It’s been years since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico recovery efforts have been the topic of many conversations since, but you probably haven’t heard about what I saw when I traveled there. Local churches are making a lasting difference.
Puerto Rico is often referred to as La Isla del Encanto, which means The Enchanted Island. It’s always been a magical place of sun, beautiful people, and positive vibes. The people are loud (in a good way), passionate, and always down for a good time! This is especially true to me because I’m Puerto Rican, and my entire family is this way. From the way we talk to the way we dance, our spirits are always aligned with positivity and fun. It’s ingrained in our being to turn everything into a positive experience.
This has remained true even after Hurricane Maria carved her path of destruction across the island in September of 2017. When the storm hit, I was sitting in my comfortable home in Oklahoma City while most of my extended family’s homes were being torn apart by a category 5 hurricane. My tear-filled eyes were glued to the television as national news stations showed footage of 175 mph winds and heavy floods sweeping through neighborhoods I knew. I prayed for my family and the people of Puerto Rico, but my fear was growing heavy.
For almost a month, we couldn’t get ahold of certain family members, as they didn’t have cell phone service or even electricity in their homes. Facebook groups were started to reunite family members and share information about what was actually happening on the island. While I knew that the devastation was intense, I also had faith that God would heal and restore what was lost.
I work at Life.Church, so I knew about our global mission partners like Convoy of Hope, that respond to natural disasters. Immediately after the hurricane hit, leaders from Convoy of Hope were on the ground looking for churches to partner with—to begin their part of Puerto Rico recovery efforts. And a year later, I was invited to go back to Puerto Rico with the National Spokesperson of Convoy of Hope, Jeff Nene, to see the work that has been done through this organization and the local church in Puerto Rico. What I found was nothing short of amazing.
While there were areas of Puerto Rico that looked like the hurricane had just hit, there was so much being done. Over seven million meals had been served to a little over 138,000 people at the time that I visited! While homes were being built right and left and many meals were served, what touched me the most is how the Puerto Rican people’s faith was being restored. As I walked down the streets of the rural villages in the northern part of the island, this famous quote of Maya Angelou echoed through my mind: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The local pastor went from house to house praying for people, talking with them, loving on them—it didn’t matter if they didn’t have air conditioning or more than a few days’ worth of food on hand—they felt blessed to have loving, Christian community in their home. Most of them never used to go to church before. Now they have a pastor who loves on them, exactly where they are, both physically and spiritually.
In Matthew 6:19-21 NLT, the Bible says, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
This verse reminds me of what’s important, and what the people in these devastated communities are seeing. Our material possessions are nothing compared to the love that’s found in Christian community. If we only threw money and objects at the disaster, would there be an eternal change? I love that my church partners with other churches around the world to create real change through serving, loving, and true evangelism. And while there’s still a lot of work to be done, I’m beyond hopeful that God is at work in Puerto Rico. More people will come to know Him because of the love of Christ being shown through the local church.