PUERTO RICO, Guaynabo – What started as a response to Hurricane Maria in 2017 morphed into a permanent bridge between churches and pastors, church planters and the people of Puerto Rico.
Today, Send Relief’s Puerto Rico Ministry Center focuses on responding to needs and finding opportunities to share the life-saving gospel of Jesus with those they help. Its mission includes responding to crises, strengthening communities, protecting children and families, fighting human trafficking and caring for refugees.
“One of the blessings of Southern Baptists is that together we are stronger,” said Felix Cabrera, senior director of Send Network Español. “Thanks to the support of the North American Mission Board, one of the best pieces of evidence of our strength in the past five years happened after the passage of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Send Relief has trained and helped our local churches how to serve our communities better.”
“Right now, our responsibility lies largely on finding ways to help churches serve their communities. We help them by identifying needs and opportunities for ministry focused in our five ministry areas,” explained Jonathan Santiago, director of Send Relief’s Puerto Rico Ministry Center.
Through working relationships with other relief organizations—the Salvation Army, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), churches and other government organizations—the Send Relief Ministry Center in Guaynabo receives referrals to respond to hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters in different parts of the island nation.
“Many recognize us as one of the few remaining organizations working in response to damage caused by Hurricane Maria here in Puerto Rico,” said Jonathan.
As part of its mission to protect children and families, Send Relief looks to meet physical and spiritual needs. In the physical aspect, Send Relief workers and volunteers help families in need access housing and perform home structure repairs to ensure the family has a safe place to live. When it comes to caring for their spirit, Send Relief looks to connect families with a local church that can lead them to faith in Christ.
“Our hope and goals are that any project recipient gets connected with a local church,” said Itamar Elizalde, Send Relief’s ministry coordinator in Puerto Rico.
Not long ago, a pastor reached out to Send Relief to tell them that while he was out in a community doing a back-to-school outreach, he noticed a roof in dire need of repair. The single mother and three young daughters that lived there did not have the resources to make the repairs.
Send Relief staff and volunteers not only repaired the roof but also worked on the balcony and stairs of the home. Itamar said, “Our staff nearly cried at the idea that three young girls had to go up and down those stairs daily and the risk factors for an injury they endured each time.”
On another occasion, Itamar connected a church with a woman named Rosa, who lived alone and had no food. After talking to her on the phone, Itamar realized a pastor and his wife lived near Rosa, and she made the connection between them.
“He and his wife went to see Rosa, ministered to and invited her to church. Rosa agreed and listened intently to the message. After the service, she accepted Christ,” Itamar shared.
Felix says they have responded during emergencies. “We have also served the physical needs of the people as a way to introduce them to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
During the last seven years, Puerto Rico has faced an economic crisis, two major hurricanes, a political scandal, six weeks of nonstop earthquakes and the COVID-19 pandemic. “Many people have left for the mainland in search of better circumstances while leaving behind family members that can’t move,” Itamar explains. “And their support system no longer exists.”
Send Relief continues to make a positive impact through churches in those hard-hit communities. For example, they have worked with Guaynabo municipality to give away 3,000 backpacks for children whose families didn’t have the resources to buy them the gear for back to school. They have also cooked meals for entire communities following the earthquakes and assisted a school in Penuelas that had to hold classes in a city park after losing their building to an earthquake.
Itamar said, “Our relationship with Send Network makes it easy to create long-term connections between volunteer churches and the churches they help.” To Hispanic bilingual youth, she added, “We need you! You have a great advantage that God can use for His kingdom.”
There are many ways you and your church can support families and children in Puerto Rico.
Getting involved is simple. Pray and gather your church group interested in volunteering. Visit SendRelief.org to discover upcoming mission trip dates.
Published November 21, 2022