I returned home at midnight on October 22nd and after being away for 23 days I was looking forward to spending the holiday months at home with Celia and our four children. Being from the Seattle area, I was even looking forward to cool, cloudy days after spending three weeks in very hot, humid weather!
However, something happened later that week that changed my plans.
On October 25th Hurricane Sandy ripped through Cuba. This is the same storm that later went north and swept through the east coast of the USA. In Cuba, the storm’s 110 mile-per-hour winds wreaked havoc in Santiago, which is where ACTION launched its Cuba ministry 12 years ago and where we have the greatest concentration of friends and colleagues. The damage is severe and is widespread. We are grateful that, as far as we have been able to determine, all our friends are safe. However, the reports we are hearing from our colleagues about the damage are very depressing.
The pictures will give you some examples of what the city looks like post-hurricane. However, as Ismael Laborde, Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Cuba wrote me, “No pictures or statistics can express the magnitude of the damage. This disaster is overwhelming. Please, in the name of the Lord, have mercy on us and send all the humanitarian aid possible, including finances, food, and medicine.”
I have been doing as much as I can from here. I have spent over $600 purchasing cell-phone minutes for a dozen denominational leaders who are coordinating relief work. (All the landlines are currently down.) Also, on the 29th my pastor, Dr. Brian Harpell, left for his previously-scheduled trip to Cuba. Though his conference was cancelled, he still wanted to help in any way possible. I was able to send with him $4,000 and a small amount of supplies, including anti-diarrhea medicine, children’s vitamins, children’s Tylenol, work gloves, and other items.
Celia and I then began to receive reports of specific friends and colleagues who have suffered loss. Jorgito and Marbis are two friends we have known for over ten years, since before they were married. We just spent two weeks together in October, since they attended both our church-planters conference and Bible school. Their house and all their belongings were destroyed. Another close friend, Branlis, who manages one of the church-based print shops we use, told me that he lost half his roof and that all the trees on his property were uprooted. Carmen Picmentel, a godly lady who teaches public speaking at the Elim Bible School, also lost her roof.
Our hearts were breaking for our friends and on the 30th we asked our colleagues to see whether the authorities would grant me an immediate visa so I could travel down and help in some way. Yesterday I received word that Caridad Diego, the Minister of Religious Affairs, has granted my visa. This is an amazing blessing of God to have a visa approved in only four days. It is normally a 60-day process.
I will travel to Cuba on Tuesday, November 6, and will only stay four days and then come home. While I am there I will be purchasing and sending to Santiago large quantities of food and water. I am connected to two churches that are serving meals to over 250 people per day.
I hope to take in $20,000 but with these purchases the money will go fast. It seems like such a small amount considering the immense need, but I read yesterday that Brazil, which has the sixth largest economy in the world, has only sent $100,000 for hurricane relief. I am therefore very impressed by the sacrificial giving of ACTION’s friends and supporters. Many of my missionary colleagues have given money, as well.
If you wish to partner with us in our relief efforts, which will continue for at least a few weeks, we have a page for online donations: www.actioninternational.org/CubaHurricane