What do you do when it feels like you can’t do anything? When one of the most destructive hurricanes in Puerto Rico’s history hits Jorge Santiago’s hometown, he sets out to do the almost impossible. Learn more about Jorge’s ministry at AnnieArmstrong.com, and find out how you can volunteer in Puerto Rico at volunteer.SendRelief.org.
Send Relief Podcast Show #004
Topic: Jorge Santiago/Generators – School
Jorge: We couldn’t see anything because it was dark. But we could hear everything.
VO: If you want to hear a scary story, go to Puerto Rico and ask the first person you meet, “Where were you when Hurricane Maria hit?”
Jorge: We started hearing all the noises and it was really scary, really scary.
Jorge: I told my wife, “Let’s get into the closet.” So, we got inside the closet, and we stayed there for the entire hurricane. And it was about 10 hours.
VO: Jorge Santiago can’t forget what he heard on the night of September 20th, 2017. And he won’t forget what he saw the next morning.
Jorge: I’m going to be very honest with you—that day, I saw a lot of people crying. Because… everything was destroyed.
“Stories of Hope” is a podcast about people who meet needs, build relationships, and change lives.
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Jorge: Everybody was just afraid, afraid, afraid.
VO: What do you do when it feels like you can’t do anything?
Jorge: Everybody was just united, trying to find a way to get gasoline, to get water, to get food.
VO: This is a story about a community cut off from the rest of the world… and a man who would not let downed trees, washed-out roads, and boarded-up gas stations keep him from helping his neighbors. From Send Relief, this is “Stories of Hope… Today’s episode, “Let There Be Electricity”.
VO: Comerio, Puerto Rico, smells like hibiscus and empanadas and exhaust fumes. It sounds like roosters and street vendors and diesel trucks. And it looks only slightly similar to the town Jorge Santiago once knew like the back of his hand.
Jorge: Comerio is a beautiful place. But after Hurricane Maria, Comerio does not look the same. No power, no water—so, they had to close down businesses and not be able to reopen again. And… it just doesn’t look the same anymore.
(NAT) sound of Hispanic community out window riding by
VO: As Jorge squeezes his minivan down Comerio’s crazy-narrow one-way streets, he points out what used to be tree-covered mountains outside town that are now stripped-bare of anything tall or green. At major intersections traffic lights blink on and off and “stop” signs lie flat on the sidewalk.
NAT: riding with Jorge in car (the NATs on the sequence here are suggestions – there’s others in the “NATs” bin if you want to look thru them)
VO: And then, riding with Jorge, there are the people… always the people.
NAT: riding with Jorge in the car, Jorge greeting
VO: His second cousin, his high school history teacher, the guy who sells hot dogs from a roadside stand—when Jorge sees anyone he knows, he stops his car in the middle of the road, sticks his arm out the window and pulls one of his thousand best friends up to the car for a hug.
NAT: riding with Jorge in the car, Jorge greeting
VO: Everyone in Comerio, it seems, knows and loves Jorge. He’s the hometown kid who left for the States, found Jesus and then, in the summer of 2017, came back to Comerio to try and start a church.
Jorge: God called me to come back to Comerio. He said, “Now go and preach from the place that I took you out from.” But then everything changed. Maria happened—Maria came. And people were really afraid and desperate. I remember I used to speak to people, and they used to just start crying and crying and crying.
VO: It was the day after the hurricane—September 21st, 2017, when Jorge Santiago put his plans to start a church on hold. Many areas of Comerio were completely underwater. And Jorge decided he had to do whatever he could to help his neighbors.
Jorge: I remember I used to go out every day in the morning looking for resources to bring to Comerio.
VO: Unfortunately, at the beginning, that wasn’t much.
Jorge: And I remember three days in a row I couldn’t find anything to bring to Comerio. And I was so heartbroken because I knew my people needed help. And me not finding anything for them was really hard.
VO: What Jorge wanted to find was not just hard. It was impossible. Everyone said so. After Hurricane Maria, people in Comerio were forced to wash their clothes in the contaminated water of the La Plata River. So, Jorge and his wife had gotten the idea to start a free laundromat. They found washing machines, no problem. But what they could not find was electricity.
Jorge: We didn’t have any electricity. And getting a generator here in Puerto Rico at that time was impossible—impossible, because there were not generators, power generators, in Puerto Rico at all. They were all gone. So, we started praying.
VO: The praying was the easy part. The hard part was sitting in hour-long gas lines, detouring around washed-out roads and searching for random pockets of cell service where he would try and squeeze the last bit of battery power from his phone to find someone, anyone, with access to a generator.
Jorge: I knew that God was doing something. But then we had another challenge. Communication was very poor—no internet. So, we didn’t know what was going on. I had to drive an hour away from my house just to make a phone call. And that’s how I got in touch with Carlos Rodriguez.
VO: Carlos Rodriguez was a Southern Baptist missionary working with Send Relief, one of the few organizations that’d managed to get supplies on to the island right after the storm. Send Relief had filled a San Juan warehouse with four semi-trailers worth of food and water and tools and equipment. And they’d asked Carlos to get it all to the pastors who needed it the most.
Jorge: Carlos Rodriguez called me and he said, “I need you to go to the warehouse.” And when I got to the Send Relief warehouse and the guy brought the big box and he opened it, the first thing I noticed was a generator—and not just a generator but everything to help my people and provide for my people. So, I started crying—that was my first reaction—and praising God.
VO: Jorge drove back to Comerio, set up his generator at Inez Mendoza Elementary School, and then put the word out—starting the next Monday, everyone can come wash their clothes for free.
NAT: – generator starting
VO: And on that first day, before the sun had even come up, people were lined up as far as Jorge could see—all of them carrying hampers and trash bags and suitcases stuffed with dirty clothes.
NAT: – crowd noise
Jorge: The Monday that we opened for the community, we had to start telling the people, some of the people, that they had to leave and come back the next day because there were so many people.
NAT: – crowd noise, laundry noise, generator noise
Jorge: We were always expecting that God was going to do something and open a door or a window for us to share the gospel with someone. And we did so many times. When people used to come to wash their clothes, they had to be there with us. And we shared the gospel and prayed with so many people at the washer machine area.
VO: A generator can be a powerful thing. But Jorge didn’t understand just how powerful until a few weeks later when the laundry rush slowed down to a manageable daily routine, and the hallways of Inez Mendoza Elementary School got very, very quiet.
NAT: – quiet noise (some faint generator noise, faint washing machine, etc.)
VO: Except for Jorge and the people who came to wash clothes, the school was empty. Ever since Hurricane Maria, classes had been cancelled because, as it turns out, a school needs electricity to be a school.
NAT: – quiet noise
VO: And that’s when Jorge realized he could make enough electricity for everybody.
Jorge: In the beginning, the idea with the generator was to power the washing machines only. And then my wife and I started thinking, “We can help the school. Why not? They’re here. We have the gasoline; we have the generator. Why not?”
NAT: – school kid noise
VO: And that’s how after six months of no school, Inez Mendoza Elementary opened back up for business.
NAT: – school/class noise
Jorge: We got to power the computer and printers, so the teachers, they could bring their assignments for the kids, for the homework. I didn’t expect that was going to happen. We were just trying to help the people. But since we were following Jesus and following God on this, He was leading us and guiding us to the right place. So by helping the school, they got to reopen again.
NAT: – school/class and or washing machines in background
VO: The grownups did laundry. The kids did math and history. And Jorge, the man who thought he was putting his plans for a new church on hold, ended up baptizing new believers and starting that new church after all.
NAT – baptisms
VO: In a town where everything was dark – now, there is light.
Jorge: Everybody knew that the situation was bad. But we didn’t feel left behind or all alone. Because the first responders were Send Relief. So now when I think about Hurricane Maria and all that happened, I can’t see anything else but a new opportunity to start over again and to build strong. That’s exactly what God wanted to happen in Comerio.
VO: From Send Relief, this has been “Stories of Hope”. Today’s episode… “Let There Be Electricity”.
VO: To see more of Jorge’s story go to namb-dot-net-slash-comerio. You can also go to Annie-Armstrong-dot-com to see how your gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering helped Jorge get everything he needed to start One Church-Comerio. And finally, to learn more about how you and your church can help meet needs, build relationships and change the lives of people caught in the path of disasters like Hurricane Maria, go to send relief dot org.
VO: We’ll be back in two weeks with another episode of “Stories of Hope.”