Over the next several days, Jose did in fact keep in touch and he essentially became the first friend Blake and I made here in Puerto Rico. He drove us around to different parts of the city and introduced us to his mechanic friends who could help us if we ever needed it. He took us to the DMV to help us get licenses and registration stuff figured out.
In the hours we spent driving around town and talking, Jose revealed a lot about himself. He’s about 50 years old, has spent time living in Texas and Florida but grew up here in PR and revealed to us a lot about Mayaguez, the city he grew up in and the one I call home for the next year.
He is in the process of turning his life around and dreaming bigger dreams, as he wants to provide for his 7- year old son (who we got to meet and was very cute) after he felt like he somewhat failed his other children who have since grown up and moved away. He’s working on his Master’s and dreams of working in aviation mechanics as a new career. With how friendly and funny this guy was, it was surprising to learn a bit about his dark past growing up.
Jose was involved in a gang for a few years of his youth. During our travels with him around town, he nonchalantly introduced us to a few of his old friends who he later revealed to us were a part of his gang. Jose showed us places around town to not drive through at night if we wanted to avoid getting robbed at gunpoint. He told us about the different gangs in Mayaguez and also throughout Puerto Rico. I got immediate street cred from him when I told him I’m from Arizona and he marveled at all the gang activity going on there and how it’s worse than here… When Jose mentioned the “Sharks” who originated in northern Puerto Rico, I nearly opened my mouth and asked, “You mean like in West Side Story?” that would have undoubtedly lost me any street cred I had momentarily gained.
I felt like all of this was really valuable information to know, although there was a part of me, in the moment, that wished Jose hadn’t mentioned his former gang affiliations because there were still ample opportunities for him to tie us up, throw us in the spacious trunk of the Grand Marquis he was selling us, and dump our bodies in the ocean.
As it should be obvious by me narrating this story several weeks later, Jose did not choose this course of action. He sold us the car, and has since texted me a few times to make sure we’re doing well and the car is running smoothly. He also told us if we’re ever in trouble to give him a call. Honestly, if the time ever comes, I think I’ll be more inclined to call Jose for help than the police.
I’ve had two great takeaways from this experience, and they are things that I’ve learned countless times since in my time here. The first is that from the Puerto Ricans I’ve met through random encounters like this one or through the churches we’ve been involved with, they have been very helpful and hospitable. Our first day here, a woman named Maria (who with her husband had found an apartment for us to live in) drove Blake and me around for about 7 hours helping us get electricity, water, and bank accounts set up. In our ministry on campus, we’ve seen numerous students come alongside us, giving up hours of their days, to help us in the process of starting student clubs and other necessary things to get the ministry launched. I don’t know if these qualities are true of everyone here, but if someone told me they were, I’d be inclined to believe them.
The second big takeaway is that God always provides. The car buying situation, figuring out necessary things to settle into life here, immediate friendships on campus and at church, loving community amongst our team members, the ability to communicate easily with friends and family back home, and constant other encouragements along the way are some of the many evidences of God’s daily grace that He lovingly has poured onto us. We are trusting God to do big things through the ministry for His glory and I believe we will see amazing miracles because He is faithful.
Below, I’ve included a picture of His faithful gift to Blake and I, whom we call The Panther.
As it turns out, given $1000 to buy a used car goes about as far here in Puerto Rico as it would back home. But we didn’t have time to complain, we had work to do.
You see, something that we didn’t know about living in Mayaguez and doing a lot of travel to different towns on the west side of Puerto Rico before we arrived was that public transportation is nonexistent. Blake and I spent our first week here just walking places and paying taxi drivers to shuttle us around, but this was neither cost effective nor convenient.
So we scoured the Clasificados online, hoping to stumble across a running vehicle in our price range. We weren’t interested in luxury. We were however, for a brief few moments, interested in buying a scooter to share for the time being. This would have been fun, not just for us riding it, but also for anyone who would’ve witnessed the spectacle of two 190-something pound men tooting down the road together on an undersized scooter.
Eventually we did find something that fit our criteria. As is necessary when buying any used car, we were cautiously optimistic as our taxi cab weaved up through the hills into a location we could’ve never found on our own. We met the owner, Jose (who thankfully spoke perfect English), and checked out the car. It was a 1993 Mercury Grand Marquis, with gray paint fading on the body. The leather seats on the interior wore torn apart. The windows only went up or down if you physically moved them, basically breaking in to the car. The odometer read 416,000 miles (which we ignored because the owner Jose had done work on the transmission and engine and we had to trust him). The AC didn’t work. Window wipers were broken. There was no radio. Neither of the back doors opened. But it ran. In short, it was perfect.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t buy the car right then, because Jose needed to install a couple new parts and we needed to get the money necessary to buy it. So over the course of the next few days, we were in constant contact with Jose. We checked the car out on a Sunday, and that next Tuesday met Jose at a Burger King (this is where we did most of our business our first couple weeks here before we had internet installed) and gave him half of the $900 we had agreed upon before. He needed a deposit to make sure we were serious buyers. And then he drove off.
At this point, most people would think we were stupid and careless, and I would probably agree with those people. However, we didn’t have much of a choice. Jose, however, did have a choice. He could very easily run with the cash we had given him and cut ties, and he knew as well as we did that we would never have been able to trace him… to be continued in Part 2