Latin and Central America

Thousands of churches destroyed by hurricane

Credit: Samaritan’s Purse

Churches in the forefront of recovery efforts

Over 3,000 churches have been damaged or destroyed by a Category 4 hurricane that swept over the island of Puerto Rico, wreaking havoc, impacting one million Protestants on the island’s Christian community.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), America’s largest Hispanic Evangelical Organization reported that in addition to flooding, downed trees, and buildings ripped apart by 150 mph winds, the storm cut off electricity and communications networks.

Wanda Rolón, an NHCLC board member and one of Puerto Rico’s best-known pastors, said that she was “not aware of a single church that escaped damage or harm.” The Christian TV station, CDM Internacional, as well as several Christian radio stations went off the air. A Bible distribution ministry lost its inventory when its building was hit.

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has heard from a dozen churches, all of which suffered limited damage, Baptist Press reported. The Southern Baptist churches in Puerto Rico, reported damage to some 90 churches. Local churches serve as a crucial connection point for spiritual and physical support.

In the midst of this, Caribbean Christians try to offer sanctuary while working to repair their own, according to a report in Christianity Today.

“We don’t have buildings right now to have meetings,” evangelist and doctor Luis Paz told Christianity Today in Puerto Rico last Sunday. “We are outside, bringing hope to people, the ones that need the most. We have brothers and sisters who don’t have homes right now, but the church is open to them.”

About half of Puerto Ricans go to church at least once a week, according to the Pew Research Center. (Most of the island’s 3.4 million residents are Catholic, and about a third are Protestant.) But some churches haven’t had power since Hurricane Irma hit earlier in the month. Without power, or due to other damage to their buildings, they’re forced to skip regular services or to worship unplugged outside.

The first Sunday after the storm, many Christians opted for impromptu gatherings in houses. In Arecibo, La Iglesia del Centro suffered minimal damage and held one smaller worship gathering. Pastor Gadiel Ríos encouraged members to open their homes for prayer and worship with their neighbors; some in his congregation of 350 have lost everything.

Paz, a minister and medical doctor, traveled to the capital, San Juan, on Sunday—exactly when he’d usually be worshipping with his 1,200-person congregation, Iglesia AMEC Casa de Alabanza—to pick up generators for clinics and request supplies for churches in the northwest.

“We thank the Lord no matter what,” said Paz, who later ended up singing hymns with his family as they scooped water out of their flooded home. “The Lord is not good when Irma started to go out and not good this time [when Maria hit]. The Lord is good all the time.”

Though churches were badly hurt by the hurricane they were also in the forefront of recovery efforts following the hurricane and flooding in Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Representatives from the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) and Convoy of Hope regarding reconstruction efforts in the two countries following this month’s earthquakes and Hurricane Maria, praised churches who help those in distress.

NHCLC President, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, in a teleconference call, spoke about the launch of a charity effort called “Puerto Rico and Mexico Rise Up,” which seeks to equip churches to help communities in Mexico and Puerto Rico recover from the recent natural disasters.

“This is our campaign on behalf of our churches, on behalf of our chapters and our networks, both here in the States and outside of the States for that matter,” Rodriguez said.

In The Christian Post, Rodriguez explained that the newly launched campaign was working through churches because they are an important channel for relief.

“If we can equip the churches, then these churches can restore the communities. These churches know the communities more than we know the communities,” said Rodriguez.