Yesterday my family celebrated one year of missionary service in Puerto Rico. After five years of service in Peru, and then four years of pastoral formation at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, we considered ourselves relatively prepared for our work here. We were nervous and excited as we hopped on the plane with our one-way ticket to the Island of Enchantment, our ten military-grade duffle bags and our three little ones in tow, but we were ready to weather the storms together, by God’s grace.
Little did we know the category of storms that awaited us. Our experience in Peru had taught us to expect the occasional power outage, and to not be too scared by protests in the streets. My formation at the seminary had taught me to not be surprised by the depth of human depravity, or the terrible effects of sin on people’s lives. We even kind of looked forward to weathering our first real hurricane, for the adventure of it all.
Over the past year we’ve learned that there are certain storms, a certain amount of wind, and certain waves that you just can’t prepare for.
How do you prepare for life on an island in crisis, with a government that’s falling apart, an electric grid that needed to be replaced decades ago, an economy that’s bankrupt, and a population that’s leaving? How do you prepare for back-to-back tropical storms (one that became a serious hurricane), with a 6.0 earthquake in between? How do you prepare for the sudden, tragic death of your 19-year-old sister?
One of the highlights of this first year was the opportunity I had to teach a group of kids at a local residencial (a government housing project) the story of Jesus calming the storm. In the story, Jesus is out to sea with his disciples when they get slammed by a “great windstorm”. The training, experience, and know-how of the fishermen on board didn’t count for much when the waves were huge, and the boat was starting to capsize.
The only thing that mattered for the disciples at that moment was who was in the boat with them.
They cried out to Jesus, “‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
How do you prepare for the storms? Sometimes you can’t! Sometimes, you have no other option but to cry out to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!?!?” And that is a good thing, because Jesus has no other option either, than to respond to your pleas for help with His never-failing love and mercy. He has given Himself no other option. He has bound Himself to you in Holy Baptism, where He got in the boat with you and promised to never abandon ship. And when the storms come, and come they will, regardless of where you live and serve, the only thing that matters is that Jesus is right there beside you!
Call upon me in the day of trouble – Jesus says – I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
Our first year in Puerto Rico was a year full of storms, for which we felt woefully unprepared and terribly ill-equipped. And for this, we are incredibly grateful! For it has forced us to call out to Jesus: Lord, have mercy! And over and over and over again, our Lord has responded with compassion, bringing peace to our hearts and comfort in the forgiveness of all of our sins and the knowledge that even the wind and waves obey Him!