By Shannon Baker
Even though deploying in Puerto Rico has been logistically challenging due to the amount of devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, some Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers from the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware had opportunity to minister after the storm.
In late fall, a team from DR Region 1 (Virginia through the Northeast) traveled to assist in distributing resources and food in the heavily damaged area, but it was clear long-term partnerships were needed.
In early December, Doug DuBois, state director of disaster relief, toured the island to discover ways Maryland/Delaware Baptists could go and serve.
He went to the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief Missions Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, which is located at the Seminario Teologico Bautista (Baptist Theological Seminary) that sits atop a mountain overlooking the hurricane-ravaged tropical island.
There, over three months since the hurricane, DuBois discovered there still was no electricity. Throughout the island, there are no working streetlights or stoplights. The airport in San Juan is still operating on generating power. All the water has to be filtered.
And yet, meeting with pastors and the Send Relief site coordinator, Jack Noble, DuBois learned there were plenty of potential ministry opportunities. Noble told DuBois that on average with every team that goes out with a Spanish translator, one person accepts Christ!
The teams deliver water filters to the families and like the woman at the well (John 4), people are eager to hear about the “Living Water.”
DuBois also visited Iglesia Bautista de la Familia in Santurce and Camp Caribe in Pastillo as well as a church in Cidra, PR, where several people have been working to help residents in the mountains.
Juan Forcada, a pastor in Cayey, PR, also has been working with these communities in the mountains where more than 100 houses have been lost. They initially provided recovery assistance for the residents but now they are moving to the second stage, which is to lift up the community.
“We really need help from host churches that are eager to help us … [in] spreading the Gospel and spreading the service,” Forcada said.
All this effort comes after DuBois helped lead Maryland/Delaware volunteers who deployed to Florida in a successful Send Relief partnership with First Baptist Church, Immokalee, in response to Hurricane Irma.
Over 100 volunteers representing all 11 Maryland/Delaware associations served on site in Florida through seven disaster relief units, including four recovery units, a shower unit, laundry unit, and a feeding unit. BCM/D will continue to partner with the FBC, Immokalee, to assist them as they help their community through the rebuilding process.
In a video, First Baptist, Immokalee, Pastor Timothy Pigg thanked Maryland/ Delaware Baptists for giving to the Cooperative Program.
“Because you have done that, your state convention has been able to help us out at First Baptist, Immokalee, in a great way. You provided for us supplies, manpower… the resources we need to begin to grow, repair and recover from the disaster of Hurricane Irma.”
Pigg shared that with our help, over 200 volunteers distributed supplies of water and food to people in 550 cars plus the over 150 who walked to the church.
“There was one time that the car line was completely out of town,” Pigg said. “It was incredible, and it could not have happened without your churches partnering with us to accomplish that.”
After the initial distribution, the church and DR volunteers went systematically from door-to-door, asking how to serve them. They covered damaged homes with tarps, cleaned up debris, and completed some mudout and various rebuilding projects.
They’ve also done a lot of spiritual work.
Rick Merritt of Lynnhaven Baptist Church shared Christ with a man named Jose, a Florida resident affected by the hurricane. Jose walked by the trailer where Merritt was working.
“You’re the Christians who are working on the houses?” Jose asked him. “Yes, we are!” Merritt responded, asking Jose if he knew Jesus. “No, I am a sinner,” Jose replied. “We’re all sinners,” Merritt explained. After asking questions about not being clean, Jose prayed, accepting Jesus into his life. “Praise God!” Merritt said.
As Immokalee is a heavy Hispanic area, mission teams have to find local interpreters – “persons of peace” – who speak English and Spanish to translate for them. DuBois relied on a translator, who repeated the Gospel at 14 different houses in a recent visit. When the team got to the end of the cul-de-sac, the man said, “I would like this Jesus, too!”
Right away, Doug and the local pastor began praying for him, but the man interrupted them, “No! We have to be on our knees!”
“This guy we had actually used to share the Gospel 14 times, accepted the Gospel in the middle of the street!” DuBois said.
For Rick Hancock, associate pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Huntingtown, Md., the mission opportunity
helped his church see firsthand the power of partnerships. The men who traveled to Florida with him did not have
a Southern Baptist background.
“I was able to explain to them and demonstrate to them the very best of who Southern Baptists are,” Hancock explained. It started with a partnership with their sister church, Bayside Baptist Church, who provided use of their church van, free of charge. They also saw the partnership of the local association, which worked with the BCM/D and NAMB.
“When we were driving home, they said, ‘We get it. We just get it. We now understand what it means to be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Hancock recounted.
FBC, Immokalee, has renovated its gymnasium, adding showers to accommodate mission teams and be a “mission hub” for BCM/D churches. Pigg told DuBois, “As long as you can keep sending people down here, we’ll take them!”
“We can go provide a temporary assistance to some people, but we need to understand the eternal problem,” DuBois said.
“The avenue or the road that gets us into their house is a destroyed house. But the ultimate goal is for us to talk about Jesus.”
How You Can Help
There are plenty of opportunities to minister in Florida, only 17 hours straight down Interstate 95, or in Puerto Rico, a flight away.
In particular, in Puerto Rico, Send Relief is looking for people who can do construction and can commit to three weeks of service.
In addition, here are two other ways Maryland/Delaware Baptists can help in Puerto Rico:
A Toy Drive for the 80,000 children across the island: The local pastors have located places where they can purchase toys there in Puerto Rico so they don’t have to be shipped from the U.S. They just need resources and funds to purchase them.
Share the Gospel: BCM/D churches can partner with local churches to reach the island with the Gospel through short-term mission trips and the purchase of Bibles.
Visit BCM/D’s DR website, https://md.disasterreliefonline.com, under the ‘Upcoming Deployment’ page to sign up. Those interested in giving financially can donate online at www.bcmd.org/give.