The Words of the Ashworth Family
A former congressman addresses the audience at the San Juan conference. Seated are Ambassador Phillip Sanchez and William Lay.
More than 500 veterans and civic leaders participated in three one-day conferences held in Puerto Rico on February 7-9, 1987. The cities of San Juan, Ponce, and Mayaguez were chosen to host the programs, which were the first efforts by the CA USA Veterans' Association to reach out to the more than 160,000 veterans of the U.S. military living in Puerto Rico.
The featured speakers, Ambassador Phillip V. Sanchez, president of CAUSA USA, and William Lay, vice president of CA USA International, generated such an interest that each conference ran an hour over schedule in order to respond to the enthusiastic questions and comments by the participants.
American Legionnaires attending the conference expressed concern over the vulnerability of their youth to the Cuban drug trade and communist propaganda in the schools. Due to their keen interest, especially in the "Communist Expansionism" presentation, several commanders arranged for special
CAUSA USA meetings at their posts, in which an additional 165 members participated. Already the veterans are asking about sponsoring CA USA programs for youth and other groups in their communities.
It all began in early December, 1986, when Rev. Ken Sudo, having just returned from his first visit to Puerto Rico as its regional coordinator, gave us a report about his wonderful experiences and the opportunity to meet many friendly and important people there. His description of blue skies and palm trees sounded inviting as I faced another New York City winter.
Little did I know that within several weeks I would be on my way to that exotic island. I remember some- one having said, "God surely created the Caribbean islands with the idea of leisure in mind" The thought of a vacation on the beach did seem tempting, but God had something else in mind, of course. I suddenly found my- self in a foreign culture with the task of organizing three CAUSA USA veterans' conferences in three major cities, all with only one month's preparation and the help of one other person, Conchita Abadia.
It wasn't until I realized that Puerto Ricans are not primarily English- speaking that I became aware of the gravity of my situation, and that without God, I was going nowhere.
Veterans and their wives enjoy the banquet at the Mayaguez conference.
Conchita completely supported me, and together we set out to choose a location and a host for each conference. The locations for the Ponce and Mayaguez meetings were simple enough to find, but in San Juan we looked in vain for a hotel that weekend. The only place that had space available was the DuPont Plaza, but because of a strike there, we couldn't make a reservation until it was settled.
We were able to contact a former member of Congress who was already familiar with CAUSA and who agreed to host our conference in San Juan. In Ponce, we got to see the mayor without an appointment: As soon as he heard the name CAUSA he agreed to be the host. In Mayaguez, we contacted the commander of the local American Legion post. Without any prior knowledge of CAUSA he agreed not only to host our conference but to provide us with a list of all active veterans in the surrounding area. Back in San Juan, several members of Congress, having heard about our plans, called and offered their help and put us in contact with leaders of several local veterans' organizations.
I departed for New York on December 31, and as my plane headed out of San Juan, the skyline was grey with billowy smoke coming from the DuPont Plaza, which had just gone up in a raging fire. We still hadn't found a hotel for the conference in San Juan, and now our hopes looked dim. Luckily, as soon as I arrived in New York, I received a message that another hotel had had a cancellation, and so my mission was accomplished about two hours before the stroke of midnight on God's Day.
The next day the thought occurred to me -- now we have hosts and hotels, but who is going to come? Having left Conchita alone with the task of doing the invitations, I realized I needed to return quickly.
The change of climate had taken its toll, and by the time I arrived back in San Juan, I had already come down with a fever, and I felt like collapsing. But, knowing that the spirit is subject, I somehow dragged my body along -- almost embarrassed to present myself in such a bedraggled condition. But no one really seemed to notice.
In Ponce again, I ran smack up against another problem -- language. National and racial differences are one thing, but for the first time I realized how terrible language barriers can be. Each meeting with another post commander seemed to be worse than the one before. No one appeared to know what I was talking about or else didn't care. It seemed like the whole negative spirit world was coming down on me. I got to the point where I was ready to cry out to God, "Let me out of here!" But something told me not to give up.
I returned to San Juan and, miraculously, while I was gone, some friends had come to our assistance and pro-vided us with all the lists of veterans that we needed.
I really felt this battle was not going to be won without patience, perseverance, and prayer -- and Conchita's invaluable help. Once more I returned to New York to recuperate and make final arrangements, while Conchita prepared and mailed out the invitations. Things seemed to be falling into place, but all of a sudden it hit me -- I was responsible if this whole thing was a flop. How could I be sure anyone would come? It was at this point I realized that God had been allowing everything to unfold and that I should just believe and trust in His work.
I remembered a word that Rev. Sudo had stressed in our work with veterans -- "appreciation:' I remembered that no state in America has a higher percentage of veterans than Puerto Rico, and that Puerto Rican soldiers have always been known for their bravery.
The day before the first meeting we decided to schedule a press conference in San Juan. I remember anxiously sitting with Ambassador Sanchez for almost an hour, wondering if any of the media would show up. Finally in walked two senators and one former congressman, who had been invited by Ambassador Sanchez. They had all attended CAUSA conferences before. No sooner did they arrive than an entourage of cameramen and reporters entered the room. Each legislator gave an inspiring testimony about his own experience with CAUSA and his gratitude to Ambassador Sanchez for bringing CAUSA to Puerto Rico. The press conference was a success! After- wards, Ambassador Sanchez commented to us that CAUSA USA had reached a new level. Now local officials themselves were testifying to CAUSA, and we could take a back seat. At that point I had a glimpse of the future work God has planned for us in America.
The next day, with the arrival of the New York staff members of CAUSA USA, I could feel a sense of relief that everything would go smoothly. I watched astounded as guests started coming. At each conference people began to arrive even up to one hour before the program began. All three conferences were packed. Almost every ranking leader of every veteran's organization was there, as well as many congressmen, mayors, and other civic leaders.
But when I saw the many unknown veterans -- the ones that came from the mountain farms -- listening so sincerely to the presentations, I was really moved to tears. I couldn't help thinking it must have been a big event in their lives. I realized there were many untold stories of the bravery among these men, and of their friends who couldn't be there because they had sacrificed themselves for America. I felt that God really appreciated the attendance of these sincere people.
In my short experience in Puerto Rico, I came to know not only the kind hospitality of the Puerto Rican culture, but also the deep love that the veterans there have for God, America, and freedom. I feel there is a great foundation for Puerto Rico to quickly become connected to the worldwide vision of the CAUSA movement.