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Puerto Rico Needs Help

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Puerto Rico Assemblies of God Superintendent Iván De La Torre is extending an invitation.

“We have the logistics in place to rebuild,” De La Torre told PE News. “Now we’re ready to receive help.”

Such a declaration has been a long time coming in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster in 90 years to strike the U.S. territory. More than one-third of the island in the Caribbean remains without power after winds up to 185 mph whipped across the commonwealth for 32 hours last September.

The hurricane damaged 100 of the 196 AG churches in Puerto Rico, destroying 40 of them. The storm wiped out the district’s camp and damaged Caribbean Theological College in Bayamón. 

De La Torre, 48, is grateful for the help in the past five months. Two-dozen churches assisted with cleanup efforts, including New Life Covenant Church in Chicago, led by AG Executive Presbyter Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús. New Life teams have made eight trips to help. All 13 other Hispanic districts sent assistance, as have various geographic districts and ministry networks. San Juan Pastor Humberto Pizarro has been leading transportation efforts for the visiting teams.

“Puerto Rico is very thankful for the show of brotherhood from the Assemblies of God,” says De La Torre, who became superintendent in 2016. “We have never before experienced the love of God in such a profound way. This blessing in our worst moment gives us hope and strength, just when we needed it.”

Convoy of Hope has distributed 4 million-plus meals to more than 85,000 families, and has made a commitment to stay another year.

“The presence of Convoy let churches be the centers of distribution,” says De La Torre. “This has led to a spirit of revival.”

Of course, Puerto Rico had massive economic problems before the hurricane hit; in the previous four years 300,000 moved to the mainland to seek work. Another 250,000 — mostly professionals who can find jobs elsewhere — have fled since September. That includes hundreds of AG adherents.

Calvario City Church and Calvary Orlando, both in Florida, have made great efforts to help resettle Puerto Rican refugees in the wake of the disaster.

Meanwhile, De La Torre says multiple Puerto Rican congregations acted as first responders after the hurricane, in large part due to the preparatory training efforts arranged by Manuel Cordero, senior director of U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries. Even before his appointment , Cordero — a native of Puerto Rico — began connecting AG churches on the island with Federal Emergency Management Agency Community Emergency Response Teams. Subsequently, when the hurricane knocked out electrical and phone service, locals from churches communicated via ham radio.

In addition, Cordero and Chaplain Braulio Cuevas of New York went to Puerto Rico in December and met with more than 300 stressed AG pastors and other church leaders at five points around the island.

“We tried to diffuse some of the fear they felt during the event, the lack of communication, the numbness,” Cordero says.

Michael Reighard, critical incident ministries representative with 461 Response, a U.S. Missions Chaplaincy-affiliated ministry, likewise has trained 200 Puerto Ricans in disaster response.

De La Torre expects all but one of the 40 destroyed churches to be reconstructed, even though it might take five years. He says the district can accept up to two teams per week for the next two years. Those interested in helping may email infor@cadpr.org or call a provisional phone line, 787-436-5789.

Despite the economic challenges ahead, De La Torre is optimistic.

“The curse has been turned into a blessing,” he says. “Churches — even those without buildings — are helping in their communities. Those who have stayed behind have no alternative but to come together to rebuild.

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