Imagine this... the sunshine with rays reaching far and wide. As you are walking, you look to your left and see the beach with debris, broken palm trees. Your eyes move slowly to the many shades of blue in the water that is crashing the beach. The sound and view are amazing. Now as you look to your right, it’s not what you see but what you hear. You hear voices, laughter, clapping and the hum of a generator. You see a concrete building with the windows open, and the front doors wide open with individuals and warm smiles to greet you. As you enter the space, row after row of benches are filled with people, young and old, babies and children. You see many standing along the wall as they are prepared to worship in this space. As voices are lifted up in praise and thanksgiving, the humming of the generator is finally gone.
In the Patillas area of Puerto Rico, they are still without electricity and this church relies on a gas powered generator to provide electricity for Sunday morning worship. The music of the morning was powerful as I didn’t understand the language but felt the spirit. You see this worship space was overflowing with people and the spirit for over two hours as they gave thanks, shared prayer requests, sang, heard the word and loved on one another. The spirit of the people seemed positive as they were focused on experiencing God in worship, not the worries that waited outside.
The amazing spirit of the people didn’t stop in worship. On the small island called Vieques off the eastern coast of PR we met a young pastor named Alex Gerena. Gerena is the pastor that knows everyone in town! His energy, personality and spirit is strong as he leads a church that suffered structural damage from the hurricane but continues to worship. The only hospital on the small island was destroyed by the storm and no plans for rebuilding have been discussed. An immediate need for medical care is present in Vieques and Gerena’s church is willing to share their parsonage to provide a location for a health clinic in the southern community of Esparanza (translated “hope”). The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico has a long history of a mission center focus in the community, and for the community of Esparanza, this would be a true gift.
The most amazing spirit and energy that I encountered on this trip belonged to Carmen Perez Rios. She is the Assistant to the Bishop and is bringing leadership to the disaster response and relief efforts as part of her mission focus. Her leadership extends to relationship building, collaboration, advocacy, networking, managing, planning, and caring for the pastors and people.
As with any mission work that I have been a part of, I again received many blessings through my encounters with the people while participating as a member of an assessment team that traveled to Puerto Rico to explore relief opportunities. The Missouri Conference will be supporting an initiative in response to the relief effort following Hurricane Maria in September 2017. The initiative will focus on pray, go and give. Begin with prayer as you consider your personal response and a church response. Consider going to Puerto Rico as part of a VIM team that will support repair work and possibly medical care. If you can not go, consider giving as financial support will be needed for the identified opportunities.
As you hear about the opportunities to support Hurricane Maria Relief, I ask you to think about the following: What would it be like six months after the storm to still be living without electricity? How stressful would it be to take an hour and thirty minute ferry ride to the main island at the assigned times for medical treatment? Our commitment is to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world, to reach out to those that are hurting and in need. Let our spirits respond to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Puerto Rico.
Vieques, a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico, received a direct hit from Hurricane Maria. The only hospital serving the 9,000 people on the island was destroyed. There are no plans to rebuild. People on Vieques currently have no access to urgent or other health care. Worse yet, some project it will be two more years before power is restored on the island.
The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (MCPR) has a plan, however, in the town of Esparanza (translated “Hope”). Before the hospital was built on the island, the Methodist Church ran a clinic to serve the island’s residents. Following the storm, they plan to reopen. Pastor Alex Gerena, a young pastor native to Vieques, and Conference staff of the MCPR are leading the recovery as people are joining together to prepare the building, create a medical plan, integrate leadership and resource supplies.
Your donation will help bring health care access to a group of people for whom recovery from Maria will be long in coming. The average income on Vieques is $18,104, and the poverty rate is 39.1%, according to government statistics. Many residents cannot afford to leave the island. As a Viequen told a reporter in December of 2017, “[N]o one sees us ... I'm 66 years old and all my life Vieques has been marginalized.” See the people of Vieques. Partner today with the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico to provide access to healthcare in this community.
In Puerto Rico your group will work alongside leaders to rebuild churches, houses and facilities damaged by Hurricane Maria. Teams are already serving in four affected regions that follow the path of the hurricane. Lodging, food, insurance, and transportation have all been organized—teams will work in the larger hurricane recovery plan. You’ll be immersed in the unique culture of Puerto Rico, be able to use your hands and feet to make a difference, and connect with others in work together.
Length: 7 days | Cost: $550 per person for group of 10
Does not include airfare, airfare averages from $400-$800 from Kansas City, Columbia & St. Louis