Today we got up at 7:45 and ate at 8, and then we headed out at 8:45 for the day’s engagement- a park party for children in a poorer section of Aricibo, a city about 55 miles to the west of San Juan, or an hour and a half from where are staying in Bayamón. Aricibo is the largest city, geographically speaking, on the island.
The party was held on a covered basketball court in a park area that also had a few grass fields that featured a few gaunt free-roaming horses. On arrival, we spent some time sweeping the courts and picking up trash as two jumper castles arrived and the concessionaires set up to provide hit dogs, cotton candy and popcorn. There were tables set up for face and nail painting as well.
Once the courts were pretty clean, we then canvassed apartments around the park, inviting children over to play. The apartments were small dirty tenements. A group of the children knew the party was happening today, and upon seeing us, greeted us with “The gringos are here!”
The party was underway by the time we got back to the courts, so I spent much of the open time playing basketball with kids on one bucket along with Scott, Jim Weaver, and Elijah the Jesus. The rainy morning gave way to a warm and humid afternoon that helped us sweat. The boys on the basketball court enjoyed running and dribbling and shooting against the tall old men. It was fun to learn some of their names and to call them when they had the ball and made a shot.
Around 3:15 or so, Pastor Dave’s wife, Nancy, corralled the attendees into the grandstand to watch a few kids sign to a song, and then a gospel presentation using the Color Book. In the end, 27 kids came down in response to the gospel. Our team circled around them and prayed for them. They were given some supporting literature and a friendship bracelet with the Color Bible colors on it. At the end of the service, clean up started, but beforehand, there were lots of hugs exchanged between the team and the kids. It was pretty moving.
We were done by 4:30 and headed back to Bayamón when the rains returned. The rest of the evening was spent at the lodge. Most of the group went out after dinner to a nearby Walmart to restock our water.
Most meaningful to me from the day are images in my mind of young boys running and laughing, and images of a throng of little girls who stayed close during the service to one of our team members, Kayla. They climbed on her lap and hugged her the whole late afternoon that I sat near her. They could not talk to each other, but a lot of love was shared between them.
Walking through the tenements was another good experience. People in this area are poor, and it is clear the odds are stacked against people in this neighborhood. We saw drug paraphernalia on the ground here and there; prostitutes and their pimps live in the area. When we asked the kids to pose with us for a picture on the basketball court, they all threw gang signs for the pic.
Also noted was an absence of men in the picture. One man brought his whole family to the fiesta. He alone was a father there. Lots of the kids have only one parent in the area, or their parents are split and with other partners. I am reminded again and again of how important male role models are in a culture, and these boys on the court reaffirmed it, enjoying playing with the old men.
I’ve enjoyed spending time with my brother and seeing his maturity in so many ways. He is a strong leader, a compassionate encourager, and a strong male role model. He may be my brother, but he is an impressive person who makes good choices in living each day. His good humor and desire to connect with others bring happiness to those he is around moment by moment.