Two months after Hurricane Maria shut down Puerto Rico, parts of the island are still without power and water, hundreds of buildings and homes still await repairs, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church continues to provide food and other relief services.
“This storm hit us hard,” said Luis Rivera, treasurer of the church in Puerto Rico. Rivera traveled to Miami last week to report to top leaders at the Inter-American Division and Maranatha Volunteers leaders on the property damages left by Maria.
“We are used to sharing our resources with our neighboring islands, and by the time Irma went through some of those islands we had shared so much that [Hurricane] Maria came and shook us and found us less prepared,” said Rivera.
Yet amid the lack of water, food, and inconvenience, church leaders and members did all they know to do, help others with what they have and taking time to clean debris and help the elderly.
At this point, 41 percent of the island still does not have power, 17 percent of the population does not have access to water, and many do not have access to gasoline, reported Rivera.
By the end of November, with the help of ADRA International, ADRA Inter-America, and church member volunteers lead by ADRA Puerto Rico, some 50,000 people will have received food boxes. In addition to the ADRA organizations, the Prints of Hope ministry and other sponsors will help repair 200 residential roofs in the coming weeks. Also, four new homes will be rebuilt for four families who do not qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the coming months.
Preliminary reports confirm that 16 churches suffered serious damage and others were affected to a lesser degree. “Many members began to work as soon as circumstances permitted,” said Rivera, who added that five of the 20 Adventist schools in Puerto Rico need major repairs.
One new church in Loiza, where the town has the highest poverty index, will have to be demolished and completely rebuilt to function as a church and center of influence, said Rivera. Maranatha leaders will take a look at the site in Loiza to assess if a new church building can be built there soon.
As far as all the church properties, Rivera said that insurance coverage will commence in the coming weeks so churches and schools can begin repairs.
In the meantime, church services continue in churches or outside on the premises.
“Our members have been serving the food they have to neighbors surrounding their churches during this time, so the church continues to show the love of Jesus through the difficult times,” said Rivera.
The church’s Bella Vista Hospital has been able to operate uninterrupted and continues providing services to the community in the western part of the island. “Bella Vista Hospital is stable, and the influx of patients continues to flow normally now,” said Rivera who is also the acting hospital administrator.
The hospital staff has been offering free clinics in different communities, in addition to distributing water, hot meals and reaching hard-to-reach homes in the mountains nearby, said Rivera.
Church members are busy helping others even when they still do not have water or electricity, said Rivera, who did not have power or water in his home for nearly two months. “We know many of our members have lost their jobs, and many have left the island since Maria,” he said.
Rivera referenced official statistics that show that more than 100,000 persons are unemployed since the storm, and more than 100,000 have fled the island. “It has been estimated that some 300,000 will leave the island in the next couple of months.”
This exodus is also being felt across congregations, said Rivera. “We believe that some 1,000 church members have left since September 20, and we fear that more will leave soon.” The church had more than 33,300 members at the end of June. Post-hurricane membership numbers are not available yet.
The church fears membership will go down to less than 32,000. Already, because of the economic crisis which has affected Puerto Rico for the past six years, some 5,000 members have left the island.
“I am exercising faith this year,” said Rivera. “Church members in Puerto Rico are very faithful, but if no resources are coming in, they cannot tithe.”