Comerio Chapter 3: Connection

Chapter 3 of Neighborhood Portrait: Comerío

Find a need that’s not being met and meet it. It sounded so easy.

After Hurricane Maria, anyone who wanted to help people in Puerto Rico would need a miracle. Like this one.    

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, some of life’s basic necessities became impossible to find. For most families in Comerío, locating food and clean water became a full-time job.

Southern Baptists and many others on the mainland were forced to get creative in orchestrating their disaster response. Several days into the recovery process, relief workers and volunteers started to make their way into the various communities to distribute food and water.

“We got access to San Juan the first week of October and began to process our response,” says Sam Porter, national director of disaster response for Send Relief. “We had to stay on a ship that FEMA provided for the first few weeks.”

As outside organizations started to meet the need for food and water, church planting missionary Jorge Santiago started to notice another pressing need that was being overlooked.

Without running water or electricity, the people of Comerío were forced to wash their clothes in nearby streams and rivers, many of which flooded during the storm. The filth in the water caused many to become seriously ill.

“We would spend so much time washing our clothes, but they would still stink!” says Jorge’s wife, Rebeca. “And after you spent all that time, it might rain while they were hanging out to dry. Then, all that time and energy was wasted.”

Jorge and his family received money from friends and family on the mainland, and they realized the money afforded them an opportunity to help meet the needs of people in the community.

“My wife and I were talking, ‘We don’t need all this money,’” says Jorge. “We bought the first three washer machines. That was done, but then we had another challenge. How are we going to power the washing machines?”

After Hurricane Maria, finding washing machines for sale in Puerto Rico was difficult. But finding some way to power them seemed impossible.

Finding a power generator in Puerto Rico was nearly impossible at the time. They had all been purchased and put to use, and ordering one from the U.S. mainland was not an option due to the limited air and sea traffic coming into Puerto Rico.

So, Jorge, his family and his Sending Church, Primera Iglesia Bautista de Groveton, started praying for a generator. After three days of traveling around Puerto Rico to find resources for Comerío—to no avail—a heartbroken Santiago received a phone call from Carlos Rodriguez, a North American Mission Board missionary serving all of Puerto Rico.

“He said, ‘I need you to go to the [Send Relief] warehouse because we have a pastor kit for you. So, I want you to go there and grab it,’” says Jorge of their conversation.

Send Relief is a national organization that inspires, equips and trains churches and individuals to meet physical needs and share the hope of the gospel.

To do that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria required Send Relief to take drastic steps. They had to find ways to get relief supplies to Puerto Rico and then had to find places on the island to store those materials. God moved Southern Baptists to donate funds and Send Relief was able to fly an aircraft into Puerto Rico filled with four semi-trailers worth of supplies.

“When I got to the Send Relief warehouse and the guy brought the big box and he opened it, the first thing I noticed was a generator,” recalls Jorge. “Not only a generator, but it had so many tools and so many things that I couldn’t ever find even in years.”

Send Relief gave Jorge the tools he needed to help people

With that generator, Jorge powered the washing machines and met a critical need for the people of Comerío. Send Relief provided the materials Jorge needed in order to meet the needs of his community, and by meeting those needs, he was able to have many gospel conversations with his neighbors.

As they wait for their clothes to wash, Jorge has been able to lead several people to Christ.

“I started crying and praising God when I opened the pastor kit, thanking God for His faithfulness and for Send Relief,” says Jorge. “It’s a tool that God is using to help us pastor here in Puerto Rico to bring hope to people and to help our people.”

Those gospel conversations by the washing machines were only the beginning.