February 2, 2018

3' of water in the house after the storm
Good morning to everyone everywhere. I noticed it was the 10th of January when I last wrote. Let me catch you up on our work and lives here.

Progress after the hurricane moves forward although it seems to be at a snail's pace. For example, I visited an acquaintance of ours Wednesday who lives ten minutes from our home. She got her power back Tuesday night, 130 days after the storm, even though she lives just a five minute walk from the town square and the mayor's office. She had to move heaven and earth to get the electricity back on. Everyone at the electrical company was telling her, "maybe late May". With her perseverance (like the parable of the widow and her untiring requests for justice from a corrupt judge) she kept on until the lights were restored in her neighborhood.

I read this week from an official source that island-wide, 80% of the infrastructure was destroyed in the storm. By that I assume the comment was made in reference primarily to the electricity. On the southeast side of the island, where the powerful storm first made landfall, devastation is still seen everywhere. Some who have been there say in someways it seems as if no progress has been made. That is not the case. It DOES take time to put up 50,000 light poles and string the cables. It is a massive project. Overall, I have read 70% of the island now has power. HAPPY NEWS!

Retiree getting  a refrigerator
Christian family receiving appliances
I continue to focus much of my energy and time toward the hurricane relief effort. Here, things appear to be normal...until I get a call and then another and yet another from people who get my name from a FEMA referral. I have been in talks with families from four towns here in the northwest section of the island all this week. Santos Torres and I, with the funds so many have sent to our mission or directly to the church, have helped people buy refrigerators, washers, children's beds, beds for adults, windows, stoves, table and chairs, sofas, sofa beds, fans, flooring and roofing materials. We have now helped over 60 families with major items such as those just mentioned. Minor items given away number in the hundreds. Almost everyday I get another call for help. So, things are not back to normal for so many people.

Young man picking up an appliance gifted to his mom
For example, Tuesday I asked one lady who lost everything, after she got four feet of water in her home, how they managed to keep food from spoiling? She replied she was using a small 1-2 cubit foot office refrigerator and an ice chest...since September 20.

Another person texted me yesterday right after her and her husband's purchased items had been delivered. She wrote "Just want to thank you and thank all the people that helped you help me. Definitely, thanks to Jesus for putting good people like you in our lives. Thank you, and again, may God bless you and your family ALWAYS.  Sincerely, ___________."

Happy mother with a new bed for her daughter
On to other matters; our church has also provided personal items for school children in the neighboring town of Aguada, at the request of the school's social worker. Also being organizing is a trip to the children's cancer hospital in San Juan the middle part of this month.

Finally, we still face low attendances, as  appears to be the case in churches everywhere, according to ministers we talk with. We still understand it will be a temporary phenomena although we have to face a growing truth that many on the island have moved to the States..225,000! There are very few jobs available. Good ones are practically non-existent. And, with the government facing a  debt of 72 billion dollars, it and the economy is shrinking and will continue to do so. These are VERY hard times for the island, unlike anything we have seen in the 45 years we have been here.

Finally, I want to once again thank those who were able to send help. MUCH good has been done. We are grateful we have had the means to help so many...and will continue to do so. Until next time...

Johnathan and Mary



 

January 10, 2018

Three Kings Day gift recipients
Hi.  Welcome to the first blog of the year. Today I am writing from my own office, and on my own computer. The fan is circulating the air and I can hear the clothes dryer humming in the background. WE HAVE ELECTRICITY... after one-hundred and ten days! Our water returned around the sixty-day marker. Until then rain water was used for drinking, bathing and washing clothesby hand for most people. Life was lived cautiously until then. For sure, lack of electricity was an inconvenience but pretty manageable with a generator. We still have no internet, vital for some of my work. Emails and blogs are hard to get out or receive. So far, things have improved these past couple weeks to where I have been able to link my phone to my computer and get a little bit done.

70,000 homes without roofs
The effects of the storm are far reaching. An estimated 250,000 have left the island since the storm. With no electricity, many businesses have closed their doors and people have had to go elsewhere to find jobs. It has had a trickle-down effect on the churches in the northwest part of the island and I suspect everywhere. Our attendance in May averaged one-hundred. Now the average attendance is seventy. At times, it goes up or down depending on sickness (bronchitis and pneumonia has hit several in our congregation), and vacations (we had eight families off island over a two-week period). Despite these issues, as always, we have met and honored the Lord as a body. Sunday, as the congregation enjoyed the song service, a lineman from Oklahoma (there are 5500 linemen from all over the USA helping restore power) came in and told us to disconnect the generator. A couple of seconds later lights filled the building and the fans began to whirl. In the middle of the song the congregation broke into a spontaneous long applause and many began to cry overwhelmed by emotion. As I saw the peoples reaction I had to wipe the tears that filled my eyes. It was a touching moment, something I suppose I will never forget. This storm separated the men from the boys so to speak and helped each of us examine our hearts and commitments to Christ and his Body.

Babies with gifts from our and two other churches 
On to other matters, the storm has provided dozens of opportunities to practice what we preach, loving our neighbor as ourselves. With the generosity of our local church, individuals, as well as churches in the States, along with the help of the US government the following has been accomplished: We provided a workshop on how to assembly a water filter. Thanks to Chad Mayes for taking the lead on this workshop. Through their mission and ours and the church we gifted filters for three or four dozen families here in Aguadilla and in mountain towns without potable water. We provided bottled water and MREs by the hundreds for people in our church, people in Aguadilla and in three mountain towns. Furthermore, we took personal items to people in towns in the mountains and provided the same for anyone in our church as well. Solar lamps were distributed to many families, clothing was donated to MANY people in Aguadilla as well as in the mountains to those who were lost so much. Also, our church in conjunction with two other churches provided Christmas gifts for 80+ children in the mountain town of Jayuya, amounting to a total gift of $1,200.00.

I want to also add that through the donations of individuals and churches in the States our church has 
Recipients of a new refrigerator
been able to buy an appliance, or furniture, or repair/replace a roof for over 45 families. That effort is ongoing. I believe we will be able to help from 60-75 families in a major way because of the generosity of so many.

I am delighted with the generous spirit of our people. One thing has become clear to me, the Body of Christ all over the island from many denominations and independent churches as well as churches in the States has made a huge effort to help people in PR. It has been a BEAUTIFUL and moving thing to see. There are those that love to criticize Christs people and point out our faults. Yet it has been the church, much more than the critics, that has stepped forward to ease the suffering and dry the tears of those who lost so much. More than ever, I love the church of the Lord and will defend it till the end of my days on earth.
Well until next time.


Johnathan and Mary