October 31

Hi everyone. Last time, our youngest son posted for us since we had very limited internet service. That is still true but things are slowly improving. Yesterday, we got our water back, after forty days but still no lights. Projections by the governor are lights by Christmas time. Those working for the electrical company suggest February. Just noting the progress, I suspect February is more realistic. The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria was massive, especially in the mountains and on the northwest side of the island. Every part of the island insists they were the most affected. Who really knows? I have however, traveled to San Juan and to the southwest side of the island and I know where we live, the northwest, seems to have had greater destruction. As the case may be, many thousands of homes were affected. Tens of thousands of light poles are down: 80% of the island is still without lights and 25% still without water. Never in the history of the USA and its possessions has a blackout been has large and severe as that left by Hurricane Maria..at least that is the statistic presented by weather.com.

Forty percent of the small businesses may not reopen. According to today's tabulations, 90,000 people have moved to the States since the hurricane. Jobs have been lost in all sectors of the economy, thus the exodus. Our church has seen a few leave since the hurricane.

Looking a little further back, the last eighteen months have been very difficult for the church. At least twenty-five have moved to the States. That is a fourth of the congregation. I have talked with other church leaders and they indicate their congregations have also suffered attendance drops. The hurricane has also exacerbated the attendance situation. People seem to be out of focus, angry, short tempered and anxious. Someone said, kind of like a post traumatic stress syndrome. Nevertheless, I did see a change in attitudes last Sunday. People are getting their second wind and determined to move forward with their lives and their church. Things will turn around.

We have been assessing how to help people. Where do we start, how do we help with the funds available? Individually, many of our people have given food, water, money and clothing to people in need. The church has been able to buy some external doors for two of the church families. With the help of Chad and Chandi Mayes we have given water filters to people who did not have clean drinking water. Furthermore, this Thursday some of the church leaders will take a trip to the mountains to distribute water filters via a Methodist church contact. The situation is very difficult for the mountain towns. We are also planning a morning of clothing distribution in two weeks. Also, church members are identifying people they know that need help. Through the generosity of several people and a few churches in the States, we will be able to buy some appliances and building supplies for some who lost so much.

In closing, I must apologize for the lack of photos. Apparently the internet bandwidth is very limited and it is very hard to upload photos. Perhaps next time. I will stop here. Blessings to all.

October 7: Post-Maria Update

Posted by: Ben Reece (on behalf of Johnathan and Mary Reece)

It's been 2 1/2 weeks since Hurricane Maria paid Puerto Rico a visit. 

First, the important stuff:  John and Mary, as well as the members of La Iglesia Cristiana de Aguadilla congregation, are okay.  Thank you all for your prayers.

Reestablishing communications in the aftermath has been a slow process and networks remain unreliable, but I was finally able to establish direct contact with my family a few days ago and spoke with my father this afternoon without issue.

As you've likely seen on the news, damage to the island is extensive and it will be months before things even approach normal.  The current situation in Aguadilla is: no running water, no electricity except by household generator, cell phone service that is partially restored in patches of network coverage, a gasoline shortage that appears to have been solved, a cash shortage because few ATMs work and banks have established withdrawal limits, and downed trees and power lines everywhere you look.

Puerto Rico at night before and after Maria.  Courtesy of NBC News.
There is no shortage of food or drinking water, nor a shortage of "necessary" supplies.  In that regard, needs are being met via relief efforts and regular businesses.  That's not to say more of both wouldn't be nice, but it's not a major concern now that FEMA has started making inroads.

Due to the lack of cash currency, bartering is starting to be implemented in some instances.  But when you grow up in the low-income world of PR you don't find that too unusual.

Water service is expected to return in the next 2 - 3 weeks.  The best estimates for having power restored is 4 months for coastal cities and up to a year in some of the more remote mountain towns.  So months of inconvenience and hardship remain for many.

On the bright side, no one on the island has seen this many stars in a hundred years.  And people are actually speaking to their neighbors at night, rather than watching television or Facebooking.

I've yet to speak to anyone who doesn't describe Hurricane Maria as a fearsome, terrifying storm.  My brother informed me the rain was driven so hard by the wind that it peeled the paint off of buildings like a pressure washer.  Nearly every tree in the storm's direct path was stripped of its leaves and/or uprooted.  Approximately 30 inches of rain fell.

Unfortunately, that was the only place to park in the shade.  Notice the lack of foliage.
Dad indicated that the eye of the storm went over them; at one point the winds calmed and he could see sunshine.  He took advantage of those minutes to reconnoiter the condition of the church building, which is visible from the house.  What he saw was a property inundated, the church standing like an island in a sea.  Not a good sign, as surely water had made it into the lower floor (which has a history of flooding during a run-of-the-mill tropical thunderstorm).

The following day he and mom walked over to  to assess the damage.  Trees were uprooted all over the property and there was a dingy waterline high on the door leading into the lower floor.  Another bad sign.  They opened the door, prepared to find water everywhere, and were greeted by...a bone-dry space.  No water made it into the church!

Church happened shortly afterward, people showed up.  Praise God!
As mentioned, the members of the church made it through the storm relatively unscathed.  There's property damage, to be sure, but nothing insurmountable.  Church service occurred this past Sunday, with over 50 in attendance for an "old school" praise and worship service sans microphones and speaker systems (or A/C, which just reminds me of the first 20 years of the church in Aguadilla)

The coming months will be a challenge as people learn to adjust to the lack of electricity and the complications that Maria's impact introduced into their routines.  Mudslides have forced route changes and the morning commute takes a bit longer without any stoplights controlling traffic.  But most are taking a pragmatic, this-too-shall-pass approach to their circumstances.

Having said that, there are those on the island (and St. Croix, and Dominica) who have lost everything.  The benevolence ministry is already in action and doing what they can to assist the unfortunate.  It so happens they had already made efforts to assist families impacted by Hurricane Irma (the first Category 5 of the season) before Maria came calling.

There have been several inquiries from folks asking what they can do to help and that is greatly appreciated.  There's no need for supplies or foodstuffs; as mentioned, these things are mostly available.  At this juncture the focus from the church in Aguadilla is on helping families in the Puerto Rican and Caribbean community get back on their feet, which means funds will be funneled to assist those who have lost much.

If you feel compelled to donate towards the church's hurricane relief efforts, please direct any donations to the Puerto Rico Mission:

Puerto Rico Mission
C/O John and Nancy Montgomery
125 Millard Drive NW
Cleveland, TN 37312-7041

Please take care to identify the intended use as "Hurricane Maria" or something to that effect.  This will ensure that it goes to the relief efforts directly via dedicated project allocation.

In closing, John and Mary (mom and dad) want to thank everyone for their prayers and support.  None of the good things happening in Aguadilla occur without our brothers and sisters in Christ supporting the effort there.  This storm has served to reveal a congregation of believers in Aguadilla steadfast in its faith and dedicated to serving those around them in the name of Christ.  What a blessing and joy.

God bless you,

Ben Reece (the younger, better-looking son)