Suddenly day turned into night and the wind began to blow as never seen and heard before. We have experienced many tropical storms through the years, sudden winds of 45-miles per hour are not uncommon. But this was different, the fury of nature seemed unstoppable and relentless. For almost 24-hours the sound of the steady wind hitting and breaking windows, trees and electric poles, blowing branches, walls and ceilings made us believe that we were living an alternate reality, a nightmare. Not a moment of truce in the midst of the fury of the forces of nature. Nature does not make reasonable decisions, does not measures its forces or capability for destruction, it just does what it was created to do in order to maintain ecological balance. We were hostages, victims, while guilty of the magnitude of a hurricane that feeds itself from the hot waters of the ocean caused by the global warming.
While the wind kept blowing indiscriminately, many people had to fight to keep the water out from their houses, others had to evacuate in the middle of the 140 to 175 miles per hour winds frightened by the threat of drowning in their own homes; others had to resist with all their strength for hours to protect windows and doors that were pulled by the wind like a mighty powerful giant who had clung to it without letting go.
When the wind and the rain had stopped we decided to go out of the house; devastation, deforestation, and desolation was the view all around. Streets were inaccessible by flood or debris. With only one radio station transmitting in the island, news started flowing slowly. Thousands of people had lost everything, no electrical power, and water in 100% of the country. A sense of desperation, frustration, and impotence felt over everyone like a heavy cloth imposed by inevitable circumstances. But in the midst of this terrible experience, a question arises: where is God and what does he intend with all this? A brief and obscure moment of grieve was interrupted by the decision to stand up resilient.
When existential questions arose the book of psalms whispered in my ears: "I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalms 27:13) CPE’s emphasis on helping people find God in the midst of their moment of sorrow will be instrumental for our patients and everyone touched by our pastoral care. Confronting our difficult situation with the assurance of God’s presence may make a difference between hope and despair, resilience and surrender.
Nonetheless, we have witnessed a reborn spirit of solidarity, a new sense of gratitude, a spirit of compassion that transcends differences and physical obstacles. Families have been reunited and neighbors have reconciled differences. People share the only gallon of water they have and shelter neighbors and friends even when they have been laid off from their jobs and have not received a paycheck in weeks.
Two weeks after the hurricane we were able to reposition our CPE Interns in their practical scenarios, but this particular situation demands that we take CPE and our pastoral duties also to refugee sites and other communities with special needs. We have also incorporated to our curriculum readings in Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care in Disasters.
Our CPE Interns, Chaplains, and Pastors are doing an enormous effort to accompany people in their moment of loss while they carry their own burden. That is why we would like to broaden our efforts to offer conferences and small group therapy to avoid and treat compassion fatigue.
Our resources are limited but along with an ecumenical effort and the help of the municipal government of Toa Baja we were able to distribute hundreds of ”care kits” and food to those who have lost their houses. Our next step is to raise resources to schedule free conferences to train ministers and lay leaders with basic technics and resources in pastoral care in disasters and also to continue giving out “care kits” and food among those severely damaged. Any contribution you would like to send will be distributed through the Accredited CPSP Training Center ICET and the Church of the Nazarene at Levittown. To donate please follow the link below.
Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up." -- Galatians 6:9
Rev. Dr. Ivelisse Valentín Vera
CPSP Diplomate CPE Supervisor