Okay, everybody, the Clark family has been in Puerto Rico for a little over a month. Wahoo! The bottom line: we simply can’t believe how well the transition has gone!!
So here’s an update, in the convenient form of a Q & A, starting with the most pressing questions first. (But, being the discerning readers you all are, feel free to peruse.)
Q1. Have you died from Zika yet?
For good or bad, the reports of our deaths have been greatly exaggerated. Just as the media has recently reported that most of Florida has been devastated by the catastrophic 30-40 mph winds of Tropical Storm Hermine, so also the media has for some time now prophesied that all in Puerto Rico shall perish from Zika.
(Speaking of Florida: if the media were to report the presence of Zika in Florida with the same recklessness that it has in Puerto Rico (and other parts of Latin America), there would be a class action lawsuit filed by the Sunshine State’s $60+ billion/year tourism industry.)
Q2. What happened when Mónica Puig won the Olympic gold for women’s tennis–Puerto Rico’s first gold medal ever?
All Puerto Rico was watching the match. In fact, a number of Catholic churches rescheduled mass so parishioners could watch. When she won, the island went ape, and rightly so. (But should we really be surprised when Puerto Ricans excel? Just ask Broadway or Major League Baseball.)
Without taking anything away from Miss Puig, my sense was that Puerto Ricans weren’t watching the match exclusively out of a love for tennis or the Olympics or even because it would mean PR’s first gold medal. Sure, it was about those things, but it was also about even bigger and deeper things–things like identity, hope, and the possibility of beating the odds: of late when Puerto Rico has made international news it’s been because of government debt, or Zika, or narco-trafficking, or child poverty, etc., but this was something unexpected and something to really celebrate.
While I was watching the match in a packed out bar, I overheard one viewer say to another, “We need this.” Well, they got it. But even if they hadn’t, Puerto Rico has so much to offer the world, and that’s why we’re here–both selfishly and strategically (more on that below).
Q3. What’s it like being a missionary in a foreign country?
We, too, have asked that same question in the past, but, unfortunately, we still don’t know. That’s because Puerto Rico is actually American soil, for good or bad (as one might imagine, it depends on whom you ask). Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, a word that didn’t mean (and still doesn’t mean) that much to me (I’ve got a lot of homework to do still). The relevant definition in the Oxford English Dictionary defines “commonwealth” as follows: “a self-governing unit voluntarily grouped with the U.S., such as Puerto Rico.” Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship but cannot vote in presidential elections, which, at least in the present election, may not be such a bad thing.
Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of this arrangement, Puerto Rico is itself a crossroads, or confluence, of the cultures and languages of North America and Latin America (in fact, more Puerto Ricans–around 5 million–live Stateside than on the island, which has about 3.5 million). This cultural confluence is one of the reasons we are here both selfishly (as a family we want our kids to be bilingual / bicultural) and strategically (as a pastor, I believe Puerto Rico is crucial to the future of the church in the Western hemisphere–see below).
Q4. How many hurricanes have you endured so far?
Far fewer than Florida has. Actually, tropical storms (not to mention hurricanes) are incredibly rare–like one every ten years (at best), apparently. A hurricane hit in 1998, and the one prior to that was like 60 years earlier.
Q5. How do you handle it being over 100° F all the time?
It rarely gets above 90º. With an annual average temperature in the low 80s (ºF), during the rainy season (called verano, i.e., Apr-Nov), the island has highs of around 88-90º, with lows in the mid-70’sº. In the dry season (called inverno), highs are around 80-83º with lows are in the low 70s (ºF). (Wow, I sound like a meteorologist, don’t I?)
When we left Durham (NC) a month ago, it was a good 5-10 degrees cooler here in Puerto Rico.
The reason it doesn’t get as hot as one might expect is that Puerto Rico is a (relatively) small island: the ocean–along with its wonderful breezes–has (so far) made it really enjoyable.
Q6. ¿ Hablas español? [Do you speak Spanish?]
Solo un poco, pero estámos apprendiendo. A diferencia del griego, el hebreo clásico, el latín o el arameo (o incluso el alemán), español es fácil y encantador (hebreo clásico es encantador, también). ¡Pero los puertorriqueños hablan muy rápido!
[Only a little, but we’re learning. Unlike Greek, classical Hebrew, Latin or Aramaic (or even German), the Spanish language is easy and beautiful (classical Hebrew is lovely, too!). But Puerto Ricans speak very fast!]
Q7. Are there lots of bugs?
Well, we’ve only been here a month, but it is the rainy season. But, no, so far it’s been really pleasant, with only the infrequent mosquito bite giving us occasion to complain (and so we do).
But if I reach deep into my vast reservoir of zoological learning, as I see it, lizards are the squirrels of Puerto Rico. Iguanas, which are non-indigenous, beat the Clark family to the island only by a few decades, having arrived by here by raft.
Okay, so that’s not true, but it is how iguanas got to Anguilla, an island to the east of Puerto Rico–and that’s the gospel truth: just go the Wikipedia article on green iguanas, and read it for yourself.
In addition, the botanical life on Puerto Rico is absolutely stunning. I mean breath-takingly beautiful. It’s a bit different from the land of my youth (Montana). And there’s something else we really love: it starts to get light around 5:30am and gets dark around 6:30pm-ish; as early-risers, that’s the best.
Q8. Do you live near the beach?
Funny you should ask–we literally just signed a lease on a great place that is, yes, a few minutes’ jog from the beach. The streets in our neighborhood (Paseo Los Corales) are all named after bodies of water, and our street is (somewhat humorously, imho) named Golfo de Alaska (I’ll leave it to the reader to translate).
For sending care packages, large checks, new pets (no iguanas, please), new patio furniture (neutral colors are best), or if you just happen to be in the Caribbean and want to drop in unannounced, here’s our address:
Bruce and Sarah Clark
Urb. Paseos Los Corales I
645 Golfo de Alaska
Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646
Q9. How’s it different from ‘Murica?
I’m not sure we can really answer that yet. But we will say that so far our interaction with any and all Puero Ricans has been sooooooo much fun.
I went to get a hair cut, and, after sitting down in the chair, the lady said (with a worried look) in broken English: “I only speak very little English.”
I replied (in probably very broken Spanish) with a smile, “Well, then there’s no problem, because I speak only very little Spanish!”
She burst out laughing. I then said (in Spanish), “It’s all good–don’t worry about it. It’s going to be fun! I don’t have that much hair anyway.”
The rest of the haircut was spent laughing. (And she did a great job.)
We haven’t taken ourselves too seriously. But I will register a complaint: what’s definitely not fair is that all Sarah needs to do is flash that million-dollar smile of hers, and the Puerto Ricans are all falling over themselves to help her (there’s no justice).
Q10. How are your 9 kids adjusting?
Unfortunately, we were only able to take four of them with us (the tickets were just too expensive, so we had them draw straws…). Lydia and Rosemary simply love their school, which has been huge for their parents. Winston already thinks he’s Puerto Rican: yesterday he asked me, “Dad, how do you say ‘hola’ in Spanish?”; I told him ‘hola’ was Spanish, and he looked at me skeptically).
Julianne decided she wanted to try out one of the local hospitals. So she contracted a fever one afternoon, then had a very brief seizure (more of a fit, really), and then briefly passed out. We drove her to the ER, but by the time we arrived she was talking again and even smiling. Not wanting to disappoint her (and now curious about the hospital ourselves), we admitted her anyway. She was fine. And now we know where the ER is. And, yes, the medical care was quite good.
Q11. Have you sold your house back in Durham?
No. Please pray for that. Or consider buying it yourself.
Q12. Wait, remind me: why did you move there in the first place?
Aside from the selfish reason already mentioned, we are helping to start (what we’re calling) a bicultural resource church that, in addition to being a church family for the region’s 200K English speakers, will train Latino church leaders who can serve almost anywhere in the Western hemisphere.
Many Puerto Rican 20-somethings are bicultural (and bilingual), exceptionally well-educated U.S. citizens, which means that they could start (or serve in) churches almost anywhere in the Western hemisphere, if trained to do so. They could declare the gospel in Central / South American contexts or help diversify North church staffs, bringing desperately needed racial and ethnic reconciliation.
Q13. How’s the fundraising going? How can I (or my church) get involved?
Thanks for asking–that way we don’t have to bring it up. In short, really well. We raised about 90% of our funding (and most all of our relocation costs) in about 8-10 weeks, which is incredibly fast. When we reach 100%, we’ll continue fundraising to help the rest of our team.
If you’d like a list of ways that you can give, just click here. If you’d like to view a very brief overview of our ministry (which you could share with your church or other potential partners, click here. Or just get in touch with Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q14. When can I visit?
Soon. Very soon!