In Puerto Rico, Adventist Church Continues to Operate Despite Devastation

Thousands of homes were destroyed after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sep. 20, 2017. Image by Puerto Rican Union

October 9, 2017 | Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens/IAD

Nearly three weeks since Hurricane Maria destroyed everything in its path, the island of Puerto Rico and its people seem trapped in another time period. With power still out, food and gasoline scarce, banks not working normally, and not enough aid and supplies coming in, “hope seems nearly gone,” said Pastor Israel Leito, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America after a two-day visit to the island.

“It’s so depressing to see so much need everywhere,” said Pastor Leito, who has traveled to the island dozens of times during the last two decades. “To see so much destruction, so many fallen trees, dead animals on the side of the road, long lines for everything…it just breaks your heart.”

It will take time to get the church as it was before the hurricane, said Pastor Leito.

During his two-day visit to the island Oct. 1-3, Pastor Leito met with church leaders in San Juan, visited the church’s two major institutions and encouraged church members displaced by the storm.

Adventist leaders in Puerto Rico meet with ADRA International’s Debra Olson, Emergency Response Program Manager to coordinate relief efforts throughout the island. Image by Puerto Rican Union

Pastor Leito’s visit brought needed supplies and several satellite phones for church leaders to use as communication has been hampered across the island since the storm hit on Sep. 20.

Local church leaders in San Juan reported that many of churches across the island are doing the best to provide the little food and water they have to help members and those in the community, said Pastor Leito. For example, members of the Adventist Church in Toa Baja, a church still unfit to worship in, are meeting outside every Sabbath to worship and offer warm food to the neighborhood, said Pastor Leito. “That moves me, because their faith and Christian love is still shining in the midst of such devastating situation,” he said. “It’s like in spite of their own disaster, they are caring for the community and each other.”

Pastor Leito urged church leaders to continue encouraging churches to share hope and a warm meal every Sabbath for every member and person in the community.

During his visit, Pastor Leito was able to visit with church members staying at a shelter in Isabela, in the western part of Puerto Rico. “I prayed with them and encouraged them and told them that help was on the way,” said Pastor Leito. Seeing them in a shelter like that was concerning to Pastor Leito. “Our local church leaders are doing all they can to find another option for members,” he said.

“God is opening the doors in the midst of a national crisis,” said Pastor Jose Alberto Rodríguez, president of the church in Puerto Rico. While the church’s two radio stations have been down since the storm hit, regional leaders meet every other day in San Juan, the capital city, to go over reports, church needs, church activity and plans to share with the membership.

“We face so many challenges with so many of our pastors and our members who have had their homes totally destroyed, yet we praise the Lord for His watch over us,” said Pastor Rodriguez.

The church’s Bella Vista Hospital continues to serve the community in west Puerto Rico with generators after the storm. Image by Libna Stevens/IAD File Photo

In the mean time, the Inter-American Division (IAD) has been providing emergency response funds to assist the church membership across the island. In addition, the church sent an initial air shipment of water, food and relief supplies last week to assist while logistics in aid distribution across the ports and airports are still being worked out on the island.

Additionally, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency’s (ADRA) International Agency has sent an emergency response director to assist in assessment and coordination of relief efforts with local volunteers to assist the thousands of people affected.

Top church leaders in Puerto Rico are leaving it up to local leaders across the four conferences and missions to take care of their members as well as primary and secondary schools as best as they can while the union administration oversees the two major church institutions: the hospital and university.

Bella Vista Hospital continues serving the community

The church’s health care institution, Bella Vista Hospital, has been continuing operation with its three generators, one of which has been failing, said Pastor Leito, after visiting with hospital administrators and staff.

“They are in need of another generator and funds to keep those generators running with fuel, which is becoming a major expense at the moment,” said Pastor Leito.

The IAD and the General Conference have come together for a special financial assistance to help keep the hospital in the short-term, said Pastor Leito. “Bella Vista Hospital has been proving services to the community for more than 60 years and we must keep the institution going with enough support to continue its ministry of providing health care,” said Pastor Leito.

The IAD has located a used state-of-the-art generator for the hospital with the help of Loma Linda University, which will be covering the shipment of the generator to Bella Vista Hospital.

The hospital’s cafeteria is only providing food for its patients and essential medical staff at this time, reported Pastor Leito.

President of Antillean Adventist University Dr. Obed Jiménez said a new well to hold 50,000 gallons of water will be built soon to run the water supply infrastructure on campus. Image by Libna Stevens/IAD File Photo

Antillean Adventist University resumes classes

The Adventist University in Mayaguez has been taking care of more than 200 international students since the storm affected its class schedule nearly three weeks ago.

Several buildings on campus, including the dormitories, have been running on generators every day. Students have been provided with food and water every day without fail, reported Pastor Leito. “Yes, there have been problems with enough running water but under the circumstances after the storm, water is being made available on campus.”

Yet one of the major issues is enough water to run the institution every day, according to Pastor Leito of his visit.

“The IAD is helping the university to build a new well that can hold about 50,000 gallons of water every day,” said Pastor Leito.

Since the storm, the university has been operating with some 30,000 gallons of water every day, according to Dr. Obed Jiménez, president of Antillean Adventist University.

“The well will help our water supply infrastructure on campus as our students resume classes,” said Jiménez. In the meantime, the university is obtaining water for the campus. The well should be completed as soon as engineers begin the digging operation, he added.St

International students eat at the cafeteria one day last week, while the school suspended classes after Hurricane Maria struck the island. Image from Antillean Adventist University’s Facebook Page

Students have been assisting in the community near the campus, bringing cheer and clearing small debris from the storm, university officials said.

The faculty and staff have cleaned and prepared the school to resume classes today. Jimenez has been answering questions through live sessions on the institution’s Facebook page.

With more than 2,000 people on campus on any given day, it is important to get the school fully functioning as before the storm, said Jiménez. Jiménez said the institution is needing additional generators for the library and technology department as the authorities have announced that power may take longer to restore in the area.

Jiménez said that the institution has never had to suspend classes during the school year like it did after Hurricane Maria. The institution closed in 1928 when it moved to Cuba for some years and later transferred back to Mayaguez in the 1950s.

Pastor Leito reassured local administrators and leaders that it will continue to oversee the institutions the church operates there in Puerto Rico.

“We are trying to ensure that our university running smoothly under the circumstances, and hope that international students choose to stay,” Pastor Leito said.

All aid assistance to institutions and church membership is being coordinated through the union office, stated Pastor Leito.

For more information on how you can help church members in Puerto Rico affected by the recent hurricanes, CLICK HERE

To assist communities affected by the natural disasters across Inter-America, email for additional information.

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Categories From the Headquarter, RSS English | Tags: | Posted on October 9, 2017