Written by Council intern Yolanda Santiago-Correa. Yolanda is a Duke Divinity School student and was born and raised in Puerto Rico.
September 20, 2017: a date that every Puerto Rican will remember forever.
Six weeks ago, Hurricane Maria swept through the archipelago and created a crisis that, 47 days later, continues to threaten survival, take lives, and paralyze the 3.4 million inhabitants of the islands and the even larger number of us that are in the diaspora.
In the days since Maria destroyed all that we knew, efforts have been made to offer relief and hope to the people that are struggling to survive amid flooding, mold, destroyed homes, sickness, food scarcity, and the lack of power. Almost immediately after the hurricane passed, Unidos por Puerto Rico was started by First Lady Beatriz Roselló as an effort to channel funds and donations to the main island. Additionally, churches, schools, institutions, and the many Puerto Ricans who live in the U.S. organized drives and events in order to help as much as possible while they waited to hear the voices of their family members saying they were okay. Artists got together in Somos Una Voz, a live event and alliance of celebrities that featured performances and gave the opportunity for people to call in and donate; online stores created apparel which donated all their proceeds to hurricane relief, and many Boricuas made sure to keep the reality of the island present in social media and other online platforms when the U.S. authorities failed to give adequate attention to the situation.
Many critiques have been made about the process of relief. Pictures of supplies wasting away in the airport along with stories of those who are supposed to be distributing goods to the community stealing the goods for themselves have shaken our hearts and have eroded trust and hope. Nonetheless, it is essential that we continue not only to pray, but act in favor of this community that so desperately needs help; we must do this not because they are U.S. citizens, but because they are people – human beings that deserve to have a roof over their heads and a meal to eat. As the government fails to do its job, the work of the Church and the people has been essential in the lives of all Puerto Ricans through this month and a half. Amid the desperation, many of the inhabitants testify to the essential role the Church has played in not only providing material goods, but in accompanying them as they mourn the loss of houses, schools, centers, communities, and the more than 500 non-reported persons who died as victims of the hurricane itself or the conditions of the aftermath.
As faithful witnesses to the good news of a God who meets people at the margins, who comes to this world to embrace those who were cast aside by society, it is our duty to continue helping not only Puerto Rico, but the many other places and peoples who continues to suffer as a result of natural disasters and the systems of injustice that make a hurricanes turn into an extended crisis with no expected end and make even going to Church a dangerous act. Like James 2 says: “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Let’s put our faith into action and embody the Christ who left us with the command to love.
Many denominations are responding to this disaster and will be accepting donations to their respective relief funds for those wanting to support their efforts.We encourage you to visit their websites or contact them directly for more information.