Hurricane Maria engulfed Puerto Rico, causing devastation the island had not seen from a storm since the Great Depression and leaving $100 billion in damages in its wake. Nearly 3,000 people perished.
Among the damaged buildings were 42 Methodist structures, including Iglesia Metodista de Mayaguez. Besides water damage and damage to the roof, a light pole had fallen making it impossible to get to the church. Police blocked all access, so parishioners were unable to use their building from September through January.
As heartbreaking as the experience was, it was not defeating.
“After Hurricane Maria, everything changed in Puerto Rico,” Pastor Maria Rodriguez noted. “Our church wasn’t the exception, so our mission and what we do as a church changed, too. We tried not to stay in the church; instead, we went out, so we could offer help to the community.”
Church members gathered in their homes to worship and pray. They took the opportunity to continue their ministries with the residents of the public housing project nearby. Since the area was left without electricity for four months, the residents, most of whom only had electric stoves, had limited ways to prepare food. The church filled the gap by preparing hot cooked meals and offering groceries. They also went to the Mayaguez sector near the beach, where the greatest damage was, to ensure people had food.
In addition, their church plant in Rincón continued to do ministry. It took Pastor Juan Marchese seven days to reach the church. He had to cut down trees and poles that had fallen across the road, install two generators, and invite mission teams to help with repairs, but his efforts enabled the church to continue their work.
With so many damaged buildings and infrastructure, UMDF offered loan assistance and flexibility to churches in Puerto Rico immediately after the hurricane hit. This safeguarded church leaders’ ability to focus on ministering to the most vulnerable people in their communities.
“Our conference encourages churches to use UMDF, because they have low interest rates,” Conference Property Officer Carmen Villanueva Cruz stated. “However, UMDF also knows how churches work and raise money, so they have empathy for the church. They understand that establishing ministries in communities throughout Puerto Rico supports our mission. Because of UMDF, we could rebuild properties affected by Hurricane Maria.”
When Iglesia Metodista de Mayaguez originated their loan 18 years ago to build the church, they could not predict a storm like Hurricane Maria would encourage so many of their members to move to the U.S. mainland. Their loan payment was based on a thriving ministry with a certain number of active members, but after the storm, that number changed. “We asked UMDF to restructure our loan, lowering our payments to better reflect our current realities and the lower payments allowed us to fix the damage to the roof and paint,” Pastor Maria said. “They gave us the flexibility we needed at that moment to restructure our loan.”
While UMDF never hopes these circumstances arise, when churches do experience crises, they can rest assured that UMDF is quick to make all reasonable accommodations to ensure the ministry of the church is never compromised. This commitment to God’s work in the world is the reason Pastor Juan believes, “UMDF loans help build dreams.”
UMDF works with Methodist churches in the U.S. and its territories, like Puerto Rico, to provide loans for ministries, building projects, and more. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, we offered special assistance to the churches with UMDF loans in order to ensure they could focus on missions and rebuilding efforts. We offer assistance and flexibility during times of crisis, because we believe in supporting God’s work in the world, especially in challenging times. Who is partnering with you during life’s storms?