YUACO, Puerto Rico (BP) — The ground is still shaking as southern Puerto Rico continues experiencing aftershocks from earthquakes earlier this week. Send Relief staff and volunteers with local Southern Baptist churches have ramped up their service to residents.
Thousands of people continue taking shelter either in sanctioned shelters or in non-traditional spaces such as vehicles and tents. Many locations in southern Puerto Rico, both medical facilities and grocery stores, are still relying on generator power to sustain their operations.
Three Southern Baptist churches — one in Yauco and two in Ponce — have been preparing and serving hot meals with food provided by Send Relief while a fourth in Ponce received a Send Relief shipment of uncooked meals that will primarily be for police officers and first responders who are assisting earthquake survivors.
“As long as the ground is shaking, people are not going home,” said Jonathan Santiago, the Send Relief director in Puerto Rico. “Just last night, there was another significant aftershock. So, we expect the number of people we are serving to continue to grow.”
Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), stored resources — such as food, water and water filters—on the island in the event of another disaster event like 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
Grace Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista La Gracia) in Yuaco prepared and served 300 hot meals primarily for survivors who have sheltered in the church’s facility. Thursday night (Jan. 9), 59 people stayed at the church. Send Relief has provided a generator to return power to the church so that it can serve as a hub for its ministry operations on the southern coast.
“We expect that once people realize that the church is powered up, we will have even more survivors come,” Santiago said. “That will facilitate us being able to move more quickly as we assist the community.”
Along with the work in Yauco, Send Relief has also been supporting churches in Ponce, roughly 24 miles from Yauco.
Chiquito River Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista Rio Chiquito) prepared and served 200 hot meals for the 60 survivors who have sheltered there. Missionary Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista Misionera) prepared 600 meals and delivered them in the community.
“Many people, while they’re not staying in their homes, they’re also not leaving their neighborhoods as they live outside in tents because they’re concerned about aftershocks,” said Santiago. “They also don’t want to come to the shelter because they’re worried about vandals and looters coming and damaging or stealing their property. So, we’ve had volunteers take some meals out to them.”
A third church in Ponce, Glenview Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista Glenview), received 1,000 meals from Send Relief that will be provided to police officers and first responders as they conduct their operations to keep the community safe.
“This is what we had in mind when we felt God calling us to come back to Puerto Rico from New York,” Santiago said. “Serving people on the island in their time of need.”
A total of 62 volunteers have come from six churches on the island to help prepare, serve and deliver meals and supplies.
Sam Porter, NAMB’s national director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, arrived late Thursday to assist Send Relief’s leadership in coordinating with government and nonprofit partners who typically come together in the aftermath of a disaster to respond to urgent needs.
“Earthquake recovery is different from flood or hurricane recovery,” Porter said. “It’s much more dangerous and typically requires contractors with heavy equipment to help with the repair and rebuild of damaged homes and buildings. We are focused on earthquake ministry, serving families who have been displaced and could potentially be out of their homes for an extended period of time.”
When asked specifically about prayer requests for him and his team, Santiago mentioned the need for peace of mind and protection for them and for their families.
“We are leaving early in the morning and going until late at night, leaving our families,” Santiago said. “Since the tremors are ongoing, our families are not going to sleep until we get home because they are worried.”