EDMOND—Philadelphia Church of God members and prospective members in the Caribbean islands endured two successive hurricanes in the fall of 2017 and say that they experienced miracles during and after the storms.
At the time, the PCG membership in the area consisted of two members and two prospective members attending services in Puerto Rico, as well as one member living on Saint Kitts, about 260 miles away.
The member in Saint Kitts was Cyril Adams. The two Puerto Rican members were Venerando Bermudez, 91, who was baptized in the Worldwide Church of God in 1962, and David Negron, who became a member in 2012. The prospective members were Mark Laudensack and Leonardo Silva, who began attending services right before the “twin sisters” struck.
Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean in the first week of September, narrowly missing Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from a weak economy, billions of dollars in debt and recently declared bankruptcy. Irma’s heavy winds severely damaged the island’s already vulnerable electrical infrastructure.
Then, on September 20, Hurricane Maria struck the island with a direct hit, its Category-4 winds peaking at 155 miles per hour and floodwaters rising above the roofs of cars and the tops of trees. The storm knocked out the island’s entire electrical infrastructure and most of its telecommunications, cost an estimated $94 billion in damage and killed 64 people according to government records and 1,054 people according to independent researchers.
In the aftermath, recovery was extremely slow, as half of the population remained without electricity months after Maria was over, affecting hospitals, nursing homes, drinking water pumps, telephones, refrigeration and more. The Port of San Juan was knocked out. Lines for gasoline pumps backed up for miles, and individuals stood in line for hours to receive bottled water, food and supplies. Injuries increased due to the blackout, and robberies and killings increased.
“Scattered across the island with no communication with one another or to the outside world was one of the biggest challenges in the aftermath,” Negron said.
Mr. Bermudez lives on the smaller Puerto Rican island of Vieques and was isolated from the other members and was out of communication with Negron and others for three months. However, he was able to contact his son in Texas, who alerted Regional Director Carlos Heyer at PCG headquarters that he was okay.
“We learned about his condition via announcements by Mr. Turgeon,” Negron wrote in an e-mail. “Thank you so very, very, very much for your prayers! Mr. Laudensack, Mr. Silva and I learned why God moved so kindly to protect and provide for us: [because of] your prayers!” Laudensack, Negron and Silva boated out to Vieques to check on him and found him in good health and good spirits and playing some tunes for them on his guitar.
Mr. Negron also said that “a huge challenge was coordinating services. Various times in the aftermath I just prayed and walked out the door Sabbath morning not knowing if the gentlemen would be ready for services. It is a three and half hour drive to and four-hour drive back home for me. Thus, walking out the door without that initial contact was a complete step in faith and obedience. God granted us to keep services almost every Sabbath in this simmering crisis!”
“Thankfully God protected both members and prospective members,” Negron wrote. “It was a real miracle from God! No damage whatsoever came upon us, our property or relatives.”
Recovery has continued to be slow, and many Puerto Ricans are still without power. But PCG members are thriving spiritually. Negron was ordained a deacon at the end of March, and Laudensack was baptized a week prior to Passover. Silva is counseling for baptism as well. Bermudez and Adams both made it to Puerto Rico for Passover and the First Day of Unleavened Bread. Negron said the experience “made it feel like the Feast of Tabernacles.”
Preaching Elder Carlos Heyer said, “We have been encouraged by these reports. There are a number of recent literature and subscription requests coming from Puerto Rico and other Latin American Countries. A handful of strong pillars to build on may be what God is waiting for in many areas.”