Missionary aids relief effort, shares gospel in post-Maria Puerto Rico
By Brandon Elrod
[Comerío, Puerto Rico]—Church planting missionary Jorge Santiago has been experiencing the truth of Romans 8:28 firsthand. Even in the aftermath of Puerto Rico’s tragic hurricane, all things can still work together for good.
In July, Santiago and his wife Rebeca moved to Puerto Rico with their two children, Sebastian and Sophia, to serve as North American Mission Board church planting missionaries in the community of Comerío, Puerto Rico.
Ever since Hurricane Maria hit, Santiago and his wife have been tirelessly serving the people of Comerío. “Right after the storm,” said Santiago, “we just focused on helping people. We started looking for resources, food and water so that we could take it to Comerío.”
Since Maria, Southern Baptist pastors have rallied together along with some from other denominations to help one another in their mission to serve those in need. As Santiago prayed and ventured to find food and other resources, he noticed, both from personal experience and from others’ stories, just how difficult it was to wash clothes by hand.
Santiago saw different groups passing out food and water, but no one was seeking to meet the need of helping people clean their clothes.
“My wife’s dad is a pastor whose church sent us some money. We kept a little portion for our family, but then we bought the first of three washing machines by faith,” said Santiago.
They eventually were able to acquire three more washing machines that they’ve used to start a community outreach called Proyecto Mi Ropa Limpia—My Clean Clothes Project. “God hasn’t stopped giving to us,” reported Santiago, “and we haven’t stopped giving to the people everything that comes our way.”
Santiago and his family have been hard at work ministering in Comerío, leaving at around 4:30 in the morning and not returning home until 8:30 or 9:00 at night. Rebeca manages the washing machines while Santiago travels around searching for food and water and distributing what he is able to find to people in Comerío.
Santiago received one of the pastor packs that NAMB’s Send Relief ministry sent to Puerto Rico, and he said that the package arrived at a time when he was having a difficult time finding resources. Whenever he went to search, Santiago would pray and ask God to lead him to where the resources would be. After three days of not finding anything, he received a phone call.
“I remember Carlos Rodriguez telling me to go over to the [Send Relief] warehouse to pick up some stuff,” he recalled. “Then, when I saw [the pastor package], I started crying because I saw all the things they brought to us.”
Santiago is currently using the generator that was included in the pack to power some of the washing machines for My Clean Clothes Project, and the other food and resources included in the pack have been a boost for his ministry to the community.
“God gave us the privilege to show the people how committed we are to them and to God,” he said. “We get to live the gospel by serving the people.”
Initially, Santiago and his family had been planning to start church services in January 2018. Hurricane Maria changed those plans, however, and Sunday, November 12, Santiago had the opportunity to preach the gospel and pray with a group of people as they gathered to share a hot meal.
“It is good, all that we are doing right now to help serve people,” said Santiago. “It’s important to the people, but more important than that is the need to share the gospel.”
A passage from Mark 1:32-38 helped him see that it was time to start preaching. The community was open. “People every day started asking me what my church is, but I don’t even have a church yet.” Santiago said. “They kept asking me the time of the service, and they wanted to hear the Word of God.”
Their plan is to keep gathering with people every Sunday and preaching the Word. The way that Santiago and his wife served the community opened the door for the gospel, and they are eager to preach the good news.
“We are not here to play or waste our time or God’s time.” Santiago said. “We are here with a mission, and we are here to accomplish our mission.”
Santiago continues to move toward an official launch for his church, but in the meantime, he and other churches like his will make use of resources that arrive through financial donations made through Send Relief.
“As a pastor, I still need resources to help the people,” said Santiago. “People won’t believe in what you’re going to say to them unless you prove to them that you love them. The way that they experience your love for them is by giving to them.”
Visit sendrelief.org to volunteer or donate funds to the continuing disaster relief efforts. Men and women in Puerto Rico still need aid as they recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.