Puerto Rico Partnerships: Winter 2019 Service Trips & Support

By Joanne Tunison & Leslie Latham

A year ago, the island of Puerto Rico was hit by back-to-back hurricanes, Irma and Maria, which left thousands of people without adequate housing, power, water, food, clothing… Many, of course, were left without hope, and the suicide rate has skyrocketed. But there is hope!

In keeping with the Synod of the Northeast’s initiative on Puerto Rico Partnerships, there are plans underway for two back-to-back relief work opportunities this winter. These opportunities will be in Lares, a town in the northwestern mountains of the island, listed by the US census as the poorest municipality in Puerto Rico. The organizers of these trips are Elder Joanne Tunison (First Presbyterian Church Elmira, Presbytery of Geneva) and the Rev. Leslie Latham (First Presbyterian Church Tonawanda, Presbytery of Western New York). They recently visited with the Rev. Evelyn Torres Ramírez, pastor of the Iglesia Presbiteriana en Lares to determine worksites and firm up dates.

There are two back-to-back trips planned for 2019:
- February 16-23 (Saturday-Saturday)
- February 23–March 2 (Saturday-Saturday)

The three projects being developed alongside Iglesia Presbiteriana en Lares are:
- The renovation of the kitchen at La Iglesia Presbiteriana en Lares, so they can continue their ministry of feeding the community
- Working on the homes of two local women, one concrete and the other wood, which need urgent repair of concrete walls, ceilings, and roofs

Committed to boosting the local economy, we are in negotiations with a local onsite construction site manager who will oversee the three relief projects. We also plan to buy all construction and other materials locally.

Joining the Group(s)
There are some considerations for those planning to travel to Puerto Rico. Zika and Dengue viruses are very real threats in this region, therefore we are not including youth on these trips. Likewise, men and women of childbearing age should consider this opportunity carefully and consult with their doctors. Anyone with a compromised immune system should do the same.

What kind of help do we need?

  • People with experience in building and repair

  • Accredited mental health workers (e.g. social workers, psychologists, family therapists) who will be available to speak with hard-hit people of all generations

  • We hope each group includes a pastor/preacher, and someone fluent in Spanish to translate during worship

  • Those whose hearts are willing and able to work in difficult situations, who are flexible and humble and able to take direction

Other Ways to Participate

What if this trip isn’t right for you?
That’s okay! There are other ways to participate. After all, “there are varieties of gifts… and there are varieties of services… and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12: 4-7). Here are some other opportunities to be in partnership with us:

  • Prayer: We need prayer partners! God’s presence and guidance is our most important gift, and we become most attuned to God through prayer — our own and that of others.

  • Financial Support: We’ve estimated that we will need to raise $50,000 to complete our three main projects (listed above). While that number looks very large, if each of our 1100 churches in the Synod contributed just $200 we’d be halfway there! These funds will ONLY be used for the building projects (including the salary for the hoped-for project manager), and will not—will not—be used to fund any participant travel or housing. There are two ways you can help us reach this goal:

    • Donate: Any church, board, or individual who wishes to contribute can do so via:

      • The Synod Website (synodne.org/donate) — Choose the amount you wish to donate, and from the “Donation Purpose” drop-down menu, select Puerto Rico Partnerships & Hurricane Relief.”

      • Snail Mail — Checks may be written to “The Synod of the Northeast.” Please put “Puerto Rico Partnerships” on the memo line, and mail to:
        The Synod of the Northeast
        5811 Heritage Landing Drive, 2nd Floor
        East Syracuse, NY 13057

    • Host a Fundraiser: If you or your congregation/organization are unable to donate directly, you can still help us raise funds by connecting with others who can! Small amounts combined together can make a big difference, and many people would like to help but don’t know how. Help your community to help others by providing a way to connect. For some ideas, you can check out some of the stories shared in this previously posted article.

  • Special Projects: We have several other smaller projects we’d like to carry out. Basic human items have been hard to come by, including underwear for all ages and genders, diapers for children and adults, and sanitary needs for women and girls. Pastor Evelyn knows the needs of every single person in her parish, and we’d love to help her provide school supplies for kids, bug spray for everyone, and of course the food and other ministries her church provides for the community. To contribute to these projects, please contact us at PRmission19@gmail.com.

We know in our hearts that God is calling us to this mission to serve the least of these, our siblings in Christ in Lares.

If you are ready to make a commitment to one of these trips, please contact Joanne at lalocat@aol.com as soon as possible.

For more information, please email PRmission19@gmail.com. God’s blessings go with you!

Elder Joanne Tunison
First Presbyterian Church, Elmira, NY

Rev. Leslie Latham
Moderator-elect, Synod of the Northeast
Member, SynodNE Puerto Rico Partnerships Taskforce

Joanne Tunison is a Ruling Elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Elmira (Geneva) and has significant experience in planning church-related work and service trips.

The Rev. Leslie Latham is the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tonawanda (Western New York) and a member of the Synod's Puerto Rico Partnerships Taskforce. She has also recently been elected as the moderator-elect of the Synod Assembly.