By Brandon Elrod
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (BP) — When people started showing up seeking food and water after Hurricane Maria, Pastor Johnny Baez knew he couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.
“People around my church started asking me for water to drink and food to eat,” said Baez, who serves at Iglesia Bautista Familia Santurce (Baptist Church of the Family Santurce) in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “So, I asked pastor friends for a [water] filter, and they let me use one. I asked another pastor for a gas stove and another pastor for a gas tank. Now we are cooking Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.”
Soon they started averaging between 110 and 115 people per meal.
“Somebody asked me, ‘Pastor, why’d you do that? How’d you do it?'” Baez said. “I did it because the need is there. The people are waiting for something, and the church has to respond because that’s the church.” See more on Pastor Baez’s story here.
While God provided for the needs in Baez’s area by bringing together the tools and food necessary to start feeding the community, many pastors had the same heart and desired to do the same for their communities, but the resources were harder to come by.
More tools to serve, opportunities to share
On Oct. 8, an MD-80 aircraft was loaded with 50 pallets of Send Relief supplies – enough to make 45 “pastor packs.” Each pack includes a generator, a Coleman stove, a propane tank, a water purification system, a chainsaw, and several other items designed to facilitate clean-up and recovery efforts.
Another 45 pastor packs arrived by air on Sunday (Oct. 22). Six containers of supplies were expected to arrive by sea last weekend as well.
Once the pastor packs are distributed throughout the island, Puerto Rican churches will have more tools to serve and share the Gospel in their communities.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Send Relief have also been coordinating to send volunteers to Puerto Rico. SBDR sent 80 trained volunteers who served the last several weeks, and Send Relief is accepting trained and untrained volunteer registrations at sendrelief.net through Dec. 1 with expectations to extend through Dec. 31.
“Churches and individuals have the opportunity to come alongside pastors like Johnny Baez,” David Melber, president of Send Relief, said. “Southern Baptists can come alongside churches in Puerto Rico to help them reach their communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and see their area changed in the aftermath of a terrible disaster.”
Kenton Hunt, disaster relief director for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, served across the island with other SBDR volunteers from around the United States. They cleared debris and cleaned out flood-damaged homes.
“Take the same passion that you have for reaching people at home, and bring it with you here,” Hunt said to encourage SBDR volunteers who respond. “It’s going to be an opportunity to spread the Gospel, to minister to people in Jesus’ name. There’s so much need here that’s been identified.”
Relief responses in California, Texas, Florida
Sam Porter, the North America Mission Board’s national director for disaster relief, landed in California on Oct. 18 along with Eddie Blackmon, NAMB’s disaster response coordinator. Together, they visited Mike Bivins, the volunteer mobilization specialist in the California Southern Baptist Convention, to encourage and strengthen SBDR volunteers who will respond to wildfires.
Work continues in Florida and Texas as SBDR and Send Relief teams provide help and hope in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Mud-out operations are moving forward in southeast Texas as teams start to move into long-term recovery mode.