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I can't say I was fully awake when I boarded the plane at 5am with my first cup of joe in hand. My buddy, Kyle, was not similarly situated. Chatty by nature, he's one of those "morning people" who'd already guzzled 48 ounces of coffee. He was wound tighter than Dolly Pardon's girdle at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

I left Kyle with an unsuspecting fella in 13B who had no idea his ears were about to bleed and passed my other teammates to take my assigned seat at the back of the plane. As I tilted my backpack at a 90-degree angle to store it for the flight, I also tilted my coffee cup at a 90-degree angle, gracefully dumping its entire contents on the man seated beside me. The next few moments were spent awkwardly sponge-bathing a stranger, a mere foreshadowing of the week to come.

I'd never been on a mission trip. I'd always found an excuse -- never enough time, money or inclination. I'd said things like, "We have plenty of folks here in the States who need help, no need to go 'round the world and look for others." What ignorance!

Our team of 17 people from all over the United States landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that afternoon. We were there with Samaritan's Feet, a nonprofit organization out of Charlotte, N.C. Over the course of the next week, we spent day after day washing the feet of the homeless, orphaned, abused, poor -- and wiggling on new socks, new shoes and a new hope that they are not alone in this world.

I anticipated being moved by our team serving those in need. I did not anticipate the life-changing moments that came from our team serving each another. There are no words to adequately describe how this motley crew from all backgrounds and ages -- 13 to 62 years -- banded together, transparently sharing their stories of brokenness, ended careers, legal troubles, illness, imprisonment, joy, love and redemption. Thrust together as strangers in a strange land, we soon knew one another better than many back home knew us. It's unlike anything I've ever done.

The flight back home was a turbulent one. I'm told that in less than one minute, we fell about 600 feet. A woman fell in the aisle. One member of our team was thrown from the lavatory. A teenager burst into tears. Kyle was eyes-shut-tight and white-knuckled. My beverages hit the ceiling and marinated us and another lady in a thick coating of orange juice, so I again spent the next few moments sponging those in my vicinity.

I learned many things during this week:

I use my 40-plus pairs of shoes as fashion accessories while others walk three hours for a single pair of new socks and shoes.

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, but you wouldn't know it by how we treat them.

Many do much more with much less, and smile wider in the process.

A 9-year-old orphaned child can out-preach any mega-church pastor.

Petals of unconditional love grow rampant in fields of generosity.

You'd do best not sit next to me on an aircraft.

NAN Our Town on 07/18/2019

Print Headline: Puerto Rico full of lessons, love and pain

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