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‘We are all trying our best to cope’ (Updated)

Clean water, electricity and gasoline are in short supply on the island of Puerto Rico. Christians on the island and the U.S. mainland pray for first responders as they begin the long road to recovery.

Update: The U.S. Postal Service has resumed deliveries to Arecibo, Puerto Rico, so contributions for that congregation and its relief efforts may be mailed to:

Iglesia de Cristo, Box 143515, Arecibo, PR 00614.

Despite the devastating floods of Hurricane Maria, Christians in the Puerto Rican community of Arecibo are thankful for the gift of water.

Floodwaters recede from the meeting place of the Iglesia de Cristo (Church of Christ) in Arecibo.

Clean water.

“We have running water where we live, and I saw a tanker distributing water near where the church meets in Arecibo,” Jim Gullette, a minister who works with the congregation, told The Christian Chronicle.

That’s not the case in many parts of the U.S. territory, home to 3.4 million souls.

In the wake of Maria — which made landfall Sept. 20, killing at least 24 people — Puerto Rico is experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Most of the island is without power. Cell service and access to fuel are limited.

And clean water is scarce.

Healing Hands International, a nonprofit associated with Churches of Christ, sent a shipment of water filters to the island and plans to send more. For more information, see the ministry’s Caribbean relief page.

“There is movement” in recovery efforts, Gullette said, “but it is slow without gas and communication. A sister from Tennessee brought an offering from the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville. The money is being used to purchase food and supplies for flood victims.”

Nearly four feet of water flooded the Arecibo church’s newly constructed building during Maria, Gullette said, so church members who could reach the facility worshiped outside on Sunday.

Members of the Arecibo Church of Christ worship outside on Sunday after Hurricane Maria.

Archie Luper, a church member in Florida, is raising money to help the Arecibo church, its community and people across Puerto Rico.

“I have worked with this church for 19 years,” Luper said, “and for the last three years took teams from the Madison Church of Christ in Tennessee and the Ventura Church of Christ in California to build their new church building.”

Though structures and furnishings can be replaced, “there is so much work that needs to be done,” he added, “not only locally for the church in Arecibo, but also in the Arecibo community (and) island-wide among Churches of Christ.”

The view from San Juan

In Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, grocery stores are out of drinking water, said Vanessa Jarvis, a member of the Park Gardens Church of Christ.

Downed trees surround the meeting place of the Park Gardens Church of Christ in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Though relief supplies are reaching the island, distribution is a challenge, she said. So is access to electricity and communications. Standing on the roof of her storm-damaged home, she’s sometimes able to get a cell signal strong enough to send messages and photos to the Chronicle.

“We are praying that we may be able to see improvements,” Jarvis said.

She also prays that the relief supplies get where they’re needed.

Christians who were able to reach the Park Gardens church building worship on Sunday.

“There are shelters and elderly homes that are experiencing challenges as well,” she said. “We are all trying our best to cope with the situation and thank God each day for his blessings.”

The view from the mainland

Christians from Puerto Rico who live on the U.S. mainland spent nerve-wracking days waiting for news from family members after Maria made landfall.

For Roberto Seda, that news came from an unexpected source — a phone call from Pennsylvania.

Seda’s uncle, Fernando Diaz, lives in Manatí, on Puerto Rico’s northern shore, close to where the eye of the hurricane passed as it headed out to sea.

Manatí, Puerto Rico

Unable to get a phone signal, Diaz, an avid ham radio operator, made contact with a fellow radio operator in Pennsylvania, who phoned Seda’s family to let them know he was OK.

Seda was born in the southern Puerto Rican city of Ponce and moved to the mainland at age 7. Now living in Oklahoma, he and his family worship with the Central Church of Christ in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

His grandmother and several cousins live in the Ponce area and survived the storm.

Now “it’s kind of a waiting game,” said Seda, who uses Facebook to keep up with Puerto Ricans in his grandmother’s community. Seda’s father, a retired U.S. Army officer in Lawton, Okla., hopes to travel to Puerto Rico soon to help the family. But flights to the island — and rental cars on the island — are scarce.

Meanwhile, Seda say he’s praying for the first responders, who have traveled to Puerto Rico from across the nation, and that power and water will be restored island-wide soon.

After that, his family, like the rest of Puerto Rico, faces the massive task of rebuilding.

“I can only imagine how massive this relief effort really is,” he said.

Filed under: National Top Stories disaster relief Hurricane Hurricane Maria Park Gardens Puerto Rico

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