Puerto Rico Day 2: A different kind of Lent
Part of our deep dive into the Puerto Rican Presbyterian churches and their experiences during and after the storm involved meeting with pastors, congregation members, and Presbytery leaders. They shared with us how Hurricane Maria impacted their personal lives — losing power in their homes until January, losing family members due to the stress of the storm, and losing residents to the mainland due to loss of homes, jobs, and opportunities on the island.
They also shared with us how the storm impacted their spiritual lives. Rev. Adolfo Santana and Rev. Edwin Gonzalez Castillo recalled how the lectionary readings in the weeks after the storm followed the story of Moses leading the Israelites into the wilderness. Week after week, they read stories of God’s people without food, God’s people without water, God’s people longing to go back to the way things were, God’s people longing for a home.
“There have always been people in crisis, and God continues to speak life,” said Rev. Gonzalez Castillo.
And the Presbyterian churches have been a source of life for so many residents living in the communities where they serve. They have served meals to the hungry and clothed those who lost their own. Iglesia Presbiteriana Antonio Bandillo Hernandez opened their building to the community as a laundromat and donation distribution center. The Rise and Shine Commission of the San Juan Presbytery hosts events with each of the Presbytery’s congregations. These events cater to the needs of each community — mental health services, job fairs, and dedicated story time for children. One of the congregations make it a point to teach children games they can play that do not require electricity.
I learned that suicide rates have gone up over 25% after the storm. Each of the pastors said that one of the biggest needs is for emotional and psychological care. When we asked the pastors how they themselves were doing, Rev. Santana paused for a second and with a sigh said, “Surviving.”
Rev. Manuel Silva shared how Lent was no longer a period of passive reflection, but a time where he is constantly wondering what can be done, what will point toward the promise of a resurrected Christ. Lent and Holy Week have taken on new meaning for the pastors here.
I’ve learned a lot today, and still processing so much more. What will be helpful for you to know today is this:
There are faith leaders here doing their best to take care of the people of Puerto Rico. If you want to support their efforts to bring hope, connection, and healing, find out what they need first so the real needs will be met. From what I’ve heard, these needs include construction materials, skilled labor, mental health care for adults and children, and advocacy for policies and federal assistance that will encourage residents to stay in Puerto Rico, rather than to leave for the mainland because their circumstances here have yet to improve.
Thank you for continuing to care and hold the residents of Puerto Rico in your prayers. To say that is has been a challenging six months is an understatement. The needs are tangible and vast, and through these churches and leaders, God’s loving voice remains.
Grace and peace,