December 12, 2017
Written by: Dr. Doris García Rivera, President
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Today, 90 days after hurricane Maria, and 106 days after Irma our nation stands up. We do so with major setbacks and obstacles to rebuild the spiritual and community contexts, which are essential to renew and center our lives. Basic services still are insufficient, and the economic horizon endangers what we have attained so far. Yet, we believe that the Holy One will sustain us!
We have been taken down twice – by Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017 and two weeks later, Hurricane Maria. Since Irma, the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico has been without electricity. The challenge to restore electricity was compounded by Maria, which created a different level of emergency. Whole communities, communication systems, water, electrical network, as well as transportation, streets, and major avenues were completely wiped out on the island.
The picture was one of utmost destruction where 3.4 million people were left vulnerable, without electricity and water, with blocked streets, fallen bridges, flooding, and telecommunications down (240 towers standing from 1,600). At the seminary, the Chapel, campus area, fences, the roof of the administrative building, and student housing were badly damaged. We lost some books, and our whole collection was endangered by the humidity which brought mold. Losses are estimated to be around $230,000 dollars.
During the chaotic 21 days after Maria (cleaning the campus, finding cell signals to communicate with others, and facing the lack of electricity, water, gasoline, food, medicines, etc.), we refined the rebuilding plan, developed the new academic calendar, started a census of student whereabouts and needs, documented damages, and completed quotes for insurance companies. New tasks and temporary working spaces for staff members were developed, and the faculty reviewed their course contents. We shared clean water and filters with neighbors, as well as seminary staff and faculty. We spent innumerable hours of communication with governmental and crediting agencies, other seminaries, friends, alumni/ae, and organizations to ask for protocol extensions or to seek assistance.
On October 21 we gathered the students. The stories they told, their faces, and their embrace expressed the nightmares and the blessings we all went through. Thirty-six percent of our students live in the towns most devastated by Maria and their stories were heroic. Even when many lost their houses, they served - opening accesses, cleaning debris, finding water, moving people around, and serving thousands of meals. Our professors also were at the forefront serving meals and seeking water in their communities. They also engaged theologically, interpreting these events as a call to participate in a spiritual renewal of a Gospel of Peace for all – including nature. These are the religious leaders we nurture.
Even with the many obstacles against us, the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico is up and moving. We celebrate the care and strength of our staff and faculty that gave their all to lift up our students, associated denominations, and the nation. Eighty-eight percent of our students have returned to their studies. Our administration alongside our chaplain works to provide for the material and emotional needs of our students and staff. Representatives from our sister denominations (PCUSA, ABHMS, UMC, UCC, CCDoC, ELCA) have visited us to reaffirm their commitment and our accrediting agencies. The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) also have identified with us in many ways.
We have much to give thanks for! Many have offered their hands and support to help us, both through financial donations and concrete items (e.g. theological books, furniture, computer equipment, etc.). After each day of work, I pray to have the stamina and wisdom to continue. Leading in the midst of such devastation, governmental bureaucracy, and scarcity of resources is not easy. Keeping the hope afloat of our personnel, as each one faces their own challenges, is taxing. Yet, we know that the Seminary is again being called by God to give its best witness in the midst of a very critical time. I pray that we do.