It has been 100 days since Hurricane Maria leveled Puerto Rico. Although there has been some progress, the situation is still dire. Millions are still without electricity and hundreds of thousands are without access to clean water. The Commonwealth is also facing a volatile sociopolitical scenario with a mental health crisis looming and sky-rocketing emigration rates to the mainland.
Furthermore, the new tax reform could deteriorate the already fractured Puerto Rican economy by imposing higher operating tax rates to US-based companies in the island. The consequences could be devastating to the island, especially in light of how many Puerto Ricans are fleeing at mass levels. Certainly, the future does not look bright for Puerto Rico.
But in the midst of this horrifying and nerve-racking situation, there’s hope. The North American Missions Board’s disaster relief arm, Send Relief, has been pivotal in empowering local churches in relief work. They have provided the necessary manpower to direct the relief efforts and donated generators, water filters, tools, and food supplies.
Felix Cabrera, a Puerto Rican pastor in Oklahoma and a Send Relief representative, is optimistic.
“We believe that crises in God’s hands are opportunities and we believe that the Lord is giving us an opportunity to build a better Puerto Rico,” said Felix in an interview with NewsOk.
Cabrera, the co-founder of the National Hispanic Pastors Alliance, is working with Send Relief to set up 12 “Help and Hope” centers at 12 Puerto Rican churches. The idea behind these centers is to provide hubs where residents can have access to clean water, food, and basic necessities such as diapers.
“The work we did with Send Relief was in direct support of local pastors. In short, disaster relief volunteers come under the leadership of local Puerto Rican pastors and implemented serving strategies that aided the pastor and his church in furthering their Gospel witness,” recalled former Send Relief volunteer, Dave Anderson.
Xavier Torrado, a church planter in Vega Baja along his church plant, Gracia Redentora, is just one of many pastors that Send Relief is collaborating with.
“Socially, the crisis is very visible,” Xavier said. “I still haven’t forgotten the day an old lady came up to us, desperately asking for water and food while we were at a community meeting, delineating logistics to give away supplies. She was virtually single-handedly taking care of her bed-ridden dad and her grandson, who was a cancer patient with an amputated leg.”
Stories like this are more common than one would like to admit. If anything, Hurricane Maria unveiled and worsened the livelihood of the nation’s poorest territory. However, in the midst of the seemingly eternal nightmare, many churches have not lost their focus.
“I believe the church needs to be faithful to the message of the Gospel, which ultimately points to an eternal hope and not to an earthly one. That’s why I encourage all of us to pray that the church may remain faithful to the Gospel; preaching to and serving the needy in love,” Xavier said.
Weeks ago, we celebrated Christ’s incarnation at Christmas. We continue to celebrate the fact that Christ, God in the flesh, entered into this broken world of ours (Jn. 1:1, 14), abandoned his glory and splendor in Heaven (Phil. 2:5-11; 2 Cor. 8:9), became subject to suffering, identified himself with our struggles, vulnerabilities and sufferings (Heb. 4:15) and, despite our own morally fractured lives, lived a perfect life in our place and took the penalty of our sins (2 Cor. 5:21)—so that we could be with him (1 Pet. 3:18).
God is the gospel. Only God can satisfy the human soul. At the end of the day, it is the gospel that is able to transform the lives of broken human beings with nothing else to cling to. Let us hope and pray that we may emulate our God, at home and abroad, among those who are suffering to provide for their spiritual and physical needs.