By Tenetia Faircloth
The people of Puerto Rico have a saying, ‘Puerto Rican strong.’ Although proud and strong, more than five months after category 5 Hurricane Maria hit the island, people are still struggling. Large parts of the island are still without electricity, and the power companies are telling these people that it will be June before power is restored in some areas. Supplies sit in warehouses instead of reaching the people in need as distribution is a problem. Due to primitive conditions, it has been difficult to send volunteer groups to help.
In February, a group of 10 volunteers from Bell Shoals Baptist Church flew to San Juan for one week, joining the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) disaster relief team, Send Relief. Its mission in Puerto Rico supports existing churches on the island ministering to the community after Hurricane Maria. With four locations on the island, NAMB has 80-100 volunteers on the island on any given day.
When we arrived ,we were relieved to find both the municipal electricity and water supply working at our location.
We cleaned and painted buildings and assembled and set up wooden bunk beds for Send Relief’s mountain camp set to house groups of 60-130 college students during March spring break.
On Sunday we split into two teams to worship in local churches, joining them after church as they fed a hot meal to the community and passed out FEMA boxes to each family. Sunday evening we traveled to the La Perla district in Old San Juan to visit Pastor Ivan. Although there are many worldly influences all around his small church, Pastor Ivan chooses to live right next door to his church, to best understand the needs and to minister to his flock. He led our team on a walk through La Perla, praying for the people of Puerto Rico. Many buildings and homes had no roof and broken down walls. He stopped in front of a small crumbling block home where he plans to build an art center where children can come to enjoy creative activities and learn of God’s love for them. It was a challenging day, seeing these young pastors going out, reaching out to people in great need and giving out the good news of the gospel.
We traveled an hour southeast of San Juan in Punta Santiago, Humacao, the area hardest hit by the storm. Everywhere, power poles leaned at awkward angles, dangling power lines dangerously low over homes, sidewalks and the street. Broken power poles, downed trees and piles of debris lay everywhere.
Our team worked all day with four chainsaws, cutting and removing trees and debris fallen in the yard of an elderly couple as well as the house next door. After the job was finished, the couple fed us all a hot meal of chicken, rice and beans. From what little they had, they made sure to show hospitality. What a blessing it was to pray with each family as we completed the task for the day.
We walked through the neighborhood, delivering food. At each home we visited, the people gladly received the food and told us their stories. One lady showed us shelves on her wall where she displayed beautiful figurines. “I found my dog, [a Chihuahua], up on this shelf,” she told us. Her family saw the roof fly off of the church next door and watched its furnishings fly out. After we heard their stories, we prayed with each family, letting them know that God knows and cares for each of them. What a blessing it was to go.
Bell Shoals Baptist Church is sending another team to Puerto Rico February 24. Let’s remember to pray for our neighbors, the people of Puerto Rico.