PC(USA) delegation to Puerto Rico impressed by church-sponsored work
March 16, 2019
If Luis Ramos Salgado had tried to ride the storm out in his home, he wouldn’t be able to walk down his street today.
“I’d be dead,” he says through a translator, standing in the kitchen of the only home he’s ever known in San Juan’s Caño Martín Peña area.
So, he sought higher ground when Hurricane Maria pounded the island on Sept. 20, 2017. When he returned home, he found that the roof was gone.
Salgado was far from alone. The storm took the roofs off more than 1,200 homes, left around the same number uninhabitable and destroyed 75 homes in the area.
But on a warm winter morning several months ago, Salgado stood under a new wood and metal roof covering his home, one designed to withstand hurricane winds should Mother Nature deal the U.S. territory another blow. Salgado is one of more than 80 residents who have received a new roof in a project supported by G-8, a collective of eight communities surrounding the nearby canal.
Representatives of three of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries, plus Presbyterian Special Offerings, toured the community in mid-December to see work the group was already supporting as well as new initiatives with which the ministries might partner.
“To go to this guy’s house and basically have him say, ‘They saved my life,’ and looking up at his roof and seeing that, wow, this is not just a patched roof, it is an entire structure that these folks have built for this guy, and this guy laying claim and witness to the work of Fideicomiso was really powerful,” says Alonzo Johnson, director of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP). “I didn’t expect that.”
Self-Development of People, which has previously funded projects in Puerto Rico, has already gone in on a $15,000 grant with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and the Presbyterian Hunger Program to support Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Caño Martín Peña, a community land trust that manages 200 acres along the canal, through collective ownership of its members. The trust was created to protect the rights of residents, many of whom for many decades informally built on the land, which was previously owned by the government. The ownership transferred to the land trust in a 2004 act spelling out how the rehabilitation of the canal area would be managed.
A chief concern is gentrification, which could occur with coming ecological projects along the canal to improve water flow and reduce pollution in the canal. The$15,000 grant, supported by the three ministries through the One Great Hour of Sharing special offering, goes to support personnel to manage the complex documentation required to establish residents’ ownership of the property.
But Presbyterian representatives saw a lot more than just property law to like in their visit to the Caño Martín Peña area. In a visit to the main building of Proyecto Enlace del Caño Martín Peña, one of the facilities housing Fideicomiso and G-8, the team heard from community members working to improve the community for residents ranging from school age, with projects like a baseball field adjacent to the headquarters, to senior citizens, helping to develop community gardens.
“The energy in that place, just the amount of activity that goes on in that building, was pretty amazing,” said Margaret Mwale, SDOP’s associate for community development and constituent relations.
The visit was led by Mariolga Juliá Pacheco, a special projects manager for the Fideicomiso.
“You’re preaching by your actions, and that’s more useful than to just be preaching about your religious thoughts,” Pacheco said of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s involvement in Fideicomiso. “That has been really rewarding for us, that you are interested in the social project and not trying to get more people to your church.”
Edwin A. González-Castillo, a native Puerto Rican who is PDA’s associate for Puerto Rico recovery, said the church’s work in Fideicomiso is important for other organizations as well.
“Fideicomiso is so big and well-respected, for the community to see the Presbyterian Church get involved is a very big thing,” said González-Castillo, who was a church pastor and stated clerk of the Presbytery of San Juan when Maria hit. “People see that we are not doing it to get more people into the church but to reflect Christ to the community.”
Johnson said the organizations in the canal area are precisely the types of groups SDOP and the other ministries want to partner with. He said the land trust is similar to projects SDOP has worked with in mainland U.S. communities such as Rochester, New York, and Las Vegas, as well as various countries, including Belize, the Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
“It’s that feeling when you know you’re walking alongside something that’s really powerful,” Johnson said.
Pacheco said visitors such as the PC(USA) delegation are important.
“As more people come down here and see for yourself what we are doing, we have more voices,” she said. “Keep raising your voice for our project. We need more help from the States so that different congressmen and congresswomen understand what is happening here in Puerto Rico and why it is important.”
Rich Copley, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: PC(USA) delegation to Puerto Rico
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious and loving God, we turn to you for strength, truth and love. Help us see in each other your own image, which connects us all, so that we might find fellowship and friendship with all your children and show compassion, mercy and grace to all whom you love. Amen.