Lisa* is a single mother to three girls, ages three, four and seven. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017, they lost everything they owned.
Sadly, because of financial difficulties, they were still struggling to find safe housing three years later and had settled on a hut that was falling apart. But at $100 a month, it was all Lisa could afford.
When Send Relief partners found them in the early months of 2020, they were still living in this shack.
Originally, Lisa’s house wasn’t on the list of construction projects scheduled for response teams on the ground but, after our construction manager and engineer saw the house and the small children living in such dangerous conditions, the house was immediately added to the list.
When Lisa and her girls first met our Send Relief partners, they were cold and distant. Lisa’s daughters were riding broken-down tricycles in the street when they were approached by a construction manager and refused to answer his questions, suspicious of his offers to help. Cracking open the door to get a good look at the team, Lisa peered through the crack and gave curt, one-word answers but eventually agreed to the help.
Our construction teams got to work reinforcing the entire home’s structure, as specialists were concerned about how extensive the damage was, saying the foundation was so poorly laid that “parts of the floor felt like walking on a hammock.” The field team working on the stairs said, “It was an accident waiting to happen.”
Then, the pandemic hit, and construction came to a halt.
Volunteers who were helping our teams in the rebuilding process were no longer allowed on the island. Travel restrictions mandated a cleared COVID-19 test within 72 hours of flying, which just wasn’t possible for many volunteer teams, and the 14-day quarantine time required when bypassing the test took up the entirety of their planned trips.
Local churches stepped up to fill the gap.
Between church volunteers and Send Relief specialists, construction was able to resume. One of the team members actually began making plans to plant a church in Lisa’s small town, so she had the opportunity to watch her potential future pastor rebuild her home and collaborate with her neighbors to show God’s tangible love to her family. The workers have been particularly intentional with her children: “You could see the transformation as the week went on. By the end of the project, they were constantly popping in asking questions to team members, bringing water nonstop, and even asking if the workers could stay past the completion date.”
Saying goodbye broke the hearts of these tough construction workers. The little girls had found their way into their hearts and stood waving in the driveway—yelling “we love you”—as the team drove away. Additionally, the pastor on the construction team was able to have gospel conversations with Lisa, and she was receptive, even considering church membership when the church plant is established. The change in Lisa’s attitude, and even her face, over the project’s duration was noticeable: she became hospitable and welcoming within a week of knowing Send Relief partners.
And this is the beauty of mercy initiatives and compassion ministries—in showing mercy, it allows people to become more receptive to receiving help and being vulnerable about their struggles.
Puerto Rico is still need of your support. There are thousands more families just like Lisa’s struggling to find ways to stay afloat amid the recent natural disasters and the ongoing pandemic.
Our ministry coordinator on location, Itamar Elizalde, shared, “We need people to not forget about us and to keep partnering with us in prayer. The need is definitely still here. There are still people reeling from [Hurricane] Maria, school disruptions since the coronavirus, unemployment, political and financial crises…and resources are needed both financially and volunteer-wise.”
20,000 homes are still reported as damaged and untouched since the hurricane, but most locals will attest that that number is conservative. Swaths of blue tarps-turned-roofs are still visible as you land at Puerto Rico’s main airport. Many families were experiencing a financial crisis even prior to the natural disasters of the past few years, but the hurricanes are described as a kind of “localized 9/11” for the island community. Surviving the trauma of those experiences left a ripple effect of consistent anxiety and survivor’s guilt among locals, but it is in moments like these that a beautiful resiliency and stubborn hope often emerge.
Such was the case with teachers in the southwest part of the island that experienced the most intense of the earthquakes earlier this year. Children in this region have been out of school since December because of the safety concerns surrounding aftershocks and tremors. When they did try to reopen schools in the spring, they were able to stay open one week before the pandemic forced yet another shutdown. After consulting with the school boards, teachers decided of their own accord to begin holding classes in community parks. Many parents accompanied their kids, as the children were traumatized by the recent natural disasters and needed extra support. Knowing this and the guilt that many parents felt in having to leave their anxious kids in order to work, teachers made and began wearing T-shirts that said, “I’m a Mother, Too, and I Will Take Care of Your Children.”
The incredible strength of these islanders is helping them rise and rise again.
Coordinator Elizalde commented on this positive side of the disaster recovery process, saying, “Since [Hurricane] Maria, I know at least 15 churches have been planted, and while there is a weariness and desperation in people left hopeless after these crises, there is also a dismantling of idols. If people thought their job was their source of hope, they’re facing unemployment. If family was an idol, COVID-19 and natural disasters caused distance and separation. All of these alternate gods are being threatened, if not taken away, and we are left to simply offer a gospel of hope that is very real and a God of hope who continues to do great things.”
Remember Puerto Rico in your prayers this week and support ongoing recovery projects in the region at sendrelief.org/donate.
Published October 11, 2020