On Monday, March 5, 2018, the members of the Puerto Rico Partnership Taskforce traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
An overview of the Puerto Rican island’s geography.
A historic map of how the various protestant denominations divided the island for missionary work.
An map of the current day presbyteries in Puerto Rico.
An iconic view of a building in San Juan with the Puerto Rican flag and the Spanish word for “strong.” An exhortation and declaration of the enduring strength and resilience of the Puerto Rican people.
The PRPT began their trip in San Juan, lodging overnight in the Old San Juan district.
The Puerto Rican flag displayed on a university building off a plaza in Old San Juan.
A view of the ocean from Old San Juan, overlooking the La Perla community.
Monday evening, the PRPT visited the Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico (Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico), which is an ecumenical seminary, and the only seminary on the island.
The seminary grounds and buildings sustained damage in the hurricane.
The members of the PRPT with Rev. Dr. Doris García Rivera, the president of the seminary.
Pictured left to right: Margaret Mitsuyasu, Stephen Fearing, Leslie Latham, Rev. Dr. Doris García Rivera, Crystal Garcia, Amaury Tañón-Santos
Stephen & Amaury before beginning Tuesday’s adventures.
A trip wouldn’t be an adventure without some mishap! A flat tire before either team had departed significantly from San Juan, still reasonably close to the airport rental location for an exchange.
Margaret & Crystal navigated the rental car company and exchange. Amaury & Stephen changed the tire. And Leslie provided general knowledge and support to both. What a team!
Back on the road, the female portion of the team headed west from San Juan to visit the Presbiterio del Noroeste (North West Presbytery).
They met up with their host and guide, Dagmary Fornes Arcelay, who is the current presbytery moderator.
After meeting up near the Arecibo on the coast, the team followed Dagmary up into the west-central mountains toward the heart of the presbytery.
The first stop was the home of CRE Evelyn, who is the pastor of the Lares presbyterian church, and who graciously hosted us for lunch.
Over lunch, our hosts began to share with us their experiences both during and after the storm, and the effects it’s had on their community.
Evelyn’s home, like so many, suffered damage during the storm, and ongoing water damage due to a compromised roof.
Coffee is one of the major industries in the Lares region.
Yes, this is an entire wall of coffee in the grocery store, and yes, it is kept in locked cabinets! Puerto Ricans take their coffee seriously!
Later in the trip, we found coffee grown in Lares in the grocery store. (And yes, we did feel inspired to support the local economy…)
After lunch, the team and their hosts traveled to the Lares church itself.
While at the church, volunteers continued to show us immense hospitality. In an area where many are still struggling with food insecurity after the storm, they still insisted upon providing us a generous feast!
Pastor Evelyn shows us the boxes of food from aid agencies and describes how the church facilitated the distribution to their community.
For those unable to collect the supplies from the church themselves, church and community volunteers (many of them elderly women) hand-delivered the boxes and water - often on foot, due to the ongoing inaccessibility of roads in some areas.
Discussing the ongoing distribution of supplies.
Camp stoves for those still without electrical power, cases of milk, and dedicated (often elderly) volunteers tirelessly doing back-breaking work to serve the continuing needs of their community.
From Lares, Crystal, Leslie, & Margaret followed Dagmary toward the northwest coast to visit other communities in the presbytery.
At Aguada, we witnessed a second round of damage inflicted by particularly high tides and strong waves just the day before our visit.
Aguada is home to a significant fish market. Many restaurants purchase their seafood here. After suffering heavy damage during the hurricane, the market had just reopened, only to be battered again by the waves.
This park, with pleasant walkways, pavilions for barbecuing, and what must have been expanses of grass, was again buried under sand.
While a bit difficult to tell in the photo, that’s a pile of debris as tall as Crystal, and a refrigerator floating in the inlet.
Standing about as far from the ocean as from the yellow building pictured here, one can begin to see how far the waves intruded inland. This paved road is covered by sand all the way to the yellow building, and perhaps beyond.
From Aguada, the ladies traveled to Puntas, where the Presbyterian Church in Rincón has established a mission outpost/satellite location.
Following their visit to Puntas, the team traveled to Rincon for the final gathering of the day. There they shared dinner with members from across the presbytery, and met with pastoral leaders to hear more specifically about their hurricane-related experiences, their efforts to respond to the needs of their communities, and their recommendations for how the Synod of the Northeast might most helpfully partner with them in this work.
While the PRPT ladies visited the Presbiterio del Noroeste, Stephen and Amaury visited with representatives in San Juan and the Presbiterio del Suroeste. (Still Tuesday!)
They began with a visit to the Presbyterian Church of Hato Rey, where Rev. José González-Colón is the pastor. José is also the moderator of the Sínodo de Boriquén.
Following worship with José’s congregation, Amaury and Stephen, with José traveled south and west to visit the Presbiterio del Suroeste (Southwest Presbytery).
Stephen asked Amaury and José if they’d traveled through Ponce yet. They informed him that he would know when they reached Ponce!
Stephen encroached on this guy’s space while backing up to capture a photo. Stephen did not step on him, due both to the intervention of Amaury & José as well as the iguana’s own assertion of his presence… :)
As an act of devotion, worshipers have been known to climb these steps on their knees in prayer.
On Wednesday, Stephen, Amaury, and José traveled to the El Guacio presbyterian camp.
Before the hurricane, this was El Guacio’s outdoor chapel. It had been enclosed and canopied by entwined live bamboo, which were ripped away during the storm.
Prior to the storm, this was a pond. The hurricane ripped trees and other vegetation from the ground, and once gone, their root systems were no longer in place to provide stability to the soil, resulting in significant erosion. This pond, located at the top of an embankment, drained away as the banks at the edge eroded with the loss of vegetation.
Amaury speaks with the director of the camp. The debris was so thick after the storm that it took her 5 days to clear the 500 feet to the end of her driveway to reach the road and the outside world.
A mural at El Guacio commemorating an enthusiastic celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.
The outdoor gathering area and kitchen sustained significant damage.
El Guacio hopes to renovate the kitchen quickly to enable the camp to host volunteer groups coming to the island to help with the recovery and rebuilding efforts.
Following their visit at El Guacio, Stephen, Amaury, and José travel back to San Juan to rejoin the rest of the team for further meeting with the San Juan Presbytery later that evening.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday morning while the guys were visiting El Guacio, Crystal, Leslie, and Margaret drove back to the San Juan area to meet with a few others that morning.
Just before lunch, Crystal, Leslie, and Margaret visited the presbyterian church in Bayamón.
This beautiful church was fortunate not to have sustained much storm damage, due both to concrete construction and being located outside of the flood zone.
Leslie was delighted to discover the church is a sister church with the congregation where she did her field education in seminary!
While the church’s lack of damage allowed it to host a recent group from Princeton Seminary, who came to assist repairs on the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, the primary reason for our visit was for a project hosted in this side building of the church.
Within days of the storm’s lifting, the Bayamón church established a community laundry facility.
When so many were without power, their own appliances damaged, and mountains of laundry accumulating from the storm’s intrusion into their homes as well as day-to-day life, the church organized to set up a free laundry facility to meet this community need.
Elder Gloria was a critical force in making this happen and coordinating the schedule, still ongoing at the time we visited.
Wednesday evening, with the whole team reunited in San Juan, the PRPT visited the presbyterian church in Monteflores to meet with representatives and leaders from the Presbiterio de San Juan.
Leaders from the Presbiterio de San Juan told us about their efforts to host community events — with activities ranging from table fellowship, to providing gift cards for basic supplies (an ongoing need), and access to aid agencies — at each of the congregations in their presbytery through their Levántate y Resplendance (Rise & Shine) initiative. Anyone from the local community is invited to attend each event!
The Monteflores church has also begun converting its adjacent building into a lodging facility (named La Casona) where they can host volunteer groups coming to assist the rebuilding efforts.
The first round of renovations is complete. Though they hope to expand to another floor of the building soon.
Throughout our visit, the prevalence of blue tarp-covered roofs was remarkable. The neighborhood pictured here is only a very modest example. The percentage in other neighborhoods is much larger.
While Mother Nature is resilient, the lingering effects of the damage only hints at the earlier devastation.