I have been trying to lay out the issues that face Gospel proclamation and preaching in terms of politics. There are grave and powerful issues that face missionaries and mission that are political, and part of the roadblocks that we face are the result of the antiquated idea that the church should never address political issues. There are political obstacles placed in front of mercy work and we watch as slowly the mercy arms of the church are corrupted by politics and social justice theology. Then there are the physical issues that plague mission work such as what you are about to read. I am asking you to think about the arm of the church that has as its’ mission the alleviation of those physical and environmental issues,
James and Christel Neuendorf are missionaries that I first met in the Dominican Republic. They are marvelous servants of Christ and they are wonderful examples of Christian love for the neighbor. This is a portion of James report on what is happening to the churches and he and his wife in Puerto Rico. We have so much news about so much stuff that disasters like earthquakes get short shrift. Our workers and missionaries sometimes are forgotten – please read.
Many of you have heard by now of the powerful earthquakes which have been shaking the island of Puerto Rico in the past few days. We have had over 400 quakes in the same relative area since just after Christmas, seemingly growing in size and intensity every day. Yesterday morning at around 4:30 A.M we were shaken awake by a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake which struck off the south coast of the island, near a town called Guayanilla which is a short distance away (15 minutes or so by car) from Ponce. At about 7 AM we were hit by a second quake, this time of a 6.0 magnitude which when combined with the first quake caused some significant damage in Ponce and closer to the epicenter in Guaynilla, Guanica, Indios, and Yauco.
Immediately following the first major earthquake we activated our disaster plan and began calling team members in Mayaguez church members in both locations to check on everyone’s well-being. Thanks to God’s grace and protection, all of our congregation members are well and none of them suffered damages beyond broken plates or wall-hangings. In the morning as soon as the sun came up, we made an exploratory visit to the church to check on how the building withstood the quake, things seemed mostly ok, but a concerning crack appeared on the back side of the multi-purpose room we had set up and have been using as a sanctuary. This is the only space we have been able to habilitate so far in the new building. Because of the crack and aftershocks, we made the decision not to enter the building.
Once we had verified that our primary group was well, we began to check on neighbors and were able to spend the first set of aftershocks together with our new neighbors in Ponce (we moved to a different house in December). We began hearing rumors of some significant damage downtown, and I received a phone call from a member that the street the church is on was closed because of collapsed buildings. This had not been the case when we did our initial check, so we assume that the collapse happened during the second, 6.0 quake. At this point we also learned that one man in Ponce had been killed from a collapsed wall. The news also was that the road between Ponce and Mayaguez was blocked and that we would not be able to reach each-other without traveling north through San Juan, about a 5 hour drive.
At around noon we connected with our regional team, currently meeting in Belize and talked through our next steps. Immediately afterwards I traveled to the fire department and presented myself as the local Lutheran pastor and missionary ready and able to help. They were very receptive and brought me around to the different coordination centers so that I could pray for and talk to the dispatch teams and police officers. From there they sent me to connect with the municipality who was trying to set up a refugee center in a stadium across town. Christel and I stopped by the church again to gather materials based on what we perceived to be needs, and at that point could see the significant changes that the second quake had brought to the situation.
Rubble covered the street to the church from walls that had fallen off some neighboring buildings, and some of the large apartment buildings (1 being the senior center) were cracked and the fire department was urging evacuation for residents. There are concerns that some of these large buildings could completely collapse. The cracks in the wall at church were much larger, confirming that we should not enter the building without an inspection, but fortunately the majority of our disaster supplies are stored in the CARD (our Disaster Response and Mercy House) center which is not set up yet with water or electricity but appears to have suffered minimal damage. We loaded the car up with tables, mercy literature, coloring books, a mic and speaker that operate on battery power, and whatever we could think of that might be useful. Before leaving for the camp, we went to check on the elderly living facility where we do our weekly visits on Calle Campeche. It was heartbreaking to see the large cracks running up and down the front of the building, and we asked around to be told
that the residents had been moved to the refugee center.
When we arrived at the center we saw people everywhere sleeping in their cars, sitting in circles with shocked and tired expressions, and generally disorganized. At this point the only organization was being handled by one of the municipality workers who was heroically managing a disaster response center from scratch without much support. She had a handful of volunteers who were staff at the municipality office, but the situation was very complicated. The original plan had been to house people in the basketball stadium which had a roof, but the stadium had been damaged and was structurally unsound, and with the risk of additional quakes, it was no longer an option. The next plan was to put up tarps and have people sleep in the open in the baseball stadium, but with unseasonable heavy rains this whole last week, this did not seem like a good option either. Most people at the camp had come from buildings which were now deemed to be unsafe to enter, and would likely be living there for weeks.
We found the people from the elderly center and were able to spend some time visiting and counselling, relationships that had been built over the past few months allowed us to have the trust to listen to their stories and share Christ’s love. More and more people poured into the camp as time went on, and we set up some tables and began doing a small impromptu VBS for the adults and kids. A volunteer nurse showed up and used one of our tables for taking blood pressure and checking on people. In another area, one of the municipal workers did a magic show! I was able to hand out mercy devotionals and talk to families who had lost everything, as well as pray with small groups of people who were hurting. Everyone was waiting for 4:00 when they were told they would be moved into the stadium, but this never ended up happening.
Please pray for Neuendorfs’ and consider a gift to LCMS World Relief and Human Care. More on their situation tomorow.