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Puerto Rico relief needs ongoing volunteers, funding

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (BP) — Southern Baptists continue to serve Puerto Rico’s residents after Hurricane Maria’s devastation in September, creating a nationwide response from the ground up.

Sam Porter, national director for disaster relief for the North American Mission Board, has spent several days in Puerto Rico in two separate trips to assist disaster response coordinator Jack Noble in facilitating the large-scale response by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) and Send Relief.

“Though the plight of Puerto Rico has started to fade from the headlines,” Porter said, “there are still plenty of needs and places to serve.”

NAMB’s Send Relief outreach has attained warehouse space in Puerto Rico for the collection of food, water and other resources. Items are then distributed to various churches ministering to those in need in their region.

A part of the disaster relief strategy has involved equipping local churches across the island to serve as distribution centers.

Between Oct. 22 and Nov. 11, Send Relief and SBDR teams from 11 state Baptist conventions distributed nearly 254,000 meals, the majority of which were sandwich meals but also including more than 19,000 hot meals as of Nov. 14.

Trained SBDR teams and volunteers from Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania-South Jersey, Maryland-Delaware, the Northwest Baptist Convention, the SBC of Virginia (SBCV) and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention have been serving in Puerto Rico and laying the foundation for future disaster relief efforts.

In addition to SBDR, volunteer teams organized through Send Relief are expected to serve from now through early 2018. Many collegiate teams are planning to use their winter and spring breaks to make the trip to serve in Puerto Rico. Churches and other ministries also can make arrangements to send teams and serve communities across the island.

“We are really seeking team leaders to work, people who have carpentry or disaster relief experience and can manage a group,” Porter said. “If some would like to come for two to four weeks at a time, we could really use their services.”

Many of the Baptist churches in Puerto Rico have seen God move in spite of the debilitating effects of the storm, said Carlos Rodriguez, a NAMB missionary in Puerto Rico.

“One of the good things about this disaster is that people are having to move from their pews and into the mission field,” Rodriguez said. “The people have started to see the need themselves and they are moving out into their communities and serving, not just food but also sharing the Gospel.”

As Hurricane Maria left mass devastation in its wake, many of the church buildings became unusable, either because they lost power and running water or because they were severely damaged. In some cases, buildings were a total loss.

Even so, ministry is moving forward, said Rodriguez, NAMB’s national church planting catalyst in Puerto Rico.

“People are getting saved,” he reported. “It has, in a way, been a revival for the churches. Churches are thinking in different ways. Their people are visiting others in their community and not just staying in the church.”

Baptist state conventions in Alabama, SBCV and Tennessee have volunteered to take different regions of the island and coordinate partnerships between their churches and those in Puerto Rico. NAMB is working to facilitate partnerships between mainland churches and those in Puerto Rico, and churches or state conventions that would like to participate should contact NAMB’s Send Relief ministry.

Visit sendrelief.org to volunteer or donate funds to the continuing relief efforts.