Junior Martinez’s church, Iglesia Bautista La Gracia (Grace Baptist Church) in Yauco, Puerto Rico, has served as a shelter for survivors following the Jan. 7 earthquake off the southern coast of the island. This week, he received an invitation to meet with the town’s mayor to discuss the continued needs the community is facing.
“Junior saw how tired the mayor was,” Jonathan Santiago, a Send Relief missionary in Puerto Rico, said as he relayed the story. “So, Junior stopped the meeting and asked to pray for the mayor, who invited his wife to join. She broke down in tears when she learned that Junior wanted to pray for them.”
Martinez has been meeting physical needs, and now doors are opening to see lives changed through the power of the gospel. Unfortunately for the people of Puerto Rico, persistent aftershocks have resulted in persistent needs as well.
Another 5.1 aftershock this week forced Puerto Rican authorities to restart their safety inspection process, Santiago said. “Any time there is a 5.0 or over, everything starts over again. Everything has to be re-inspected. So, Wednesday, everything went back to ground zero.”
The preliminary number of homes that are either destroyed or uninhabitable has reached approximately 700. As long as aftershocks continue, that number is expected to rise.
Roughly 8,000 people were still in makeshift shelters, unable to return to their homes, as of Thursday morning.
Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), has been providing food, water and other supplies to help these churches meet needs in their communities.
The crisis response effort has been operating through five locations – three churches in Ponce, Martinez’s church in Yauco and another in Guayama. The opportunities to serve continue opening up.
On Wednesday (Jan. 15) Send Relief, in partnership with the Guaynabo City Athletic League, were able to reach one of the most remote towns affected by the earthquakes, Guayanilla. They crossed a river to distribute 200 blue tarps and 252 cases of water to families and to the elderly in need.
As Puerto Rican pastors and volunteers respond, they have been able to pray and share the gospel with their neighbors. The more time they spend with survivors, the more gospel conversations open up.
“Pray for our churches and volunteers that as opportunities to share the gospel open up, that we take them,” Santiago said. “I keep reminding our volunteers that though we are here helping to meet needs, our hope is to be able to have the chance to share the gospel.”
Felix Cabrera, NAMB’s Send Puerto Rico missionary, shared that two people came to Christ at the location in Guayama.
So far, there have been more than 8,600 meals served through Send Relief, and volunteers from at least 12 local churches in Puerto Rico have joined the effort to serve through the crisis response effort.
Richard Brunson, executive director-treasurer of Baptists on Mission (or North Carolina Baptist Men, NCBM), said NCBM has sent funds to a local partner church in Puerto Rico to help minister to those affected by the earthquake. NCBM purchased and sent 500 water purification units.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)