By Deborah Malavé Diaz
After Hurricane Maria, my mother and I relocated to live with my sister in New Jersey as my mother’s assisted living facility was destroyed in the storm. I had to take care of mother, and my husband joined us several weeks later after he had secured our damaged home from further damage. In a matter of days, I lost my world as I knew it. First, I lost my daily routine as electricity and power were gone. I lost my freedom as I had to become the primary caregiver of my mother, a beautiful gentle soul I am losing to vascular dementia. My days and decisions became oriented around her needs. I lost my job, the means to earn money. As the decision came to relocate to New Jersey for my mother’s wellbeing, I lost my sense of self that had existed in my house, my homeland, the tangible support of friends, and the ability to speak in my first language.
We spent almost six months in my sister’s house and under her care, but now I am back in Puerto Rico. My mother is in a new care facility, and within six weeks I got a new job. My husband got a job, too, but in Tampa, Florida. We are separated but at least we’re now able to work earnestly towards a future together again. I am back in my home church and reconnecting with friends and family. Life seems normal…almost. Or does it?
My hometown is 20 minutes south of the capital city and when you drive back and forth between the two places it seems almost normal. The highway is free of debris, but many of the light posts are bent or have fallen over cars and people. At night they are not lit and, if you are not watchful, the many potholes will damage your car. The trees are getting green but there are many patches where they are branchless and naked, looking like matches. As you drive into towns and your eyes wander, you see buildings looking like skeletons, or those that are still roofless. You go to your favorite store or restaurant and discover that they have not yet re-opened or have gone out of business altogether. If you venture to the towns outside of the main metro area, you will find that there continues to be no main road access. Driving in these towns is a faith experience as the stop lights are still not working. You may ask about friends and find out they left for Florida or Texas. You ask after a friend’s elderly or sick relatives and hear that they passed away because there was no power for the oxygen tank, or their specialty prescription did not get to them in time, or they could not get to the hospital because of the roads. Everyone felt like they died a little after Hurricane Maria, but for many, death was real. There is a Harvard Report claiming an approximate 4,645 lives were lost because of Hurricane Maria.
This is every day; this is now the new normal.
Hurricane Maria changed our lives; for awhile for some, and for others, forever. My pastor recently preached about the story of Jairus seeking Jesus for his dying daughter. As I came back to the Island and learned first-hand of the dire situation and dealt with my own losses, I felt not like Jairus. but like his friends who told him, “Don’t bother Jesus, your daughter is dead.” Certainly, dead she was, and I feel like death in its many shapes is around us, but so is Jesus. Jesus is telling us we are not dead, we are only sleeping. Jesus is working miracles but, if we persist in seeing only with our human eyes, we will miss them, just like Jairus’ friends.
I felt like I didn’t want to bother Jesus, but Jesus is telling me, “Talitha koum—Little girl, I tell you, get up.” I hear news of Puerto Ricans getting up and reinventing themselves. I hear news of ABC-USA and other denominations getting up and coming to help us. American Baptist Women’s Ministries is getting up and collecting funds to support Ministerios de Mujeres Bautistas de Puerto Rico (Baptist Women’s Ministries of Puerto Rico) to help women rebuild here. ABC-USA brothers and sisters are getting up and volunteering to rebuild, restore, and renew Puerto Rico. I hear news from my friends and family of divine providences they experience. I am seeing life defeating death, and I want to live that victory too. I want to feel it in my heart. I must listen to Jesus’ voice telling me, “Little girl, I tell you, get up,” and getting up I am, every day. (Mark 5:35-43)
For more information and to contribute towards AB Women’s Ministries special funding campaign for Baptist Women’s Ministries in Puerto Rico, click here.
Deborah Malavé Diaz is American Baptist Women’s Ministries national coordinator of events.