“But once in Puerto Rico and talking with several Christian organizations, we were asked to wait because they were not ready to host volunteers from the mainland U.S. Now that we are back in Michigan, we will continue to communicate with these organizations, and we hope to put plans in place soon to make inroads there after the new year.”

Laarman, director for World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS) traveled to Puerto Rico with DRS regional manager Len Blauwkamp in November. They met with potential partner organizations after Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the island in September 2017.

Meeting with the Seventh Day Adventists at their distribution center

“Like many of our other DRS trips, God planned our connections for us,” Blauwkamp said. “From a volunteer whose daughter lives and works in Puerto Rico, to a church that reached out to us through a former Christian Reformed missionary to Puerto Rico, to FEMA personnel in Texas connecting us to counterparts on the island.

“Compared to the progress of recovery in Texas, where the work is well underway, much of Puerto Rico is still in the immediate response phase of recovering from a disaster. Some organizations are still distributing food and water to survivors. Electrical service is sporadic, especially in rural areas. One of the days we were there, the entire Island was without power. In the capital, San Juan, we did not see any working traffic lights.

LEFT: Bob Laarman (left) with the pastors of a Reformed Church in Puerto Rico
RIGHT: Rainbows arching over a damaged church is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and promises

“While in San Juan, we not only visited with FEMA representatives, we also met a representative from U.S. Department of Transportation, who is also a World Renew volunteer, and the chair of Puerto Rico’s chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

“We connected with a pastor who works on the east side of the island. Hurricane Maria landed there first, and the area is particularly hard hit. On Friday we drove to Mayaguez to meet with other people who are doing disaster relief work in there. They showed us some of the affected homes in the Mayaguez area.

“Long-term recovery on the island will take many years, for sure. It is working with local organizations that allow us the opportunity to serve the Puerto Rican people who were affected by Hurricane Maria.”

Visit worldrenew.net/hurricanes to learn more and get involved.