Free Will Baptists offer disaster relief in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria...
By Kenneth Akers
This year will always be remembered for its active hurricane season. By the time the United States was heavily impacted, named storms had already reached the letter H. Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas Gulf Coast, and nearby metropolitan Houston. While victims and relief workers struggled to cope with the historic disaster, another devastating storm named Hurricane Irma ravaged the Caribbean islands before making landfall in Florida and Georgia.
Then came Maria, the most terrifying of all the storms. All eyes were riveted on the massive cyclone as it rocketed across the Atlantic toward the Caribbean. With winds over 180 miles per hour, Maria promised unprecedented destruction. The only bright spot in the tropical forecast was the time Maria’s path gave for preparation and taking cover. As Maria continued to race across the Atlantic, the people of the Caribbean islands boarded up windows, found safe places to ride out the storm, and stocked up on the necessities of life.
Free Will Baptist ministries in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico found themselves directly in the path of Maria. Anxious Free Will Baptists on the mainland prayed fervently for our brothers and sisters in the islands. Once Maria churned past, both islands lay devastated. While the church and schools in St. Croix received minimal damage to their physical structures, Puerto Rico experienced destruction. The Puerto Rican church, with its recent addition to house a school had significant damage. The metal roof was completely torn off, and most of the interior of the building was destroyed.
On October 23, I joined a team of Free Will Baptist volunteers who traveled to St. Croix to help with cleanup and recovery efforts. A week later, on October 30, I traveled with Rick Bowling, director of Hispanic works for North American Ministries, to evaluate the situation in Puerto Rico. What we saw was as bad or worse than we thought. Roads, though passable, remained littered with downed trees, power poles, and debris from the storm. The only electricity came from generators or solar panels. In spite of the damage, however, I found people rebuilding and restoring their homes and lives. Life is tough, but the Puerto Rican people are tougher.
One thing I heard again and again was how the Puerto Ricans appreciated the prayers and support from Free Will Baptist people and churches back on the mainland. Financial support streamed in from all areas of North America to help. To date, Master’s Men has received over $150,000 for hurricane response and sent over $50,000 to the Houston area. I joined a group of volunteers for relief work in Florida, headed by regional disaster response director Allen Austin. We were able to help there also, with additional projects forthcoming.
After an appeal was made to help buy a 40-foot container filled with relief supplies for St. Croix, the response was overwhelming. Not only were we able to purchase and fill the container, we also purchased two large generators in St. Croix and purchased and sent six generators in the container, which was delivered Saturday, November 11.
Puerto Rico has proven to be a different story. During our visit, we determined the best course of action would be to replace the church roof with a concrete structure that would hold up better in future storms. Money donated for Puerto Rico has been used to clean and remove damaged materials from the church property. The next step is to obtain bids from builders to estimate costs and formulate a plan of action for replacing the roof.
Although the building is not usable, the church has continued to meet. Small groups meet in homes on various nights of the week and Sunday morning services are being held on a covered basketball court.
Relief and reconstruction efforts on these islands will continue for months and possibly years before electricity is returned and life resumes as they once knew it. What can you do to help? Pray, give, or go…or all three! Funding, especially for the church in Puerto Rico, will be an ongoing need.
Future relief trips will be available as we work with leaders in each location support their efforts.
What will you do in the aftermath of the storms?
About the Writer: Kenneth Akers is director of Master’s Men and coordinator of Free Will Baptist Disaster Response. For updates on relief efforts, visit www.fwbmastersmen.org.
Photo credit: JEAN-FRANCOIS Manuel / Shutterstock.com