There is a plaque that hangs just inside of Ramon & Maria’s doorway. It says “Dios te Bendiga”, which means “God Bless You”. Ramon and Maria own the house that we will soon live in...because God blessed us!
When we moved to Puerto Rico, we had arranged to rent a temporary vacation home for a month while we looked for a permanent home to rent. Finding the vacation home we are in is a ‘God-story’ in and of itself...one that will get it’s own blog post soon!
PS...here's a pic of our temporary vacation rental home...where we are currently living (another blog post I'll need to write is about the awesome owners of this vacation home!)
Our main two tasks when we first got here was to find a house to rent and a car to buy. We hoped to have both secured by the end of our first week or two here. We soon learned it would be more difficult than that.
Back in Minnesota if we wanted to find a house to rent, we’d have newspaper ads, Craigslist, and other online search venues at our disposable. We could probably even find a realtor to help us find all the rental house options available to us in our price range.
In Puerto Rico it’s not so easy. Craigslist isn’t utilized here much, and while there is a local free online classifieds site, it is mainly used by realtors, and realtors only represent a fraction of the population of people interested in renting their house. In addition, there is no collective ‘search engine’ like an MLS listing all available homes for rent in an area or given price range. We asked our friend Julio how he’d recommend we look for a house to rent. Besides checking the local online classifieds, he said the way most locals would find a house to rent would be to drive around in neighborhoods they’d like to live in, looking for houses that have a ‘For Rent’ sign posted.
Not super efficient, but that is what we did. We drove around neighborhoods looking for houses with ‘For Rent’ signs on them. We also looked online. Julio served as our administrative assistant, making calls for us because Spanish over the phone is still pretty intimidating for us (we are slowly getting used to it!). We looked at a few houses. A couple were listed for rent, but in reality, the owners would rather sell it. Apparently there is a high risk associated for owners renting out their home. It is very common for renters to default on paying their rent, and the eviction process is even more involved and long here than it is back in the States. Often homeowners will have their homes destroyed by renters who are evicted due to non-payment. Because of this, there are not many homes available for rent. But the housing market is as tough here as it is in the States, so some homeowners still find there is no other option other than to rent out their home.
Early on we looked at a house that we thought was ‘The One’. It was a beautifully maintained house, with all the ‘extras’. It had a lovely fenced in, beautifully landscaped yard; with a gazebo and a double car garage with doors (garages with doors are not common here - there are mainly carports). And the price was right. We happened to find that one through a realtor. We told the realtor we’d be ready to put down a deposit. He wanted to get some details ironed out with the homeowners first, but that’s when it all fell apart. The homeowners (Rosa & her husband) realized that they hadn’t thought through the process of renting out their home. They had already moved to Florida, but their home was FULL of furniture that they didn’t want to move to FL. They offered to sell the furniture to us, but it was both a style we didn’t prefer and they were selling it at a price we definitely could not afford. Since we couldn’t buy their furniture, they didn’t know what to do with it all. They decided they jumped the gun on listing their house for rent and decided to take it off the market.
We were majorly bummed out by this news. We had looked at a dozen houses and none of them even remotely compared to Rosa’s house. Not even close. We started to feel like we’d never find a house that would meet our needs.
Discouraged, we went back to the drawing board and found a few more houses to check out. But nothing was working out. Either the house was too trashed to even consider, or the owners wanted to keep it listed for sale while renters lived in it, meaning people would be coming through the house all the time to look at it, and that there would be the potential of needing to find another house to rent again if the house sold.
We got a phone call from the realtor that had shown us Rosa’s house. We answered his call, hopeful that Rosa had found a solution to her furniture woes and her house was available to rent again. No such luck. But the realtor had just gotten a phone call from another couple that was interested in renting out their house. He told us it was about the same price range as Rosa’s house, had one more bedroom, but overall wasn’t as ‘polished’ as Rosa’s house. He wondered if we’d be interested in looking at it. We said yes and made an appointment to look at it that afternoon.
Once we saw this new house available for rent we KNEW that there was a reason Rosa’s house didn’t work out. This house was a 4 bedroom home, sitting on about a half acre of land, full of fruit trees including mango, lemon, mandarin orange, and starfruit. The house had been in the family of the owners for over 50 years. The owners were ready to move into a smaller home as they move into the retirement phase of life. But they didn’t want to sell the home and land that has been in the family for years. The house is simple but clean and well maintained. It isn’t huge or expansive, but it is enough. But what we love the most is the land. Before we moved to Puerto Rico we dreamed of having a house on enough land to not only continue to pursue our desires to live sustainably by growing as much of our own food as possible...and maybe have a few chickens too...but ALSO to have an expanse of land to use for ministry pursuits. And we would have plenty of land here to use for all sorts of ministry pursuits.
We told the realtor we loved it and would sign a lease and put down a deposit as soon as we could. This was on a Friday. The realtor said we would take care of all the details on Monday.
Meanwhile...Hurricane Irene decided to bear down on the area over the weekend, delaying all business until well into the next week.
We got a phone call from the realtor on Wednesday (after most of the power in the area had been restored after Irene) saying that the second house - the one we just saw - wasn’t going to be available after all. He didn’t have any details why.
Frustrated we cried out to God. “Why?!?” It seemed so clear that renting Rosa’s house didn’t work out because this second house was much more suitable for our needs. And now it isn’t available either? Why?
Bummed, we went back online to check out the classifieds for any new rental listings. There were a few. We called. We looked. They weren’t possibilities.
We decided to write a letter to the couple - to Maria and Ramon - to introduce ourselves further and explain why we’d love to rent their house if it could be a possibility. In our work as real estate professionals in MN, we had often written personal letters on behalf of our clients to help benefit a purchase agreement. Now we were doing the same...for ourselves!
We drove over to the house and found the owner - Ramon - outside. With the help of our friend Julio, we explained to Ramon that we wanted to give them more information about ourselves and that we had written a letter to them. We gave him the letter and he said he’d read it with his wife. He also explained that the reason why they didn’t want to move forward right away with renting before was because Hurricane Irene had caused some issues on the property...mainly causing an old water reserve tank to spill and damage some areas on the property that they wanted to get fixed before renting the property out. We pointed out that our number was in the letter, and we asked them to call if they were open to discussing the possibility of us renting the house.
Three days later we got a call.
We met up with Ramon and Maria. They said that they were very touched by our letter. Turns out that there are some similarities in our journeys in life. Ramon and Maria, now in their 60’s, never had children. They wanted to, but were unable to biologically. They decided to pursue adoption at a time that adoption was very difficult. Because it was next to impossible to adopt in Puerto Rico, they tried to adopt from, you guessed it, Colombia! But they weren’t able to complete their adoption process because of some ill-timed changes on government regulations on international adoption.
The crazy thing is, we didn’t say anything about adoption in our letter! We hadn’t told them our kids were adopted. But because our older kiddos especially look much more ‘latino’ than we do, Maria & Ramon just assumed they had been adopted. When we met to discuss things further, we discovered the Colombia link. Maria & Ramon had wished that their home could be filled with the playing and laughter of children. Now it will be! In addition, Maria and Ramon expressed their honor to have their house rented by missionaries and their shared desire to see their community impacted by the power of the Gospel.
They had looked into the repairs they needed to make due to the damage caused by Hurricane Irene and created a timeline. They knew the would be ready for us by October 1st, but couldn’t promise they’d be ready before that. They wanted to know if we could wait until October 1st to move in. We were sure we could. Somehow!
There was one more glitch though...Ramon & Maria won’t be ready to move to their next home (which is in a different part of Puerto Rico) til later on in the year because of some medical treatment they are completing in the area. They knew we needed to move in by October 1st at the latest, so they needed to find a place to live locally by Oct. 1st so that we could move in.
But here’s the kicker! Remember Rosa’s house? Turns out that Rosa is Ramon’s niece. And she needs someone to live in her house...her completely furnished house...for the time being. And Ramon and Maria need a place to live so we can move in by Oct. 1st. Problem solved!
Remember all that land that the house has that we hope to use for ministry purposes? Even though we haven’t moved in yet, we already have plans in the works for a regular Saturday night ‘Open House Party’ drop-in event for young adults and a special outreach event on Halloween!
And without further ado...here's our only photo of our house-to-be (so far anyway!)
Oh, and if that isn’t blessing enough, I contacted the owner of the temporary vacation home that we are renting and let them know of the situation to see if we could work out a deal to stay in this house for a few weeks longer til Oct. 1st. There was no way we could afford the monthly rent - even the greatly discounted monthly rent - that we had paid for the first month. But before I could request an even greater reduced rent, the owner offered to let us stay here for the additional 3 weeks RENT-FREE! We only needed to pay the cost of utilities.
We give praise to Jehovah Jireh ("The Lord Will Provide") for providing a house for our family!