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On A Mission

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Chaplain Greg West led a team to Puerto Rico to rebuild hurricane-ravaged homes

Universtiy News | April 30, 2019

By Laynee H. Timlin

A team of 13 students, faculty, staff and alumni from Virginia Wesleyan traveled to Puerto Rico during Spring Break 2019 on a mission to help with hurricane recovery efforts. The mission, organized by Marlin Ministries, was the seventh mission trip to Latin America led by VWU’s Chaplain Greg West. West partnered with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the humanitarian relief and development arm of the Church, to plan the undertaking.

The student missionaries, Adwoa Ankomah-Asiedu, Jason Brugman, Jacklyn Cheely, Sydney Collins, Destiny Kinka, Justin Lee,  Faith Macwana, Tori Steele and Victoria Zuppa were enrolled in a  one-credit Humanities  course (HUM 201) that provided them with actual opportunities to travel and assist in the rebuilding of homes for families displaced by the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Alumnus Jim Hickling '95, a building contractor, Associate Professor of Biology Deirdre Gonsalves-Jackson and Chaplain West’s son, Josiah, were also a part of the VWU mission team.

While in Puerto Rico the team stayed at one of five camps supported by the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico in Arecibo, a town on the northern coast of the island. The Church continually hosts volunteers willing to give of their time and energy to improve communities left almost unrecognizable nearly a year and a half ago.

“It’s amazing that the Church is taking on this initiative,” said West. “Because of this, groups from all around the country have been pitching in to help with relief efforts. As we were arriving, we met a team from New York who had just completed a project and as we were departing, a team from Minnesota was just arriving to assist in rebuilding homes and helping families.”

Several students reflected about their experiences in Puerto Rico during a recent SOAR Sunday worship service in the Monumental Chapel on campus. For some students, it was their first trip outside the continental U.S. and a chance to learn much more about the world and themselves.

Sydney Collins ’22 said that prior to this trip, she had no experience with mission work and limited construction skills, so she did not have lofty expectations. She wasn’t sure what she had to offer; however, she was determined to “let go and let God show her and teach her.” She said what she loved about being in Puerto Rico on this mission was that people were willing to give so much with no expectation of getting something in return.

“I had a moment in Puerto Rico that hit me hard,” said Collins. “God took the opportunity to show me that you don't have to have it all in order to give your all.”

And give their all they did. From power washing floors and building doors to painting walls and constructing roofs, the Virginia Wesleyan team divided into two groups to help two families repair and rebuild their hurricane-ravaged homes. They got to know the families and their neighbors which made the mission even more personal and memorable.

"I'm always impressed that though those we are helping have a lot less materially than we do, generally, they are more joyful and extremely grateful,” said West. "Our next mission trip will be during Spring Break 2020; however, if those in our community have a heart for serving others, they don't have to wait until then. Little mission teams can happen all over the place; just look for opportunities to help others.”

The mission of Marlin Ministries and the Chaplain's Office at Virginia Wesleyan University is to provide a Christian interdenominational campus ministry of discipleship, evangelism, service, counseling, hospitality and faith-related educational initiatives to students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Virginia Wesleyan University.