Board of Global Ministries gave us a grant through The Great Commission Fund so we are able to go,” said Stone.
The team members included women and men of different ages, backgrounds, and even political stances, but Cowdrey says that didn’t matter while they were helping others.
“We had a diverse group, but working for a common goal, the differences faded,” she said. “United, we can do more for Christ. We are stronger when we are working together.”
And work they did.
Projects included tearing down the remaining concrete walls and floors that were left in the classroom wing, painting the temporary sanctuary, clearing the church yard of debris, and landscaping around the church.
“Many in the Villa Fontana congregation helped,” said Cowdrey. “Even though sometimes there was a language barrier, we communicated enough to share friendship and the love of Christ. The people of Puerto Rico have suffered, but they are placing their faith in Christ and moving forward with His help. I saw God at work in their lives and in mine, too.”
That’s not all the Villa Fontana congregation helped with. Families came together to help host those who had come to work with them.
“I was impressed that the congregations came together to feed us great meals and snacks, and to think they did it without their kitchen and with spotty electricity and water is even more amazing,” she said. “Methodists are the best cooks in the world!”
By the end of the trip, the group became quite close to the congregation through not only working and sharing meals with one another, but through worship.
“In our last worship service we sang “Here I Am, Lord”, first in English and then in Spanish,” said Cowdrey. “I was moved to tears when we sang “I will go, Lord.” Others in the congregation were also moved to tears. Our world is not so large when Christ is beside us.”
Cowdrey said it’s estimated that the repairs to the church building will not be completed for at least two years. Another mission team from a United Methodist church in Pennsylvania will pick up where the Iowa team left off.
“A Methodist mission team from Pennsylvania may be at Iglesia Metodista Villa Fontana right now, completing the first step in replacing the roof over the sanctuary,” said Cowdrey. The same church in Pennsylvania sent their very generous Christmas Eve offering to Villa Fontana for repairs.”
If you are interested in organizing a group to work in Puerto Rico, contact Rev. Hugh Stone by emailing
him for more details. To find more information on how to donate, visit the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s website
“Our friends in Puerto Rico need to be reminded that they have not been abandoned,” said Cowdrey. “We are walking together on this path to rebuild. Though we live far away, we are still a part of a great community of faith. We are, after all, brothers and sisters in Christ, and family takes care of family.”