How Christians in the Caribbean Are Seeing God Through the Hurricanes

Hurricane Maria drenches Puerto Rico's capital city, San Juan, on Wednesday. (Image: Hector Retamal / Getty Images)

Hurricane Maria drenches Puerto Rico’s capital city, San Juan, on Wednesday. (Image: Hector Retamal / Getty Images)

Christians across the Caribbean are turning to God during a hurricane season like no other. On Wednesday morning, Hurricane Maria landed on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, the strongest to hit the US territory in at least 80 years.

The night before, pastor Gadiel Ríos prayed and read the Bible during a Facebook Live broadcast with more than 100 of his congregants, asking that God intercede to protect them and allow them to bless their island in the aftermath.

“As a congregation, we help each other during the preparation time, pray together a lot more, and help on relief efforts after the event,” said Ríos, lead pastor of La Iglesia del Centro, a congregation of about 350 in Arecibo. “The evangelical church is an ever-present force before and after these dire situations.”

Evangelicals make up about 15 percent of the population in Puerto Rico, where Catholics remain the majority, according to the Pew Research Center. Many churches, including Calvary Chapel of Puerto Rico, held special prayer nights this week to pray for their island and others in Maria’s path.

In practical ways, Caribbean churches have become better prepared for the annual threat of storms each hurricane season: Buildings are constructed to endure hurricane-force winds, forecasters can better predict a hurricane’s path, and social media networks allow congregants to quickly share warnings, pray, and coordinate relief efforts.

“We deal with the hurricane season as a ‘normal’ thing in our region, but the giant scope (size, force, rapidness of development) of Irma and Maria are just of another league,” Ríos explained by email.

Maria arrived about two weeks after Irma skirted Puerto Rico and led to widespread power outages for at least 1 million of the island’s 3.4 million residents. Some buildings, including Calvary Church of the Nazarene in San Juan, were still without power from Irma when Maria hit.

When it made landful in Puerto Rico, Maria brought 155 mph winds, storm surges of 6 to 9 feet, and an estimated 2 feet of rain, according to CNN reports. The force of the storm was a particular threat to residents in wooden homes, coastal areas, or flood-prone regions.

“After [Hurricane Georges in 1998], our building codes were upgraded for the buildings to withstand up to 150 mph winds,” said Ríos. “Now, with the 175-plus mph of these two monsters, our constructions will require additional design, thus increasing the costs of a living that is already too expensive to manage by the average local.”

Earlier in the month, Irma pummeled nearby islands including Antigua and Barbuda, St. Martin, and Anguilla. Some smaller islands spared by the earlier hurricane withstood flooding, landslides, and significant damage with Maria, including Guadeloupe and Dominica. The string of storms have weakened the region’s capacity to assist and rebuild.

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SOURCE: KATE SHELLNUTT 
Christianity Today

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