By: Omayra L. González Méndez
On September 20, 2017, at 6:15 a.m. the history of Puerto Rico changed. Time stopped; nature paralyzed the Island. For the first time in modern history, Puerto Rico was hit by the forces of a Category 5 hurricane. The strong winds of more than 155 miles per hour rumbled through the country. Trees and structures on the ground, flooded villages, mobile telephones unusable, few access roads available and millions of citizens without basic services such as drinking water, electricity or food. The country was dark, literally and symbolically.
In one of the most vulnerable moments of the country, while the Government and Federal agencies organized to react, hundreds of volunteers, led by churches, non-profit organizations or simply out of love for their neighbor, came out in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria to be the first response to the emergency. Groups of neighbors cut fallen trees to open roads in their communities. Those who had gas stoves cooked for everyone who was hungry. People shared food, gasoline or water.
As I write these words I cannot stop crying. Remembering the experience is a mixture of emotions. Yes, we lived in darkness; we lived in chaos amid the abandonment of governmental and federal institutions. However, the light came. The first rays came from the same communities, the people who did not have much but left to help those who had lost everything. The rays of light continued to grow, and more help began to arrive. Because of my work, I had access to a telephone and the Internet. The calls began. Hundreds of people from the Presbyterian Church in the United States because they knew me or knew a friend who knew me called me to ask: What can we do? What is lacking? Thus, boxes began to arrive with meals, lamps, water filtration equipment and money donations.
We went to the street to help. In the church we built a community dining room and
turned it into a storage center. That friend of my Presbyterian friend sent meals. We distributed them to people who in turn took them to other people in need. One of the most special donations was an ice maker for the Presbyterian camp in the mountainous area of the Island. This donation helped families have free ice in their homes to store medicines or refrigerate food. The light kept growing.
During those months I have made friends in presbyteries, synods and churches that I could not even imagine. Given the need, they responded. They were not afraid and acted. In the first months, aid boxes arrived; then came volunteer troops who traveled to help raise houses, churches, aqueducts, in short, to raise Puerto Rico.
Even today, 11 months after Hurricane Maria, calls and emails continue. The help has not stopped and the love for the neighbor continues and remains. I have always said that the Presbyterian Church is my family. Today I say that my family is very big, that I have brothers and sisters in hundreds of places, and that in the darkest moment of my life my compatriots arrived with the light that reflects the love of Christ to help the needy.
Omayra L. Gonzalez Mendez is a news editor and producer, movie lover and is super passionate about the church. From media reports, pictures and videos, she takes every free minute to work in different organizations of the Presbyterian Church, both locally and internationally. As an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Hato Rey, she works with youth society and finance ministries. She understands that all parts of the church are equally important. Therefore, all matters of the church, processes and creation, fascinate her.