Brief Calls, Emails Relieving Relatives of Mormons Caught in Puerto Rico, Mexico Disasters

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 26 September 2017

President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, visited with government officials and ministered to local Mormons and residents in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 15, 2017, in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Maria,  which hit the same area September 20, just five days after his visit, caused additional destruction.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

Elder Jake Jensen called his mother hours after Hurricane Maria made its destructive pass across the U.S. territory.

The 18-year-old from Elmo, Utah, was a bit sore from sleeping on the tile floor of the San Juan Puerto Rico Mission office. And he could only talk for about a minute.

No matter, said Diane Jensen.

“It was a relief to hear from him—we were worried.”

Selina Munoz of West Jordan, Utah, can relate. She received an email from Mexico City from her own missionary son, Elder Jeremy Munoz, just hours after a massive earthquake hit the Mexican capital. Once again, the communication was brief but welcome. All was well for Elder Munoz—and for the other full-time missionaries serving in areas impacted by the quakes.

Elder Jake Jensen, left, of Elmo, Utah (shown with his companion, Elder Mercado of Honduras), was relocated from his area in Puerto Rico’s Rio Grande community to Riverside, California, following Hurricane Maria.

For many Latter-day Saints with family ties to Puerto Rico or Mexico, even a quick phone, text, or email is being called a blessing.

Utah resident Pablo Rivera endured days of silence following Hurricane Maria before he heard from his parents, Pablo and Migdalia Rivera. The Mormon couple live in the coastal city of Ponce on the south end of Puerto Rico.

“There’s no cell coverage, so they had to walk to a relative’s house to use a landline that was working,” said the younger Pablo. “My parents grew up in Puerto Rico, but they say they’ve never seen anything like this. There is devastation everywhere.”

Securing food, water, and gasoline has become a daily and sometimes dangerous burden, said Rivera. Looting and robbery remain threats as people spend their day gathering limited provisions.

LDS relief efforts

The Church is part of a growing corps of government and private humanitarian response organizations working together to deliver relief to both Puerto Rico and Mexico.

The past few weeks have been defined by historic catastrophe across the Western Hemisphere.

Hurricanes and flooding have impacted regions stretching from south Texas to outermost islands of the Caribbean. Puerto Rico remains almost entirely without power and enduring what is expected to be a long-term humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, two major earthquakes—one in Mexico City and the second in the south end of the country—have claimed hundreds of lives, toppled buildings, and displaced entire communities.

In Puerto Rico, accessing basic necessities, including cell phone communication, remains a challenge across the U.S. territory following Hurricane Maria. The Church is providing food, water, and other commodities to Puerto Rico and other neighboring islands. Future supplies will also be sent to help with recovery and reconstruction.

“Nonperishable food items are being sent from the Church’s welfare system to Puerto Rico,” according to a Mormon Newsroom release. “In addition, arrangements have been made with a few large grocery store chains on the island to purchase bulk items to support members of the Church and the community.”

Building supplies such as plywood, roofing materials, nails, tools, and tarps are being shipped from the U.S. mainland. The Church is also working with the Red Cross and other relief agencies to help shelter displaced residents, distribute food, and provide home repair materials.

All missionaries safe

No full-time missionaries serving in the San Juan Puerto Rico Mission were harmed in the disaster. They began serving in local cleanup efforts almost immediately after Maria’s passing. Still, the region continues to endure limited electrical power, along with food and water shortages.

In response, missionaries were being transferred from the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission and temporarily reassigned to other areas until basic needs in Puerto Rico can be met, according to a Church release. They are expected to then return to the island’s only mission and continue serving the people.

Diane Jensen told the Church News that her son, who arrived in Puerto Rico just a few weeks ago, has been reassigned to Riverside, California, and was traveling to his new field of labor on Tuesday, September 26.

The Caribbean Area Presidency—Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, Elder Claudio D. Zivic, and Elder Jose L. Alonso—offered a statement about the Church’s efforts in Maria-weary Puerto Rico.

“We have been collaborating with local priesthood leaders located at the most affected areas in order to assess the situation of our members, missionaries, meetinghouses, and the situation in general. At the present time, our greatest interest is to safeguard human lives and evaluate the situation in order to identify the best way possible to help those in need and cooperate with efforts from local authorities. As we assess the situation, we’re confident that effective ways to help as necessary will be identified.”

President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, visited with government officials and ministered to local Mormons and residents in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 15, 2017, in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Maria followed on September 20, causing additional destruction to the area.

Mexico earthquake recovery

Mormons in Mexico, meanwhile, continue to support their fellow members, friends, and neighbors.

“Relief efforts are likewise underway in Mexico in response to the recent earthquakes there,” reported Mormon Newsroom.

About 700 Mormon Helping Hands volunteers were recently dispatched to the Mexico states of Puebla and Guerrero to offer earthquake relief.

“All these people have come with their own means and have paid for their own transportation … bringing their food, tools, and strong hands to contribute,” said Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela of the Mexico Area Presidency in a YouTube video capturing the relief efforts.

This is not the first time nor will it be the last time they will be seen there, he promised.

On September 14, 2017, Elder Paul B. Pieper, Mexico Area President, visited food distribution points and met with government and local Church leaders, as well as families affected by the September 7 earthquake. A second serious earthquake hit Mexico on September 19.