(RNS) — The Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, traveled to Puerto Rico last week to deliver water and generators to the island, which was badly battered by Hurricane Maria.
While there, he met with church leaders and mayors in San Juan, Carolina, Caguas, Utuado and Dorado to launch a partnership between his coalition and a church group on the island to deliver aid and supplies.
Salguero's coalition will work with the Puerto Rico Pentecostal Association alongside World Vision, the international relief organization, to help the island nation, where the vast majority of its 3.4 million inhabitants still lack power and water.
RNS spoke to Salguero who also serves as a pastor at Calvario City Church, a large Assemblies of God congregation in Orlando, Fla. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
What was it like in Puerto Rico?
I got there Friday (Sept. 29). It was emotionally overwhelming. My parents are from Puerto Rico and I have family there. The airport was packed with people trying to get out, especially people who are ill or mothers with children. It’s devastating. Power lines are down. I stayed at a camp on bunk beds. You bring a mosquito net and a flashlight.
How were you able to bring water and generators?
We had a plane donated to us by a businessperson. We took a team of five. We brought all the supplies we could bring on the charter plane.
What would you like to do there?
We are focused on three things:
- Getting water and food to the most vulnerable areas.
- Getting generators so there can be some power and people can refrigerate their food. I met with a pastor who has no generator and he’s insulin dependent. He needs his insulin to be refrigerated. The way he does it is his neighbors have generators. They put the insulin on ice every single day.
- Improving communication. A lot of cell phone towers are down. We brought some satellite phones. You’d be surprised how many people don’t have landlines anymore.
Our commitment is to have our NaLEC partner with churches on the ground and mayors and the governor’s office. I’ve heard that over 150 churches are totally destroyed. I’m sure the numbers are higher than that. We’re talking scores of churches that have been destroyed. Rebuilding is going to take some time.
What can churches here do?
I recommend they partner with organizations that have people on the ground for the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time.
Lastly, churches have to be ready not just to help on the island, but also to take in people who are relocating.
For example, our church has three homes. We’ve got one mother with four kids. Another mother with one child. We help them get reintegrated. We make sure they have social services. We have translators. We provide food for them.