Synod prepares response to devastated Puerto Rico

Residents of Puerto Rico wait for the water to recede Sept. 21 following Hurricane Maria. An LCMS Disaster Response team has been on standby, waiting for the military and first responders to clear roads and secure hard-hit areas so that it can enter the country and assess needs. A tentative five-day trip is planned to begin Oct. 5. (Yuisa Rios/FEMA)

By Paula Schlueter Ross (

Information is still pretty “scattered” in Puerto Rico following the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Maria Sept. 20, acknowledges LCMS missionary Rev. Matthew Ruesch, but he has received some news about Lutherans there.

As of Sept. 27, Ruesch, now stateside, had heard via text from one member of his congregation — Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Mayagüez — who reported that he and his daughter were safe at their home in Arecibo, on the northern coast. The message, translated from Spanish: “Much catastrophe. But we are well.”

Another message came from a former member, who now lives in Kansas City, Kan., but whose parents still live in Mayagüez, on Puerto Rico’s west coast: There’s a lot of debris on the grounds of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, but the church building looks OK, with no outward damage.

As a safety precaution, Ruesch and his family returned to the United States just before the storm hit. He, his wife Heather, and children Bella, Paul and Sofie are staying with relatives in Wisconsin until it is considered safe for them to return to Puerto Rico.

The Synod’s other missionary there, the Rev. Richard Schuller, has been on furlough in the U.S. with his wife, Gema, since mid-August, and the two aren’t scheduled to return to the island until mid-October.

With power still out throughout much of Puerto Rico, Ruesch has been unable to contact congregation members and neighbors on the island’s west side. Through Facebook he’s learned that a few are safe, but doesn’t know how a friend staying at his house — or the house itself — fared.

But he plans to find out in early October as part of an LCMS assessment team led by the Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response. The team — which also may include Schuller and a regional mission leader, possibly Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Director Rev. Ted Krey — plans to stay about five days.

“We have a lot of anecdotal information regarding what people need” — such as water, batteries and fuel for cars and generators, Ruesch told Reporter. But “because we can’t even communicate with the island, we need to find a way to make an assessment of what we can do” to help.

Johnson said the Lutheran assessment team has been on standby, “waiting for the military and first responders to clear roads and make the area secure so that relief workers can start helping.”

The team is hoping the situation will improve so they can enter Puerto Rico on Oct. 5.

In the meantime, LCMS Disaster Response staff are lining up ways to deliver aid — such as through the Dominican Republic, the closest neighboring country.

While in Puerto Rico, the LCMS team plans to connect with all of Prince of Peace’s 25 members, and then assess the needs of the congregation’s neighborhood as well as the larger Mayagüez community.

“Our hope is that our congregation in Mayagüez will be an outpost of mercy for people in the community,” Ruesch said, providing needed resources “and, of course, through all of it, share God’s Word, share the hope of the Gospel” with hurting people.

He added that he “wholeheartedly” encourages gifts to LCMS Disaster Response and thanks “everyone deeply for their love, and their prayers and their concern.

“You can’t shortchange or underestimate the impact that prayer has in the life of a missionary,” especially in times of disaster, he adds. “To know that you have so many brothers and sisters in Christ all over the place who are keeping you in their prayers really is an incredible source of strength and encouragement for our entire family. And I know it is for our congregation as well.”

As with the recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, LCMS Disaster Response is accepting donations specifically for aid to Puerto Rico. Visit for information on ways to give.

To give via text, type LCMSPuertoRico into the text message field and send it to 41444. You’ll receive a text back with a link to a phone-friendly, secure donation form.

Because of increased needs owing to successive disasters — as well as recovery efforts from last year, including Hurricane Matthew’s destruction in Haiti, flooding and tornadoes in the Midwest, and flooding in the Southeast — LCMS Disaster Response’s general disaster-fund resources are depleted as people direct support to hurricane-specific options such as Harvey and Irma.

To help bolster the response capacity in that “where needed most” disaster fund and strengthen the Synod’s disaster-relief arm in responding quickly to future disasters, please visit

Give Now: Puerto Rico Relief Give Now: Where Needed Most

Posted Sept. 28, 2017

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Reporter Online is the Web version of Reporter, the official newspaper of
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Content is prepared by LCMS Communications.

2 Responses to Synod prepares response to devastated Puerto Rico

  1. Elinor Brown September 30, 2017 at 9:29 am #

    How did the church of Iglesin in Mayaguez fare? We were part of a team to help build the church back in 2004. Very interested.

    • LCMS Church Information Center October 2, 2017 at 8:08 am #

      Thank you for your comment. We have not been able to get in to Puerto Rico yet, so please keep checking the LCMS’ social media sites for updates. You may also check

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