As heavy rains and winds from Hurricane Maria hit the east coast of the Dominican Republic on Sep. 21, 2017, a handful of master guides from two Adventist churches in Hato Mayor were busy rescuing dozens of people, including children and the elderly.“
We lived through a terrible experience,” said Luis Ismael Berroa, a master guide from the El Renacer Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hato Mayor. More than 100 people had already taken refuge at the church, but as water began to fill the building, they had to climb walls and fences to get to safety.
Together with his cousin Sicleidi Nolasco and fellow master guides, Berroa helped transport families through the rising waters. “The water was up to our chest and the current started to pull us,” he said.
“We held hands and headed through the streets away from the strong currents,” said Berroa. “We saw many people about to drown but we locked arms with them and pulled them to safety.”
Safety was found at El Amor Adventist Church about 200 hundred meters away. The church was already providing shelter to more than 300.
“God really saved us and used us to help others,” said Berroa. Another group of master guides from El Amor Adventist Church also rescued dozens of people.
“These young people are real heroes,” said Pastor Silvestre González, president of the church in the East Dominican Conference, who visited the Hato Mayor on Saturday. “They were the only ones to come to the rescue of the community during that time of crisis.”
The fire department and military service personnel were not able to get to the town in time, said Berroa.
Approximately 60 people were rescued by these master guides and church members, according to González.
Some 120 Adventist families have been affected by the flooding across communities in Hato Mayor, El Seibo, Miches, Punta Cana and a few others, according to González. They are among the 20,000 people who were affected across these towns, he explained.
The East Dominican Conference, headquartered in San Pedro de Macoris, became a donation center where church members all across the city brought in food, clothes, and even matresses, said González. Four trucks full of food, water, clothes, sheets, and mattresses were dispatched to those needy communities.
“Our members lost everything and what little is left is wet and muddy,” said González. “We wanted them to have dry clothes and dry sheets to sleep better tonight.”
The Adventist Church also joined World Vision to provide breakfast and supper to 500 people in El Seibo thanks to a mobile kitchen provided by the civil defense, said González.
The neighboring Southeast Dominican Conference is gathering goods and relief supplies to assist those suffering on the eastern coast, he added.
“I’ve visited and prayed with church members,” said González. “They are affected but share so many of their testimonies of God’s protection through the storm.” There are still many members who need beds and food, he added.
Pastor Cesario Acevedo, president of the church in Dominican Republic said the church have worked together with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) after battering storms have brought a lot of flooding to the northeastern part since earlier in the year. The gospel has been expanding there because relief efforts have brought about opportunities for “many of those communities to have Adventist presence now,” he added.
“Hurricanes Irma and Maria have brought the most flooding and damage this year, but the church and its members will continue to assist those affected by these natural disasters,” Acevedo said.
ADRA Dominican delivered 350 hygiene kits to families in Miches, said Luis Miguel Acevedo, ADRA Dominican Republic director. The kits includes a five-gallon bucket, water, mosquito net, soap, bleach, tissue paper, tooth brushes and more, said Luis Miguel.
“Our network of committed church member volunteers have been working hard at getting these kits together to benefit so many families in need here,” said Luis Miguel.
Some 350 more hygiene kits will be distributed in Miches, Hato Mayor and El Seibo, this week.
In addition, food vouchers have been distributed to some 261 families in the northeast communities affected by Hurricane Irma, which hit the island earlier this month, said Luis Miguel. “We are thinking of extending this program because these families have been affected twice by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”