By Brandon Elrod
(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico)—Seven weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, Southern Baptists continue to serve residents there. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) and Send Relief have created an island-wide response from the ground up.
Sam Porter, NAMB’s national director for disaster relief, has spent several days in Puerto Rico over two separate trips to assist disaster response coordinator Jack Noble in facilitating the large scale Southern Baptist response in Puerto Rico.
“Though the plight of Puerto Rico has started to fade from the headlines,” said Porter, “there are still plenty of needs and places to serve.”
Send Relief has attained warehouse space in Puerto Rico for the collection of food, water and other resources. Items are then distributed to the various churches that are ministering to those in need across the island.
A part of the disaster relief strategy has involved equipping local churches across the island to serve as distribution centers for the surrounding region.
SBDR and Send Relief teams have prepared, as of Nov. 14, over 19,000 hot meals. Between Oct. 22 and Nov. 11, Send Relief and SBDR teams distributed nearly 254,000 meals, the majority of which were sandwich meals.
Trained SBDR teams and volunteers from state conventions in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania-South Jersey, Maryland-Delaware, the Northwest Baptist Convention, the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV) and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention have been hard at work serving Puerto Rico and laying the foundation for future disaster relief efforts.
In addition to SBDR, volunteer teams organized through Send Relief are expected to serve from now through early 2018. Many collegiate teams are planning to use their winter and spring breaks to make the trip to serve in Puerto Rico. Churches and other ministries can make arrangements to send teams and serve communities across the island.
“We are seeking team leaders to work, people who have carpentry or disaster relief experience and can manage a group,” said Porter. “If some would like to come for two to four weeks at a time, we could really use their services.”
Many of the Southern Baptist churches in Puerto Rico have seen God move in spite of the debilitating effects of the storm.
“One of the good things about this disaster,” said Carlos Rodriguez, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary in Puerto Rico, “is that people are having to move from their pews and into the mission field. The people have started to see the need themselves, and they are moving out into their communities and serving, not just food but also sharing the gospel.”
As Hurricane Maria left mass devastation in its wake, many of the church buildings became unusable, either because they lost power and running water or because they were severely damaged. In some cases, buildings were a total loss. Even so, Rodriguez, NAMB’s national church planting catalyst in Puerto Rico, ministry is moving forward.
“People are getting saved,” he said. “It has, in a way, been a revival for the churches. Churches are thinking in different ways. Their people are visiting others in their community and not just staying in the church.”
Several Southern Baptist state conventions—Alabama, SBCV and Tennessee—have volunteered to take different regions of the island and coordinate partnerships between their churches and those in Puerto Rico. NAMB is working to facilitate partnerships between mainland churches and those in Puerto Rico. Churches or state conventions that would like to cooperate should contact NAMB.
Visit sendrelief.org in order to volunteer or to donate funds to the continuing relief efforts.
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.