Can’t Go Back to Normal: A Peace Camp Devotional by Michelle Muñiz Vega

This devotional is a part of the daily devotional series of Presbyterian Peace Camp: A Virtual Week of Learning, Prayer, and Action June 18-28, 2020. This morning’s reflection comes to us from Michelle Muñiz, Disaster Recovery Coordinator of the Presbytery of San Juan Sínodo Presbiteriano Borikén en Puerto Rico. Michelle is the winner of the 2020 PPF Peaceseeker award which we celebrated on Wednesday.
“How is it possible people would come to Puerto Rico to volunteer… to work… for free(?).” A person from the neighborhood asked me as I was explaining him we were starting to host volunteers through the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance at the “church in the corner”.
After hurricanes hit, the connection with the boarder denomination was important. Is very easy for us to stay within our insular reality and, in the midst of mourning, loss, tiredness, frustration and grieve, it was good to be reminded we were part of a bigger community that cared about us. We can’t talk about long term recovery without collaboration, without mutual partnerships, and the community leading us.
As we continue to work in the recovery, we (locals) also continue learning about realities in the Island. These issues were already happening before the hurricanes, but have been put in the spotlight during the recovery process:
  • Over 40% of the population lives under the poverty line 1
  • More than 200 schools have closed in the past 3 years
  • In 2020 there’s an estimate of almost 1,000 homes still with blue tarps (this number does not include houses in rebuilding process and/or those affected after the series of earthquakes we’ve been dealing with since December 2019).

Members of the 2018 Fossil Free PCUSA delegation to Puerto Rico with Michelle

As we walk alongside our communities contributing to the rebuilding of their homes or the work of grassroots organizations, the Church has also to learn of the root issues, like colonialism and lack of power for self-determination, that have been challenging Puerto Rico for decades.
In the light of COVID19, while reconnecting through ZOOM calls with many past PDA volunteers and dealing with the rise of positive cases in the Island, we’ve also been reflecting about what “going back to normal” will look like; how -perhaps- there’s an opportunity to build a new normal, and not necessarily go back to what it was. My prayer is long-term recovery works the same. 1