Like a prizefighter reeling from a deadly blow, the island territory of Puerto Rico still suffers from the effects of Hurricane Maria which ripped through the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans this fall. Many homes were destroyed, and even though it has been more than 90 days since the storm, many of the homes which remain do not have electricity or running water.
“When we went to bed, it was September 19, 2017,” said Louis Rodriguez, pastor of the Baptist church in Coamo. “When we woke up on September 20, it was like being in the 1950s.” The city is located in the south-central region of Puerto Rico, and normally has a population of around 40,000. In conjunction with the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) SEND Relief program, CBA Network churches are partnering directly with Pastor Rodriguez, who also serves as president of the Puerto Rican Baptist Convention.
Unbeknownst to those at NAMB organizing the Association-to-Church partnerships, Rodriguez has a direct connection to Collin County by way of a son who teaches school in the Allen school district, and close friends from Puerto Rico in Princeton. Rodriguez and his family visited with CBA Church Network leaders in December to share their needs and solidify the partnership between his church and the CBA Church Network.
Since the storm, an estimated 300,000 people have left the island, leaving its wake a tremendous impact on the economy and local workforce. Pastor Rodriguez said both power and water to the church building has been restored, and church members are continuing to minister to the community of Coamo by distributing toiletries, water, food, and other supplies to those in need. However, his own home has not fared as well. Though water service has been restored, the wind, heavy rains, and flooding from the hurricane caused structural damage to the house, and caused his septic system to collapse on itself.
Pastor Rodriguez is optimistic in the face of a rebuilding effort which experts say could take up to 20 years due to the extensive damage to the island’s infrastructure. “People are angry. But they are not angry with God,” Pastor Rodriguez said. “Coming through this storm has made them receptive to God, but angry with government and agencies. The government will always disappoint the people. But God will not disappoint. He is still there.”
While hurricane relief continues daily in many forms, Pastor Rodriguez said the greatest need in Coamo is funding. He explained that many of the people left in that area are skilled laborers and are capable of performing the needed repairs. However, funding for supplies and wages for these workers is preventing the work from being completed. The CBA Church Network hopes to raise $15,000 explicitly designated for hurricane relief in the city of Coamo.
“Puerto Rico is called ‘The Island of the Lamb,’ which refers to Christ, said Pastor Rodriguez. “But the people there have turned their backs on God. We are reaching out to people. We want to recapture the Island of the Lamb.”
To partner with Pastor Rodriguez and donate to Hurricane Relief efforts in Coamo, click the link below.