On September 6th, 2017, my parents were in Newark airport when they heard over the intercom that their flight to Puerto Rico had been cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. I couldn’t help but feel gratitude that my parents weren’t headed into the eye of the hurricane that day. However, that feeling was short lived because less than one week later, they were both in Puerto Rico and this time around they would not be as lucky. Hurricane Maria had its sight set on Puerto Rico and the probability of a direct hit was very high. My sisters and I immediately jumped into action and purchased my mom a flight on September 18th, when she finally gave in to our pressure to return home. Mirroring Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”
But our victory was short lived because on September 19th we were notified that her flight had been cancelled. Worst yet, Maria had intensified over night and the chances of a miss were cut in half. On September 20th, we awoke to the heart-breaking news that Maria had slammed into the island and destroyed it. The winds were so strong that all forms of communication had been wiped out. I did what anyone else would have done in my situation, I jumped online and began looking for information about Aguada and Aguadilla, the pueblos that my parents were from. I barely slept and no matter how hard I looked, I came up empty. However, this only applied to them! In my virtual travels, I found countless bits of information, good news and bad news. I got my hands on federal communication reports stating cell phone tower availability by municipality. This helped people to know that they could continue to reach out until they got through and a lot of people did.
I also began helping Dee Smalling, the founder of Disaster Online Relief Support, who specialized in wellness checks. One case in particular really impacted me and how I felt about what I was doing. We received an Amber Alert from London reported by the parent of a child. A lot was lost in the translation and we were unable to get more information when the call dropped. I shared what we had and not more than two minutes later someone whom I had previously helped sent me a message saying, "I know the head of security in that complex." He reached out, but despite the security guard not having heard of any issues he went around to confirm all was well. As it turned out the child was not missing, the problem was that the generator powering the equipment to keep him alive ran out of gas. Needless to say, that child survived because of a bunch of strangers coming together for the greater good.
A couple of days later, Dee Smalling shared her disappointment about not being able to travel to Florida to meet with a Senator and Goya executives because of funding issues. I called her and asked for her Paypal account and hung up and sent her the money. She called me back and thanked me profusely. I said, "There is no need. We are in this together, go get'em girl!" Little did I know that this act of brotherly love would be the catalyst for what was yet to come.
On the first week of October, the Live, Love Laugh Life Group setup a relief drive for Puerto Rico. They would get the supplies to Puerto Rico by utilizing a private plane and pilot, who stated he could deliver the supplies quickly. It was incredible to witness, 1 Corinthians 12:14 “For the body is not one member, but many” being acted out first hand. The expectation had been to possibly fill a trailer with supplies, however the outpouring of donations not only from the church, but from friends, family and community had been so great, that a 2nd trailer was required. Little did we know at that time that the relief drive would be the easy part.
Right around this time my cousin Benny who is part of the management team for United Airlines, reached out offering to rescue my parents via the 1st United Humanitarian flight to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. My mom accepted, but my father stubbornly refused to leave the island. He also shared with me that private flights were not allowed at that airport because the Radar System had been knocked out by Hurricane Maria. I shared my concerns with my wife Maribeth, that I was worried that the pilot her life group had made arrangements with, would not be able to deliver the goods collected by Skyline. I was then informed that the pilot offered to deliver the goods to other areas impacted by a natural disaster.
There are times that help can hurt more than aid. For example, when someone is in a severe accident, the first thing that you would want to do is pull the victim out of the wreckage, however if you did so without taking all of the necessary precautions you could cause further injury. Skyline Church was suddenly thrown into this predicament. Proverbs 27:17 states that "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." In other words, a team has checks and balances, one person watches the other one's back. They help them if they falter or lose sight of the goal, just like in friendship. Knowing that delivering these goods anywhere else but to Puerto Rico would have dire consequences on Skyline’s integrity, I got fully involved. I leveraged my relationship with Dee and as it turns out, the trip I funded, resulted in a Senator from Puerto Rico funding a container that the goods collected by Skyline could be shipped in.
We were far from done, we quickly learned that we needed a manifest, which is a master list of every package being shipped and its contents. We also needed to pack everything into sturdy boxes and then onto Pallets. When I shared this info with Pastor Chris, he did not hesitate to secure the boxes by way of Home Depot, which were pricy all things considered at more than a dollar each. They also required pallets, but at the last minute, the folks who donated warehouse space donated the pallets. Headed up by Sue, Live, Love, Laugh along with other life groups and ministries came together and made light work of packing, labeling and documenting all of the boxes. When it came time to ship the items, all the men we typically count on, were eerily silent. From the looks of it Pastor Chris and I would have to get it done by ourselves. As it turned out, all my brothers in Christ surprised me and threw me a Paintball Bachelor Party. Which also meant all hands on deck to deliver and pallet all of the items.
As stated in Romans 15:5 "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus." And that is exactly what Skyline did! Oh, and those expensive Home Depot boxes, ended up serving as Proof Positive that Skyline Church fulfilled a promise made to the people of Puerto Rico.