Ruthie Munoz-Basel says that her heart is heavy when she thinks of the disaster in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in late August. Hurricane Maria was the third major hurricane to travel through the Caribbean, after Harvey and Irma, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Ms. Munoz-Basel’s parents remain on the island and refuse to leave. Her father, Pastor Jose D. Munoz, operates a Pentecostal Missionary Association, AMIP.
“I asked my parents to come and stay with me or with my brother in Tennessee, but they say they cannot leave their congregation,” Ms. Munoz-Basel said. “They have always had a love for others. My dad has been a minister since I can remember, his love for God and the people is the passion that propels him every day.”
When Hurricane Irma threatened the island, Pastor Munoz was visiting member churches in Europe. However, one week after the pastor returned to Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria hit. At the height of the storm, Hurricane Maria engulfed the entire island, an area of 3,515 square miles, Ms. Munoz-Basel said. The damage was catastrophic.
“People were scrambling for food, water, medicine, fuel and cash,” Ms. Munoz-Basel explained. “My brother waited 14 hours on line to get gas and before he got to the pump, they closed because they ran out. Almost the entire island is without power and outages are expected to last for months in some areas. Families have lost their home, some towns were under nine feet of water due to the overflowing of rivers. Caguas, in the central eastern part of the island, saw 37.74 inches of rain by the time Maria passed.” Ms. Munoz-Basel said that towns experienced mudslides leading to the loss of homes and everything inside. As of last week, 34 people had been confirmed dead in Puerto Rico.
Ms. Munoz-Basel’s parents were lucky, losing a shed and suffering water damage to the roof. She said her father told her it was an “easy fix” and that his focus was on helping those who had lost everything. In an effort to help her grandfather, Ms. Munoz-Basel’s daughter, Keila Montalvo-Sierra, created a GoFundMe to raise money that would allow her grandfather to help as many people as possible.
Pastor Munoz began pastoring in Manati, Puerto Rico, before being called to missionary work in the Dominican Republic. In that country, he established churches in different areas. He returned to Puerto Rico in 1970 and he was installed as Senior Pastor at Evangelistic Center “CEP” in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. Ms. Munoz-Basel says that her father’s heart for his people allowed him to impart the church’s vision so that a church that began with 25 members in 1970 grew to a worldwide organization. The mission expanded to Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Madrid, Spain, Germany and other parts of Europe. The group recently built a temple in India and operates an orphanage in Bolivia as well as a Missionary School in the Amazon.
Ms. Munoz-Basel says that the people of Puerto Rico are still suffering. Some of the single mothers in the congregation lost their homes, including Marilu Santos and Maria Fontan. The wind ripped off roofs and windows allowing extensive water damage inside homes. Many of the people in the congregation lost everything and now are dealing with no power, no water while attempting to remove debris.
“Communication is very difficult,” Ms. Munoz-Basel said. “We are getting spotty reports of how bad it is there, but the devastation is widespread. The recovery is going to be long and difficult. Because of the hurricane, the most vital needs are housing and food. Many have lost jobs so they now have no way to earn a living. The economy was poor there before the storm and now it is more difficult.”
Despite the devastation, Ms. Munoz-Basel says the spirit of Puerto Rico continues. She says that neighbors gather to pray, sing and share whatever they do have left. The flag rises above the debris. Islanders shout “Puerto rico se levanta – Unidos por Puerto Rico, which translates to “Puerto Rico rises – United for Puerto Rico. Ms. Munoz Basel says that it will take time, but the island will be rebuilt and, with the help of others, will be stronger than ever.