November 30, 2018
By Lucas Endicott
“We’re seeing God at work.”
Pastor Alex Gerena of the Methodist church in Ezperanza, Puerto Rico recently reflected on the year since Hurricane Maria devastated the island. On September 20, 2017, sustained winds of 150+ miles per hour ripped off the roof of his church. Since then, the church has remained open to the elements. The church continued to worship every week. Community members worked to together to rebuild and “poco a poco” (little by little) progress came.
In October, Missouri Bishop Bob Farr returned to Vieques leading the newly commissioned residents in ministry on a week of service. Cutting metal, drilling holes and throwing sparks, the group of 16 put hands and feet to the gospel fabricating metal trusses for the new roof and completing interior work in a nearby home. “We are here to celebrate all that has been happening with our sisters and brothers in Esperanza,” Bishop Farr said.
A lot has happened in the year since Maria. Bishop Farr was among the first of the United Methodist bishops to see the devastation firsthand and considered how Missouri could best partner in the weeks following the storm. In June, Pastor Alex Gerena of Vieques, Puerto Rico, joined the Missouri Annual Conference in Springfield to share about the need on the small island. The Conference committed to pray for the people in Vieques, give $150,000 to aid in the recovery, and go to help reconstruct the guesthouse, medical clinic, church and homes in need.
Fifteen months later, $68,197.51 has been raised, a new van has been donated to the church in Esperanza, tools have been given and 43 groups have signed up to go! The progress can be seen in three ways: donations, teams and work.
Smaller churches in our state are leading the way! In August, for example, the average size of churches who gave was 79. Everyone is participating in this goal, and each donation helps us get closer to our $150,000 commitment.
Forty-three teams have now registered to serve in Vieques! We are at capacity from January through March. These teams are coming from across the state, and seven of the groups are comprised primarily of young adults. The breakdown of teams registered that come out of a particular district: are
- Gateway Central District: 4
- Gateway Regional District: 2
- Heartland District: 6
- Mark Twain District: 3
- Mid-State District: 8
- Northwest District: 6
- Ozarks District: 5
- Southeast District: 4
- Southwest District: 5
The work in Vieques has been divided into three phases. Phase one was to rebuild the guesthouse in order to host teams. That was completed in July of this year. Phase two was to complete the roof on the church and ensure that the medical clinic is able to host monthly clinics. Phase two was completed in November of this year. Phase three is moving into the community to help with construction and support local capacity.
As groups now move into the community, they are working on houses selected by case workers employed by the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. The case workers, funded by UMCOR, identify construction sites as they work on their larger case management. If a construction project is identified by the case worker, they pass the project onto a team of engineers working for the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. The engineers evaluate the project and draw site plans to code. Once materials are secured the plans are handed to the general contractor, who will oversee the site and volunteer groups. Then our volunteer groups are matched with the different projects based on skills. It is truly a team effort.
Thank you for all who have helped in the response to Hurricane Maria. We still have a bit more fundraising to do, and we are seeing God at work in the response. If you would like to know more about how your church could pray, give or volunteer in Puerto Rico, contact Lucas Endicott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have not quite accomplished our $150,000 goal. If you haven’t identified a missional need for your Christmas Eve offering, please consider this effort.
Perhaps your family would like to financially contribute to the recovery effort as part of your Christmas celebration. Perhaps as you enter 2019 you would like to do it by partnering with Vieques in their restart.
Please write Puerto Rico in the memo line and send your gifts to: The Missouri Annual Conference of the UMC, 3601 Amron Court, Columbia, Missouri, 65202.