MDS Blog

It takes time to rebuild

June 11, 2018

January 26, 2018


“It doesn’t take long to destroy, it takes longer to rebuild.”

This was the sermon I heard in December 2017 at Laurel St Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa. before I returned to Puerto Rico to start my new assignment with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).

As usual I returned back to the island for Christmas as we had already purchased our family tickets six months ahead. On this occasion I had a double mission: to continue meeting with the three Mennonite coordinators for the Hurricane Maria disaster as we plan next response stage and celebrate Christmas with my family.

I would be re-entering my country for the third time since Hurricane Maria hit the island producing so much devastation on September 20. All the infrastructure, from main roads to country hill roads compromised, mud slides, rivers raised, many roofs destroyed, and fragile wood houses blown away. No electricity, no running water, no home lines and internet no telephones and very little cellphone services. People learned to live with less. Since my arrival December 20, there was 70 percent electricity restored and 60 percent of water to the houses. Many celebrated Christmas with no light.

Signs of hope were beginning to be shown by mother-nature displaying its fresh green leaves. Banana plants starting to shoot out its baby plants, pushing out of the battered ground three months ago by winds of 155 mph. Plantain plants were demonstrating signs of esperanza/hope clapping their short leaves, initiated by the fresh December breeze.

But Old San Juan was quiet, with very few tourists on the classical Spaniard cobblestone streets meagerly going from shop to shop. Some souvenir shops were beginning to open and we would blessed not having to pay the extra 11.5% sales tax (IVO). All sale taxes were lifted given the financial situation of the island.

It became a joke among the Puerto Ricans when we look around or noticed something we used to have. The joke was “lo que Maria se llevó/what Maria took.” 

Maria took off the façade of the Enchanted Island. The hurricane exposed the poverty that was already existing, displaying for everyone to see the haves and the have nots; those that still had a job to go to, those that no longer had employment or just those that were jobless before. It exposed those that once had a way to earn some income by doing some mechanic work and can no longer wait around for the next car job. Many are closing down their houses and going to the U.S. to find a better life. 

It did not take much to destroy an already fragile economy, fragile job situation, fragile roof tops, fragile businesses and fragile school buildings and so on. It did not take long to destroy the livelihood of the already fragile lifestyle of those that lived on the island of Puerto Rico.

Everyone felt the effect of Hurricane Maria, even those like me, opened our homes to welcome our parents, relatives or friends offering them a safe place to be as the aftermath of this storm passed.

It did not take long to destroy, but it will take longer to rebuild, the preacher said. God was speaking. That is the hope of organizations like MDS.  To rebuild will take planning and set-up camps to start receiving our volunteers and rebuild together with Puerto Rican people.

Thanks be to God, we are using well our time and talents to make the rebuilding worth the waiting. “los que esperan en el Señor nuevas fuerzas tendran/those who wait in the Lord will renew their strength.” Isa 40:31. That is the Christian song that church members in Utuado are singing, and we join them as we start hearing the sweet sound of an MDS hammer.

Elizabeth Soto is the MDS Hurricane Maria Response Administrator.