SAMARITAN'S PURSE AND LOCAL CHURCHES PARTNER TO HELP RESIDENTS RECOVER AFTER HURRICANE MARIA.
Hurricane Maria toppled a palm tree onto a corner of Gigi’s home in Puerto Rico. For weeks, every time it rained hard, water leaked into her house. As an elderly woman living by herself, there was little she thought she could do.
So, she was grateful when a Samaritan’s Purse team came by with heavy-duty plastic sheeting (tarp) and a desire to serve her in Jesus’ Name. The team repaired the corner and covered her roof with our signature blue plastic.
That day, one of our team members also took the opportunity to talk with Gigi about the Gospel. She found her New Testament-only Bible, and they started discussing Romans 10:9-13. As the team gathered around, the moment arose to pray with Gigi as she received Jesus Christ as her Lord and Saviour.
She rejoiced that day for both a dry home and a new heart.
Leading and Equipping
Gigi is just one of tens of thousands of people on Puerto Rico who have been helped by Samaritan’s Purse since Hurricane Maria used its Category 5 strength to batter the region in September. During the past few months, we have mounted a multifaceted relief response—distributing food, water filters, generators, tarp, and more.
In most cases, we’ve worked closely with local churches to identify those in need and get emergency supplies to them.
“Our goal is to equip the local church. They’re here long-term and can build relationships that last,” said Dan Stephens, disaster assistance response team (DART) leader for Puerto Rico.
Both the churches and our staff are eager to serve those most vulnerable as the island continues its long recovery.
Shining as the Body of Christ
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Samaritan’s Purse are partnering to get food to communities in need, and we’re working through local churches to facilitate the distributions. So far, Samaritan’s Purse has assisted congregations in distributing food for more than 35,000 households, some of whom still lack electricity.
Pastor Jose Orlando Colon and his wife Karen lead a church we partnered with in Coamo, in southern Puerto Rico. They were praying for a way to help their town. When Samaritan’s Purse DART member Tom Ovington called and asked if the church could help facilitate a food distribution, they were ecstatic.
“If I could describe Samaritan’s Purse in one phrase: ‘It’s the answer of God,’” said Pastor Jose.
In mid-November, Pastor Jose’s church was able to pass out food for 1,100 households, plus some additional tarps and packages of diapers. Helping local churches get out into their communities is a major emphasis—and point of success—for the work of Samaritan’s Purse in Puerto Rico.
“I’ve been meeting with pastors, I’ve been telling them, guys, this is our chance to really shine as the body of Christ,” Tom Ovington said. “The churches have been very responsive and willing to work with each other.”
Samaritan’s Purse and local churches also got some help in the work from a special group of collegians. Eight university students travelled to Puerto Rico for several days to help with various projects, including preparing food boxes for distribution.
“I love how Samaritan’s Purse is working with the church, so we’re not dropping stuff down and leaving,” said team member Cam Kennedy. “We’re empowering the local church to then share the Gospel with people, to be seen as a safe space and a refuge.”
Nahiris Aranzamendi was among the students and felt blessed to return to her home in southern Puerto Rico to help out. She had just started her graduate studies in Lynchburg, Virginia, when Maria hit, so she felt bad that she wasn’t there to support her friends and relatives. She was amazed that the Lord brought her back to serve and share.
“We have an eternal hope. That’s something important that we need to take to Puerto Ricans in this time of recovery,” she said.
Delivering Relief to Areas in Need
In addition to our food distributions, we’ve given out nearly 7,000 solar lamps, over 1 million chlorine tablets, and almost 24,000 water filters, plus tens of thousands more buckets and jerry cans. In certain remote areas—where residents were trapped by blocked roads and had neither running water nor power—some people resorted to drinking from local streams. Once they got our filters, they had ongoing access to clean water.
We’ve also distributed more than 1,700 generator kits, which are in high demand since many areas remain without power. We have focused on providing these machines to people with serious illness (for example, those on oxygen or who need to refrigerate medicine); to community/youth centres; and to churches so they can hold worship services.
We utilised our helicopter to make numerous deliveries of our relief items in the central mountains where access has been restricted due to downed power lines, landslides, or floodwaters.
The helicopter, which left Puerto Rico on 17 Dec, made more than 750 trips around Puerto Rico, moving dozens of staff members and tons of relief supplies.
Going Above and Beyond
Finally, Samaritan’s Purse has to date given out over 74,500 tarps on Puerto Rico, helping so many households stay dry until repairs can be made.
In some areas, we’ve even deployed a tarping team to install the plastic sheeting for those unable to do so themselves. We’re focused especially on the sick and disabled, the elderly, and single mothers, and have completed scores of homes in lower-income areas.
“We just try to get them out from the weather,” DART member Al Miller said. “The need for our help is so great.”
He remembers one woman whose home had a wall that was pushed in 18 inches. One of our teams pushed it out, fixed trusses, and tarped her roof. The change in her countenance was dramatic after seeing our work and Christian witness.
“Boy, the smile you saw on her face after we gave her a Bible and prayed with her,” Al said. “That’s what Samaritan’s Purse is about: giving hope—giving hope through Christ.”
Miguel Ortiz, a local pastor, joined our tarping installation team as a volunteer for two weeks. He saw God at work in multiple ways through our efforts. Helping hands and a pause for prayer encouraged those still wrestling with the loss and pain that Hurricane Maria caused.
“So many stories…Their face changes when they see that help is on its way, when they see that someone is actually taking care of them,” Pastor Miguel said.
As he sees Samaritan’s Purse and local churches partner together for Puerto Rico, Pastor Miguel said he trusts the promise of Galatian 6:9: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (NKJV).
In faith he added, “Eventually, we’ll see the harvest. I have that hope.”
Samaritan’s Purse will continue relief efforts in Puerto Rico through the end of 2017. Please pray that our DART finishes well and pray that God will bring many to Christ through the witness of the Church.
*Distribution numbers were updated Dec. 20 and reflect totals through Dec. 15. Our helicopter left Puerto Rico on Dec. 17.