Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. –Isaiah 58:12
A year ago, Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean, leaving 70,000+ homes uninhabitable and more than 3 million people without power or water. It can only be described as a catastrophe on the level of Katrina or Sandy, with the desolation and destruction those names bring to mind in wide swaths of the US mainland. In spite of the partisan bickering about the “official” death toll, there is wide agreement that it’s bad, and that the reconstruction has been slow and inadequate to the devastation experienced throughout the Caribbean, with a special eye on our siblings in Puerto Rico.
The explanations for these inadequacies of response are just as inadequate. Distance from the mainland; language barriers that are real for some and imagined for others in positions of authority; the difficulty in conveying material aid and skilled assistance to the islands; but also the not-well-hidden disdain of some who see the Caribbean, particularly Puerto Rico, as a distant cousin of the United States.
The New England Journal of Medicine reports that the death of more than 4,000 people in the Caribbean can be connected to the hurricane, including over a thousand people who died for a lack of adequate health care after the hurricane was over. If this had happened on the mainland, the howling would have been intense and the response swift; but in the case of the Caribbean, there is a cacophony of crickets, and it’s increasingly more difficult to get the attention of the press or the rank and file citizenry, let alone those in government, who are sworn to protect these vulnerable citizens of the United States.
You see, I’ve seen this reality for myself. I’ve been to Puerto Rico in recent days and will return in the next month. I’ve listened to the stories of my Pastor-colleagues and friends from the islands tell the stories of their places and people, of resiliency and despair, of destruction and hope. And now that our mission teams are on the ground, accompanying a part of the family of God in the reconstruction work that will stretch on for years, they are seeing those same realities, too.
The Building Puentes initiative in partnership with the Caribbean Synod, the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod is our commitment to “building bridges” across what seems a significant breach in our country and in the church; it isn’t a rigid prescription, but a loose road-map for us to better hear the voices of our Caribbean Synod siblings and to gather our resources to respond to voiced needs, rather than perceived needs.
And when we talk about resources, we’re certainly talking about money, but we also need to be talking about spiritual and prayer resources, the time and talent resources we have to accompany one another, and our call in Christ to bear one another’s burdens. Still, those bridges cannot be built on the exchange of checks, but on a commitment to being together on a journey of recovery that doesn’t have a finish line anywhere in sight. Thus, we’re on the ground together, working alongside one another; we’re listening to one another’s stories; we’re recognizing that Christ is standing in the chasm and the chaos, bidding us be a part of repairing the breach.
As we approach the solemn anniversary of Maria’s landfall in the islands, we do so with compassion for those who are experiencing the reminder of how much they lost and a renewed commitment to share that loss as we rebuild relationships – and physical infrastructure – together. Mayor Carmen Cruz, of San Juan, said that Hurricane Maria opened Puerto Rican eyes “to our inequity – and our inequality,” thus exposing the breach that we are called to step into as we accompany often-forgotten fellow citizens, and an often-forgotten part of our church, into the future.
Building Puentes is a part of our call and our responsibility as the body of Christ, to which I invite us all, let us attend.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. –Isaiah 58:8-12