Members of Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church in Boonville will join with folks from Marshall and Huntsville on a mission trip to a small, coastal community on a tiny island east of Puerto Rico's main island.
Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico in September 2017, causing the death of about 3,000 people. It took almost a year to get power restored to most of the U.S. territory and some still rely on generators for electricity.
Winds from the Category 5 hurricane tore down power lines and buildings, causing an estimated $91 billion of damage. On the small island of Vieques, east of Puerto Rico’s main island, the small, coastal community of Esperanza suffered severely. Among the homes that were destroyed, a Methodist church lost its roof.
Alex Gerena is the pastor of the church in Esperanza, Spanish for “hope,” a town of 1,153 people on the southern coast of Vieques. The church was without a roof for more than a year, according to the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church. People continued to come to worship every week, praying under the open sky.
Gerena visited the Missouri United Methodist Annual Conference in Springfield last year to share the plight of his community. The conference committed to raising money to help the church, and to sending missionaries to help rebuild.
Gerena said the devastation of his community, a remote village, was overlooked in the recovery effort. Rob Gordon, a member of Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church in Boonville, said he felt a tug on his heart to be a part of the relief after hearing Gerena speak.
At the conference, Gordon and his wife spoke with some friends from Huntsville who Gerena also inspired. They decided to form a mission trip. The resulting group of 13, including folks from Boonville, Huntsville and Marshall, will visit Esperanza from Feb. 9-16.
Jo Ellen Parker, one of the group members from Nelson Memorial, said their group is going to help rebuild residential areas.
In October, missionaries led by Bishop Bob Farr went down to Esperanza to help construct metal trusses for a new roof and interior work on a nearby home, according to the Missouri conference.
Hurricane Maria destroyed the only hospital in Vieques, and there aren’t immediate plans to rebuild, according to the Missouri conference. Gerena has offered for his church to host a sorely-needed health clinic for the south of the island, operated by the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico.
With work on the church completed, the Boonville missionaries will work on “phase three” of the recovery. They don’t have specific assignments yet, but Parker said they will mostly be working on roofs and porches of damaged residences. They could also be doing some interior work.
The team of 13 will be split into two groups, each led by an experienced foreman. While experienced folks are going, it will be Parker’s first mission trip. It will be the first for her mother and sister, as well.
Parker said she’s felt the call to go on a mission trip since a group from Nelson returned from Mozambique, where they worked on a church. When the opportunity arose to serve in Vieques, she knew it was time for her to answer the call. She said that from what she’s heard, the small town has a feeling of community similar to Boonville.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to represent our community and our church,” Parker said.
Gordon will be one of the missionaries with experience, attending nine trips over about a decade. Like this one, many of the missions were in response to a natural disaster: Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Joplin tornado in 2011, Hurricane Harvey last year.
He said he thinks when most people hear about a natural disaster, they first think about what they can do to help.
“That’s what people do,” he said. “They help each other.”
He said he’s always amazed by the resiliency of people who have gone through a disaster. Gordon always feels like he’s received more than he’s contributed.
The group will be hosting a brunch to raise funds for the trip from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 2 at Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church, 407 E. Spring St.
Some of the funds from the brunch will go towards travel expenses, and most will go towards the Missouri conference’s relief fund for Vieques. The conference has set a goal of raising $150,000 for the island’s relief, and has raised about $50,000 so far.