Seventh-day Adventist leaders in Puerto Rico are finally beginning to connect with those around them after Hurricane Maria plowed through the island on Sep. 20, 2017. The Category 4 storm brought winds of up to 155 mph that killed ten people, knocked down power lines and cellphone towers, flooded streets, and disrupted the infrastructure of the entire island like never before.
“In the history of our country, there has never been such a phenomenon, such great destruction as Hurricane Maria has caused,” said Luis A. Rivera, Administrator of the Bella Vista Adventist Hospital and treasurer of the church in Puerto Rico. “It paralyzed our entire island from coast to coast, and just now we are slowly trying to communicate with some on the island.”
“The church’s Bella Vista Hospital is running with its generators, housing 62 patients at the moment and offering limited services,” said Rivera in a telephone call. The challenge will be in the coming days when food, medications, oxygen, and diesel for generators will start depleting, he said.
Rivera said he spoke to the governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello in San Juan during Emergency Management meetings today. “I let him know that our hospital is functioning well so far and we can take care of patients,” said Rivera.
As far as the church membership, not much information has been available, a cause for concern for Inter-American Division (IAD) administrators who have been trying to reach top church leaders on the island.
“We know there are basic needs out there for our church members and the people in Puerto Rico,” said Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America. “We are concerned for them and want them to know that they have not been forgotten for we have been praying for them daily.”
The IAD, along with Loma Linda University, are releasing funds to assist in the operations of Bella Vista Hospital in the aftermath of Maria, said Leito. “The church leadership in Puerto Rico has already requested emergency funds from our office to benefit church members in need after the storm.”
There is word of terrible flooding in many towns across the island, said Rivera. “For sure many have lost everything they own, but we still have not been able to hear from our district pastors about the members,” he said.
Rivera said he attempted to drive to see Jose Alberto Rodriguez, president of the church in Puerto Rico, but has still not been able to contact him because it was impossible to travel up the mountainside near Mayaguez where Rodriguez lives, explained Rivera.
“Now that communication is being restored in different regions, we are expecting to hear from across our offices and churches this week and assess how the church membership has been affected,” said Rivera. He hopes to hear confirmation from the 140 pastors on the island.
Obed Jimenez, president of Antillean Adventist University, located in Mayaguez, reported in an official statement on the school’s Facebook page on Saturday, that all 210 students and faculty living on campus are safe. The campus did not suffer any flooding during the storm.
“The infrastructure of the university has not suffered damage, and all buildings have running generators. The cafeteria is continuing its operations, and students are being fed appropriately,” the statement said. “The university has enough supplies and plenty of food to sustain operations.”
The statement explained that the university is working with municipal leaders in Mayaguez and several state agencies to ensure the well-being of students. The school expects to reinstate its classes in the coming days.
David Sebastian, communication director for the church in Puerto Rico, said both church-run radio stations were affected and not on air yet. He said that Rivera has been able to speak on behalf of the hospital on commercial radio stations.
Rivera is concerned that because fuel is scarce on the island, that could compromise operations. Yet he believes it is a good moment for the country to rebuild.
“I see what has happened in our country as an opportunity like Nehemiah had to rebuild. This is a time for our country to rebuild because it has been so divided that it is good to unite efforts and look to the future with hope and move forward in preparation for heaven,” said Rivera.
Adventist schools on the island will remain closed until debris is cleared and power is restored. Church leaders are expected to meet this week to finalize their assessments and assistance to members and communities in need.
“We are so grateful to our family in Inter-America and friends in North America who have been calling us and praying for us,” said Rivera. “This gives us strength to move forward through this difficult situation.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Puerto Rico has more than 33,000 church members worshiping in 311 churches. The church operates a hospital, a university, two radio stations and several primary and secondary schools.