Weeks after dozens of aftershocks have shaken Puerto Rice since the earthquake in December, the Seventh-day Adventist Church there is still providing hope to hundreds who are living in tents and feeling uneasy about their new normal: being displaced and uncertain of what the day will bring.
“We are dealing with the same day in and day out with tremors, sometimes twice or three times a day, and seeing uncertainty in the faces of so many people,” said Pastor Jose Alberto Rodríguez, president of the church in Puerto Rico, during a telephone conversation recently.
There are 55 church families who have been affected by the earthquakes on the island, reported Rodríguez. Fifteen lost their homes in the Guayanilla, Ponce, Peñuelas and some on the eastern part of the island. “More than 8,000 people are staying in shelters, including dozens of our members,” he said. “Our members across the island in the north, east and west are assisting the most affected church families, while the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Puerto Rico is assisting those in the many communities.”ADRA International and other non-government organizations in Puerto Rico were able to provide and deliver 200 tents and 1,500 blankets throughout the affected communities.
Every day, church leaders travel to Guayanilla in the south, the epicenter of the earthquake, and visit members in the community to assess their needs and offer encouragement.
“Hot meals are being provided every day and most of those in tents are provided with food and basic comfort possible at this time,” said Rodríguez. Church services continue to be under tents every week and pastors and teachers across the Adventist Church are offering counseling and prayers while Puerto Ricans try to deal with the scars of Hurricane Maria, economic and political distress and displacement the earthquake tremors have caused.Church members are taking part in writing 400 letters of encouragement and spiritual encouragement to 400 families who are in shelter in need of hope through this process, according to Rodríguez.
“We are trying very hard to care for those affected in a personal way, providing shelter, showers, kitchen appliances, and psychological support,” said Rodríguez.
School is back in session at 10 of the 13 primary and secondary schools across the island. Three churches are not able to provide services in the south but worship services have not stopped, he said. The church’s Adventist University in Mayaguez, resumed classes last week.
Many of the church members have had to move to other cities and towns, many have left the island, and many are still looking for ways to leave, explained Rodríguez. “It’s hard, you know? You can see their faces, they are tired, they are sad and living with fear and uncertainty. Sometimes a hug or a prayer doesn’t move them to feel better.”“It’s like we are experts in hurricanes here, we are like metereologists for hurricanes but with this earthquake, we are learning so much because we have never lived through something so difficult like this,” said Rodriguez. “There’s no need for food or water, nor major supplies here right now, the most needed is prayers and help from professionals to help those who are displaced.”
Rodríguez said that he has been in talks with the Inter-American Division health ministries department to coordinate with Loma Linda University’s psychological trauma team of experts to provide one-on-one interventions to church and community members in the weeks ahead. The dates are being coordinated before the end of the month, said Rodríguez.
“I don’t know how but God is keeping up the growth of the church here,” said Pastor Rodríguez. With such a great exodus in membership during the past four years and more than 400 less students across the church-run schools since Hurricane Maria in 2017, “somehow we are still afloat,” he said. “I don’t understand it, but God has not abandoned us, we are making it through, I see that His mercies are forever.”