COMERÍO, PUERTO RICO (BP) – Even in the aftermath of Puerto Rico's devastation from Hurricane Maria, church planting missionary Jorge Santiago has been experiencing the truth of Romans 8:28 that all things can work together for good.
In July, Santiago and his wife Rebeca moved to Puerto Rico with their two children, Sebastian and Sophia, to serve as North American Mission Board church planting missionaries in Comerío, a municipality of 20,000 about 30 miles south of San Juan. "Right after the storm," Santiago said, "we just focused on helping people. We started looking for resources, food and water so that we could take it to Comerío."
Southern Baptist pastors on the island have rallied together along with some from other denominations to help one another in their mission to serve those in need. As Santiago prayed and ventured to find food and other resources, he noticed, both from personal experience and from others' stories, just how difficult it was to wash clothes by hand. Santiago saw different groups passing out food and water but no one was seeking to meet the need of helping people clean their clothes.
"My wife's dad is a pastor whose church sent us some money," most of which Santiago used to buy three washing machines "by faith." They eventually were able to acquire three more washing machines that they've used to start a community outreach called Proyecto Mi Ropa Limpia -- My Clean Clothes Project. "God hasn't stopped giving to us," Santiago said, "and we haven't stopped giving to the people everything that comes our way."
Santiago and his family have been hard at work ministering in Comerío, leaving for the town around 4:30 in the morning and not returning to their base in San Lorenzo, 30 miles to the east, until 8:30 or 9:00 at night. Rebeca manages the washing machines while Santiago travels around searching for food and water and distributing what he is able to find. Santiago received one of the pastor packs that NAMB's Send Relief ministry sent to Puerto Rico, and he said the package arrived at a time when he was having difficulty finding resources.
Whenever he went to search, Santiago would pray and ask God to lead him to where the resources would be. After three days of not finding anything, he received a phone call telling him to go to the Send Relief warehouse. "Then, when I saw the pastor package, I started crying because I saw all the things they brought to us," Santiago recounted.
The generator that was included in the package is being used to power some of the washing machines for My Clean Clothes Project, and the other food and resources have been a boost for his ministry to the community. "God gave us the privilege to show the people how committed we are to them and to God," Santiago said. "We get to live the gospel by serving the people."
Initially, Santiago and his family had been planning to start church services in January. Hurricane Maria changed those plans, however, and Sunday, Nov. 12, Santiago had the opportunity to preach the Gospel and pray with a group of people as they gathered to share a hot meal. "It is good, all that we are doing right now to help serve people," he said. "It's important to the people, but more important than that is the need to share the Gospel."
A passage from Mark 1:32-38 helped Santiago see that it was time to start preaching. The community was open. "People every day started asking me what my church is, but I don't even have a church yet," he said. "They kept asking me the time of the service, and they wanted to hear the Word of God." Their plan is to keep gathering with people every Sunday and preaching the Word. The way that Santiago and his wife served the community opened the door for the Gospel and has made him eager to preach the Good News. "We are not here to play or waste our time or God's time." Santiago said. "We are here with a mission, and we are here to accomplish our mission."
Santiago continues to move toward an official launch for the church, but in the meantime, he and other churches like his will make use of resources that arrive through financial donations made through Send Relief. "As a pastor, I still need resources to help the people," Santiago said. "People don't believe in what you're going to say to them unless you prove to them that you love them. The way that they experience your love for them is by giving to them."
Visit sendrelief.org to volunteer or donate funds to the continuing disaster relief efforts for men, women and children in Puerto Rico who still need aid as they recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.