A Sure and Certain Future

The recent string of earthquakes is just one more reason for Puerto Ricans to pack their bags. Photo: Johanna Heidorn

A couple of days ago Pastors Neuendorf, Maita, and I went to visit a member of la Iglesia Luterana Fuente de Vida in Ponce. Like so many others on the south side of the island, he had been sleeping outside of his home in a cardboard box since the earthquakes began a couple of weeks ago. The purpose of our visit wasn’t a happy one: this valuable member of our fledgling congregation had decided to purchase a one-way ticket off the island to stay with extended family in Detroit. 

“When do you plan to return to the island?”, I asked him. 

“I can’t say,” he responded, “the future of Puerto Rico is just too uncertain.” 

Elías (not his real name) is just one of hundreds of thousands that feel the same way. Already before hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Caribbean island was experiencing a “massive exodus” to the mainland US due to an unprecedented economic recession. The population had already reached a 40-year low before the almost 500 earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater that have hit the island over the last two weeks

Assessing the damage to our recently acquired Disaster Response Center. Photo: Johanna Heidorn

There’s no doubt about it: the future of Puerto Rico is uncertain. There is no way to know how long the ground will continue to shake or how long the island´s infrastructure will be a mess. It’s impossible to say how long the humanitarian aid will last or how long it will take before people can return to their homes. 

It was hard to say good-bye, not knowing when we´ll meet again. We know just as little as the next guy about what will happen on this island tomorrow. But by God’s grace, we do know that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, purchasing and winning for us a future in which there will be no earthquakes to worry about. We do know that our crucified and risen Savior is seated at the right hand of God the Father, working all things together for those who love Him. Because of Christ and his sure and certain promises delivered to us in our Baptism, there is no doubt about it: our future is certain. 

The newest member of our mission team, deaconess intern, Stephanie Wilde giving an encouraging embrace to a woman in a refugee center. Photo: Johanna Heidorn

Please pray for us as we continue to share this Good News in Puerto Rico. 

Sleeping in Heavenly Peace

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Some members of la Iglesia Luterana Fuente de Vida in Ponce sharing the peace that passes all understanding with the refugees at the biggest camp in Ponce. Photo: LCMS Disaster Response

Just a couple of weeks ago we were singing Silent Night as part of our Christmas celebration. But ever since the Three Kings Day Earthquake, the idea of sleeping in peace in Puerto Rico has become nothing but a daydream. Ever since that first major quake, the southwest part of Puerto Rico hasn’t really stop shaking, with literally 100s of aftershocks and subsequent earthquakes, some even bigger than the first. Instead of being a source of great joy, the arrival of “the Three Kings” this year has meant nothing but nights of insomnia, worry, fear and anxiety for many, but especially for the thousands of Puerto Ricans who are sleeping in emergency shelters, in their cars, or the driveways of their homes.

The first time the Magi arrived in search of Jesus was no different. Ever since that night, after Herod had learned of the King who had been born in the city of David, sleeping in peace in that small town became impossible as well. Especially for the families of those who lost their baby boys at the hands of the soldiers sent by the paranoid king. Warned by an angel, Joseph took the child and Mary and took refuge in Egypt.

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There are thousands of victims sleeping in shelters along the southwest of Puerto Rico. Photo: James Neuendorf

If there is anyone who knows what it is to have long, dark, anxious nights, it is our Lord. During his public ministry, he would have no place to rest his head. On his way to the cross to pay for our peace with His blood,  He would spend long nights of insomnia in prayer to His Father. When His hour came, He was crucified for our sins and then sealed in a tomb where he would sleep the sleep of death. Then, on the third day, he awoke from the dead to never die again.

Our Prince of Peace can not only identify with those who are spending these long nights of anxiety and insomnia in the local refuge camps, but he has won the true peace they now need so badly, by paying for our sins on the cross. I ask you to pray with me for our brothers and sisters to the south, while we share this good news with them. Our Savior, who once slept in the manger, who was crucified and rose to give us forgiveness and peace with God, does not sleep. We have His promise: “Take into account that the protector of Israel never sleeps.”

Responding to disasters with the mercy of our Prince of Peace. Photo: LCMS Disaster Response

-Adapted from “40 Daily Devotionals of God´s Comfort in Times of Disaster, published by LCMS Disaster Response

Dead Man Standing

The body of Angel Pantoja Medina, “the dead man standing,” being mourned in his mother’s home. Photo: mbcnews.com

There’s a rising trend in Puerto Rico: funeral homes posing the dead like they’re still alive.  In these “outside of the box” funerals, instead of having the deceased lying in a coffin, families are having their loved ones embalmed and then posed to depict scenes from their life. It all started with the now famous case of the “dead man standing” (el muerto para’o), a young man who was mourned by his relatives not laying down in a coffin, but propped upright in his mother’s home, wearing his favorite shirt, sunglasses and cap.

How to Prepare for a Storm

Ready for “Boriquén”.

Yesterday my family celebrated one year of missionary service in Puerto Rico. After five years of service in Peru, and then four years of pastoral formation at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, we considered ourselves relatively prepared for our work here. We were nervous and excited as we hopped on the plane with our one-way ticket to the Island of Enchantment, our ten military-grade duffle bags and our three little ones in tow, but we were ready to weather the storms together, by God’s grace.

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Free Indeed

Today Puerto Rico celebrates the abolition of slavery.  Slavery is a terrible, ugly thing no matter where you go. And here in Puerto Rico was no exception. The slaves were purchased as property and branded on the forehead with a hot iron to mark them as such. They were forced to convert to Catholicism. Forced to learn Spanish. Forced to work long, hard, hot days, doing back breaking work on the sugar cane plantations. 

Monument to the Abolition of Slavery in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Photo: encirclephotos.com
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Our True Father

Puerto Ricans speak a “sancochified” Spanish that reflects the rich cultural and ethnic mixture that makes up their identity (“sancocho” is a thick soup with a lot of yummy things mixed in). Photo: http://www.indicepr.com

It’s been a fun challenge adjusting to Puerto Rican Spanish. One thing that has taken some getting used to is being called “daddy” by a complete stranger. In many Spanish speaking countries, it’s not unusual to hear a wife calling her husband papi (“daddy”), or a husband calling his wife mami (“mommy”). But here in Puerto Rico, these terms of affection are not limited to your significant other. 

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