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Real Time, Real People

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Dear Pastor,

I want you to know firsthand that hearing of your interest to come alongside and help our struggling local churches in Puerto Rico has given us our breath back and filled our hearts with hope. God bless you!

Downed trees in a residential area of San Juan, P.R.

Those have been my opening words responding to almost every Alliance pastor or district superintendent letting me know his heart for helping Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria wiped out our beautiful island six months ago.

And I mean every one of those sentiments.

Getting up every morning month after month only to see devastation everywhere takes a huge toll on you. It extinguishes hope. It’s hard to admit, but almost every day I want to run and try to escape. When at my best, I close my eyes tightly and force myself to believe it’s nothing but a bad dream from which I am about to wake. But it’s not. I am not dreaming.

Edwin Cintron (left), pastor of Iglesia ACyM de Barranquitas (P.R.), joins in prayer with President John Stumbo (middle) and Rosilio Roman III (right), assistant vice president for multicultural and church multiplication ministries..

Suddenly I realize it’s my solemn duty to pastor a hurting church family of 63 local congregations and a seminary during a once-in-a-lifetime major disaster. To make matters worse, I feel disoriented and ill-equipped for the task because this history-making turmoil is also happening to me and my family. I am hurting too.

But then a life-giving thought comes to the rescue: I am a member of a bigger family—a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.

I’m not alone!

Only then, a great sense of hope comes in and gives me exactly what I need to cope with the real danger and the ever-present potential for despair.

Life-Giving Hope

Mark Twain wrote,

A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle for bread; they squabble and scold and fight. . . . Those they love are taken from them and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. . . . [Longing for release] comes at last . . . and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence . . . a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.

C&MA Corporate Secretary and Board Member Steven Lausell stands in front of Iglesia ACyM La Cumbre (P.R.), where he is an elder.

For far too long, as the crisis in Puerto Rico escalated, people on the island kept hearing words very similar to Twain’s in their heads.

You see, we can’t live without hope. We must believe that the night won’t last forever—morning is coming! But hope must be tangible, not just wishful thinking. Hope must be anchored in reality—in real time and with real people.

It’s deeply encouraging to me that in Scripture God is known for making Himself tangible every step of the way. He is always working in history, not only in words or stories. He works in and through real people in real time. I love it!

God has earned the right to be trusted. He has ministered to and through flesh and blood in actual minutes. That’s why His Church is always called to be  tangible as well. Oh, yes, she is! That’s why His Church teaches, gives, loves, cares, forgives, heals, builds, serves, welcomes, nourishes, feeds, and on and on it goes, especially in trying times such as ours.

We belong to a real-time church family. I’ve seen it firsthand. As the C&MA Puerto Rico District superintendent, I give testimony to the Church’s monetary gifts, prayers, food vouchers, generators, clothes, visitors, salary subsidies, tarps, tears, hugs, phone calls, listening ears, and the like. In fact, God has used the Church to give Puerto Rico its hope back. We are so grateful! It’s been painfully hard but also graciously life-giving.

Downed power lines on a side street in a business area of San Juan, P.R.

Seize the Day

A few concrete examples: Alliance Development Fund pardoned four months of our churches’ loans, giving us the opportunity to recover from the powerful financial blow these hurricanes inflicted on us.

Several districts heroically provided our operating budget for six months, making it possible for the Puerto Rico District Office to keep operating when it was (and still is) most needed.

Other districts and local C&MA churches sent monetary gifts and plenty of supplies. Churches in Puerto Rico are spiritually stronger and more united than ever. Even the government and the media have had to admit that it couldn’t have done it without the Church.

CAMA Services (a.k.a. Compassion and Mercy Associates) has been another channel for your generosity, making it possible for us to distribute food vouchers among our people, pay for shipping first aid supplies, and pay a full-time relief coordinator to help us face the coming six months of recovery. Alliance churches in the United States keep “adopting” Puerto Rico Alliance churches as I write, along with our local seminary.

Children eat lunch in the annex of Iglesia ACyM de Barranquitas (P.R.), where the church served meals to the community after the hurricane.

Puerto Rico is going through an unprecedented difficult time and yet is presented with unprecedented ministry opportunities. The apostle Paul made this significant observation to a young pastor in a timely manner: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5).

Thanks to a tangible Church that is sharing the load, we are in the position to follow Paul’s advice, seizing this ministry opportunity in Puerto Rico for God’s glory.

It’s true: You can’t live without real hope. And real hope is what you get when you belong to a tangible Church. Praise God for His Church!

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