GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico (BP) — Puerto Rico garnered headline after headline when Hurricane Maria struck in 2017. The major storm devastated the island, and as happens after such a catastrophe, news media scrambled to cover the story.
A little over two years later, thousands of families remain in need. Yet, few outsiders consider their plight now.
“No one talks about Puerto Rico in the news anymore,” said Jonathan Santiago, a 2020 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering Week of Prayer missionary. “September 2017 is ancient history, but I wish people could see what I see. Sometimes, it’s like Hurricane Maria happened yesterday.”
For Santiago, the passion that fueled his multiple trips to Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Maria persists. In fact, his heart stirred, and God led him and his family to move from New York to serve full time through Send Relief, Southern Baptists’ compassion ministry arm.
“The North American Mission Board (NAMB) asked us to consider coming back to Puerto Rico to serve in my current role as director of Send Relief for Puerto Rico,” Santiago said.
The job is a big one. He coordinates crisis response ministry across the island where an estimated 30,000 homes still have only blue tarps serving as their roofs.
“Hurricane Maria was the worst disaster in Puerto Rican history, but what really gets to me is not what Maria did to our property but what it’s done to our people,” Santiago said. “When you look at different communities, you see the hopelessness. You see so many families still struggling.”
The physical toll the storm took is only surpassed by the emotional and spiritual hit the people have endured. While Send Relief helps with the physical rebuild, the aim is also to meet spiritual needs through the power of the Gospel.
“They say it’ll take 8 to 10 years to get things back to where they were before Maria,” Santiago said. “But Puerto Rico’s mental, emotional and spiritual brokenness is no match for the hope that we find in Jesus Christ.”
As it stands, there is only one Southern Baptist church for every 44,522 people in Puerto Rico. The vast majority of Puerto Ricans — 85 percent — identify with Roman Catholicism.
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Source: Baptist Press