By Sarah Reinsel
Hurricane Fiona — now a Category 4 storm — made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sunday, Sept. 18, devastating the island with flooding, landslides and widespread power outages.
In preparation for the hurricane, “we called our church members and visitors to gather for our Sunday service on Saturday morning,” said Ruth Maita, Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) missionary to the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region. Maita, who serves in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, said, “We were strengthened by God’s Word and Holy Supper.”
Early reports from LAC missionaries Rev. James and Deaconess Christel Neuendorf in Ponce, Puerto Rico, confirm the impact of this storm on communities struggling to recover from previous storms.
“Our mercy centers, which are perfectly located in both Mayagüez and Ponce, were able to respond immediately because we equipped them for the long term,” said the Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response. “And we were able to do that thanks to the generosity of the people of the LCMS.”
These mercy, or “CARD” centers (Casa de Amparo y Respuesta a Desastre, or House of Refuge and Disaster Response), were founded by LCMS Disaster Response in 2017 after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico.
“The two centers are doing exactly what we envisioned — being that first line of response … until additional assessment can be made,” said Christian Boehlke, interim executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission. “The LCMS is providing immediate disaster care and spiritual care to the people of Puerto Rico.”
“We are serving people in the communities as an extension of Christ’s mercy,” said the Rev. Ted Krey, LAC regional director. Krey noted that the mercy centers in Ponce and Mayagüez are “up and running” with solar power and back-up generators. Missionaries and local pastors are distributing hot meals and offering a place to rest while waiting for power to be restored on the island.
Christel Neuendorf said that shortly after the storm, the mission team and members of Fuente de Vida (Fountain of Life) Lutheran Church, Ponce, gathered at the mercy center in Ponce for lunch, cleanup and even an impromptu birthday party for a friend of the church.
“It’s the small things for us as a mission team, like with opening the CARD house in Ponce and reaching out to our community — that’s what we are as the church. We’re not first responders, we’re not firemen, we’re not medical personnel, but we are the church, and this is what the church does,” Neuendorf said.
Maita also reported that cleanup and repairs are underway at the Mayagüez mercy center. The center plans to deliver hot meals to hard-hit neighborhoods soon.
“Our church members and visitors are all well. They did not suffer any damages to their homes, but the toil of living without water and electricity is draining,” said Maita.
Still recovering from Hurricane Maria, the island of Puerto Rico faces more challenges than ever in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. Johnson listed many problems resulting from these hurricanes, including extensive property damage, unsafe living conditions, lack of medical resources and overall poverty.
“Many organizations focus on helping in the days after a disaster. LCMS Disaster Response will be focused on helping the hurting over the coming months, as disaster victims slowly rebuild their lives,” said Johnson.
“The people of Puerto Rico need our prayers and support,” said the Rev. Kevin D. Robson, LCMS chief mission officer. “We continue to pray for all those who have been affected by recent natural disasters, that God would provide for them and that they would be drawn to our only hope in Christ.”
Sarah Reinsel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff writer and editor for LCMS Communications.
Posted Sept. 21, 2022/Updated Sept. 22, 2022