In late September, the Caribbean was already on high alert and in the midst of crisis response during an unusually active hurricane season, especially following the destruction of Hurricane Irma just two weeks earlier.
Puerto Rico was both rebuilding from the effects of Irma while also serving as a major medical and refugee center for the region. It was in the midst of rebuilding and welcoming refugees that Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm and the strongest to strike the island in nearly 90 years.
A month after the storm, we know of Puerto Ricans in the United States who still have not heard of loved ones in Puerto Rico. More than 75% of the island country is still without electric power, and there is a shortage of potable water. Homelessness in Puerto Rico continues to rise, and over 40,000 Puerto Ricans are said to have migrated to the United States since Hurricane Maria - and many more are expected to do likewise.
There are four Presbyterian mid-councils in Puerto Rico - the Sínodo de Boriquén and its three Presbyteries - Presbiterio del Noroeste, Presbiterio de San Juan, and Presbiterio del Suroeste. The Synod of the Northeast holds a historic relationship with Puerto Rican Presbyterianism: Puerto Rico was a presbytery of our predecessor Synod of New York. For more than two years, our Synod’s Mission Team has been engaged in learning and conversation with Presbyterian leaders in Puerto Rico, and the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, on matters of mission, vocation, and ministry.
Recovery Fund Established
The Synod of the Northeast is committed to ongoing relationship with Puerto Rican Presbyterianism. As an expression of this commitment and partnership, at its October 2017 meeting, the Synod Commission set aside $65,300 in initial funding to support long-term recovery in Puerto Rico.
Task Force Appointed
The Commission also established a task force to coordinate the distribution of these funds and to facilitate partnership efforts between our presbyteries and congregations and those in Puerto Rico.
The members of the task force are:
- Rev. Stephen Fearing (Long Island)
- Elder Crystal Garcia (Monmouth)
- Rev. Leslie Latham (Western New York)
- Rev. Margaret Mitsuyasu (Synod Mission Coordinator)
- Rev. Amaury Tañón-Santos (Synod Networker)
It is our hope that this task force can serve to centralize communication and facilitate partnerships between Presbyterians in the Northeast and those in Puerto Rico so that we can maximize both our effectiveness and helpfulness to our Puerto Rican siblings during this overwhelming time. The task force will also be in conversation with the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance as we collectively strive to offer support and partnership to our Puerto Rican siblings during this time of need. The task force will be beginning its work shortly, and will continue to share more information about the developing efforts and opportunities to collaborate with the four mid-councils in Puerto Rico as it becomes available.
Ways to Help Now
At the moment, Puerto Rico is not yet ready to receive volunteer teams.
The Synod task force will remain in contact with presbyterian leadership in Puerto Rico and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and will keep the Synod community informed about developments.
In the meantime, there are other ways to offer support and to prepare.
Presbyteries and Congregations
- Set aside additional funds for ongoing partnership with Puerto Rican recovery efforts.
- Donate to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to support immediate recovery work.
- Ask the task force about establishing a partnership with a corresponding Puerto Rican governing body and begin gathering people interested in partnership.
- Encourage your congregation and presbytery to set aside funds for Puerto Rican recovery partnership.
- Help your congregation or presbytery form a partnership team.
- Support immediate recovery work by donating to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
If you have questions, want to explore a Puerto Rican partnership opportunity, or otherwise wish to engage with the work of the task force, please contact Amaury Tañón-Santos.