6,100 miles, seven days: On the road to healing Puerto Rico’s people

By the time Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on September 20, many of its people were already living in a compromised state: the median income of the island’s residents is $18,626, and nearly six in 10 (58 %) children live in poverty, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the 2015 American Community Survey and the 2015 Puerto Rico Community Survey.

Then came Maria as a Category 4 storm with its sustained winds of 155 m.p.h. and torrential rain. The storm attacked the island’s already weakened infrastructure, and Maria’s power was more than the systems could bear. Now those systems that support day-to-day life have been destroyed, and the people of this tropical island are more vulnerable than ever.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) Disaster Response Ministries has been working around the clock to provide relief. These are the first steps of ABHMS’ response; more will follow:

  • Disaster Response Ministries connected with Church World Service (CWS) to request disaster relief supplies. Early in the week of October 2, CWS will ship to Puerto Rico a 2,000 cubic-foot container filled with 15,000 personal hygiene kits, 500 tarps of varying sizes with tie-down cords, and solar lanterns. One Great Hour of Sharing funds will help to defer some of the cost of these items—for residents across the island—as well as shipping.
  • Disaster Response Ministries connected with North Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief (NCBDR) to arrange for delivery of a water purification system that will produce up to 3,200 gallons of water a day for distribution to the community-at-large. NCBDR, a partner of ABHMS through the North American Baptist Fellowship, is providing the water system free-of-charge. This provision responds to the critical and urgent need for water in Puerto Rico. In some places there is no drinkable water, in other places where water is available, it is being rationed. NCBDR is exploring additional ways of supporting relief efforts in collaboration with ABHMS.
  • Disaster Response Ministries connected with Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico (Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico) by sending ABHMS’ Victoria Goff, associate director of Mission Advancement and Passionary Movement, and the Rev. Salvador Orellana, national coordinator of Latino Ministries, to hear the needs of the Puerto Rican people by meeting with some regional staff and representatives on September 29: the Rev. Dr. Roberto Dieppa Báez, interim executive minister; Margarita Ramíirez, president of the Board of Directors; Brunilda Gonzales, vice president of the board; Felipe Candelaria, the region’s representative to the ABCUSA Board of General Ministries; Josue D. Gómez-Menéndez, ABCUSA incoming board president, and several others.
  • Goff and Orellana helped Iglesias Bautista de Rio Piedras serve food to the homeless.
  • Goff and Orellana took with them to Puerto Rico more than 300 pounds of supplies: batteries, flashlights; over-the-counter medications, towels, granola bars, toilet tissue and more. These provisions were paid with One Great Hour of Sharing funds.
  • Goff provided a sample solar charger power panel to region staff; with hearty recommendations from Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico, approximately 1,000 will be ordered for the island. One Great Hour of Sharing funds will support providing these power panels.
  • ABHMS has convened American Baptist partners to develop a long-range comprehensive and collaborative strategic plan focused on ways the greater American Baptist family can work together to help Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico and people of Puerto Rico.
  • ABHMS continues to work with additional disaster response partners, such as National Baptist Convention of America, Baptist General Association of Virginia and more, exploring ways to work together in ongoing recovery efforts.

You can help, too. Pray for the people of this tropical island, and give generously to the One Great Hour of Sharing fund designated for Puerto Rico. Your gift will support ABHMS’ ongoing disaster response on the island where the need is so great.

Part five of a multiple part series as American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) takes American Baptists on the road with ABHMS Disaster-response Ministries as it assesses the damage and connects with survivors and others on the ground in hurricane-ravaged areas from Louisiana and Texas to Florida and Puerto Rico. 

Susan Gottshall is American Baptist Home Mission Societies Associate Executive Director, Communications.