John Stumbo Video Blog No. 51

October 12, 2017

12:58

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This month John reports from Puerto Rico in the destructive aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. He describes how Alliance people are assisting Puerto Rican churches and calls the U.S. Alliance to be moved with compassion on their behalf.

Transcript

Hello, Alliance family. I’m in Puerto Rico. I didn’t plan to come to you this month from this location, but the urgency of the hour demanded that I be here. I’m standing in the side yard of one of our churches that actually received some of the least amount of damage. You can see that I’m in the midst of debris, but this is actually quite minimal compared to much of what we’ve seen.

I arrived less than two weeks after the eye of Maria looked down on Puerto Rico with fury. What I saw in her wake I would like to describe to you now. Wooden power and telephone poles snapped in two and metal ones bent over like folded straws. I’d estimate that maybe four out of five gas stations still had blocked entrances announcing that there was no gas available there, while lines of 12, 50—I even counted 96 cars in one line—waiting at the fuel stations that did have fuel available.

Street after street, road after road, was shouldered with debris, mud, branches, power lines, an every-mile-tangled reminder that a great violence has occurred here. From neighborhood shops to major chain restaurants, they sat lightless, foodless, without power or people. Tree trunks and tree limbs as far as the eye could see were cracked, splintered, and completely without vegetation.

Entire neighborhoods and high-rise buildings weathered the storm well, yet after sundown were sitting dark as the night—lightless windows hung like Halloween ghosts from concrete frames. Two weeks into this tragedy, an estimated 93 percent of the population still is without power. I saw strong men brought to tears with the sense of loss that they’ve experienced. Once again, the poor suffer the most. Cement roofs and homes, more expensive to build, withstood winds with minimal damage, while lower-cost roofs rolled, twisted, and flew away.

Meanwhile, I saw garbage crews, linemen, city workers busily cleaning debris, restoring power and restoring order; police escorts, guiding the precious cargo of fuel trucks to their destination of the thirsty gas stations; planes full of people, engineers, security personnel, nonprofit leaders arriving to help—and planes full of people eager to leave, hoping for a better life elsewhere. An estimated half a million people will leave the island that’s already shrinking in population.

Some businesses with generators were thriving and overflowing. Lines filed outside of banks trying to get cash, and I saw citizens just trying to carry on life the best they could, returning to work as able. I saw the first shoots of new green boldly arising from a de-frond palm tree, announcing that life still arises from the soil. All of this I saw along the way as we traveled to what I really came to see—the church: her buildings, her people, her spirit. In my 44-hour, 300- mile, nine-church whirlwind, I have this report to give.

I’m standing outside our seminary in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’m barely off the airplane but wanted to come directly here because this is such a significant ministry for the Alliance family throughout this beautiful island. They had record enrollment this fall, 215 students registered
. . . only were able to meet for one or two classes because, first of all, Hurricane Irma came through, shut things down for a while, and then Maria completely devastated not only the scheduling but severely damaged the building.

Windows blown out, water damage throughout, smell of must throughout the air. Miraculously, the books have been preserved and saved. No problem there. But no electricity at all in this building, and less than three weeks after the hurricane they’re seeking to reopen classes, using solar panel lights that are being purchased partially through the help of the Alliance family. And I’m just proud of our leadership team that is saying, “This is a tough one. We’re tired, we’re weary. But, we want the ministry to go forward for these students that have enrolled in this semester.”

They don’t know how many will stay on the island; they don’t know how many will be able to get to class. They know that some of their professors can’t get here because they live a distance away and the roads are still bad, and the curfew is in effect. But they’re doing what they can to say, “This ministry is significant, and we want it to move forward.” So Alliance family, this is one of the places—our San Juan seminary—that we want to move forward for the advancement of the name of Jesus on this island. So let’s help them.

We have 63 churches on this beautiful island. I’m at the La Cumbre Church, which hardly suffered any damage at all. Blew the logo off the top, but we’re grateful that the destruction was not universal.

I’m standing in the entrance of the nursery at the La Caguas Alliance Church here in Puerto Rico with one of the laymen, who is helping out today.

John: And you had a service here on Sunday?

Layperson: Yes sir.

John: The Sunday after the tragedy?

Layperson: Yes sir.

John: You guys were meeting . . .

This is just the beginning of the pile of debris that they’re gathering. Wet ceiling tiles, insulation that’s destroyed. And the beginning of the assessment has begun as to just what they need to do, structural damage, as part of the story here as well as the hurricane forces actually lifted the roof and twisted some of the joists, and so their work of reconstruction has just begun.

John: It’s OK to feel the loss.

Spanish translator: Pueden sentir el dolor de la pérdida.

John: But we do not grieve as those who have no hope.

We’re up in the mountains now, at one of our Easter 100 churches. It’s still going strong. They were very wise in the way that they protected their building. The aluminum that you see all around the building is actually covering the glass and did a very effective job of keeping the building safe. There’s some roof damage, but because of their productivity, the church was spared of the kind of crisis that the local restaurant actually experienced down below.

We’re making our way around the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, seeing church status. This particular congregation weathered the storm pretty well, especially in light of what the surroundings look like. Trees shredded, power lines down, so grateful for the protection of God upon some of our churches.

I’m traveling with my brothers Javier, district superintendent for the Puerto Rico District; Rosilio from the C&MA National Office; and John is leading the way as a layman, overseeing our CAMA relief project here that we’re going to be working on. Javier hadn’t been to this church yet and was glad to see that this is standing and in good shape. We’ve got 10 gallons of gas with us, and we’re in and out of the rains, but it’s a good day as we see the Alliance family across the island.

I’m with Pastor Miguel, been pastor here for 19 years, serving Jesus in Arecibo, one of the beautiful cities. His neighborhood has been devastated by water flowing through here, and he’s going to give us a tour of what his church is dealing with now as they recover after this horrendous storm.

Pastor Miguel: The cleaning aspect, we need to first of all attack this, remove all this sewage.

John: So this was inside the building today?

Pastor Miguel: Yeah, and you’re going to see this house, we are not started that yet, but you’re going to see how it looks, and then we need to go with glove because you can have some stuff can get you.

John: So my brother Pastor Miguel is doing all this work with no electricity, no water, but with great faith if they can reclaim their property for Jesus.

Pastor Miguel: Today, Tuesday, there came around 40 people.

John: Wow, 40 people here today working.

Pastor Miguel: Yeah and all ages. It’s amazing. Sometimes I say, “Take it easy.” But they work hard, the service Sunday was . . . We preached about Psalm 33, we’re waiting for your mercy. Then we start praying for each other, for Puerto Rico, for each other, and then there came the announcement, “OK, we have work to do. You know, a sign, who wants to do this, that, and we need to take care of some people.” And people have a good spirit; they want to do it. We thought that perhaps were going to come less people because of the gasoline problem, but still came a good group. And, hopefully, next Sunday we hope here to see around probably 140 or 150.

John: Having not been around flooding much before, one of the things that I underestimated is how just dirty it is. Mud, sewage, debris, that just all mingles together and then leaves this stench of a residue, so cleanup has to be a very laborious and difficult task.

I came to Puerto Rico to stand with our brothers and sisters in their trial, to assure them of our love, to pray with them, to listen to their concerns, to assess the needs, and to assure them of our support and that they’re part of a bigger family that truly cares. I leave too soon, but I leave knowing that the district is under good leadership with Javier, our superintendent who has gathered a great team around him.

So what is the Alliance family’s response in a time like this? Well, let’s keep doing what we’re doing. Praying for those in crisis, like the Puerto Rican church, and many others in our world today that are suffering a wide variety of hardships.

We’re assessing needs here in Puerto Rico to determine how we best come alongside to support. Puerto Rican church has many resources of their own, but how do we come alongside to give them the aid that they would much benefit from? ADF has done so by choosing to waive the October loan payment for the 20 churches that have Alliance Development Fund loans and are deciding what the best way forward is for the next few months. A few of our districts have banded together to underwrite the district office costs here for the Puerto Rican church, and any funds that we want to give should be funneled through CAMA services as our best means of assisting the church financially.

You know, on the plane ride down here, it just so happened that in my Bible reading, I was in Luke at the telling of the story of the Good Samaritan, and what captured me this time as I read it is that the Levite and the priest both saw the person who had been robbed and beaten, but what the Samaritan did was not only see but was moved with pity and then acted upon it.

I don’t know, Alliance family, if your particular church is supposed to respond to this particular need in Puerto Rico. But I do know that we must be the kind of people who have not only eyes to see the situations around us but a spirit that arises and responds. Not to every situation, everywhere, every time a headline comes, but if we never respond, it says something about the coldness of our hearts.

So Alliance family, we have a long history of engaging in the Katrinas and Harveys and Irmas and Marias and not just the natural disaster kinds of storms but in all manner of human need and crises in this world. Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” May we be the people who not only observe but are moved with compassion, respond in some manner that is appropriate, and in so doing, we’re being the Church. We’re being The Alliance. Let’s do this together.

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