Faith Through the Storm & Beyond
After Hurricane Ian struck Cuba, Pastor Carlos Melia helped throughout the recovery and was truly the hands and feet on the ground coordinating relief efforts for his area. At first, Carlos couldn’t envision implementing such a task, but God knew he was ready.
A long-time friend of Atulado’s, we met Carlos in 2011. In addition to being a pastor with his own church, Carlos has responsibilities for 16 churches and leaders in the western part of Cuba where he lives and the hurricane hit. Carlos’ first hurricane experience was in 2008. The experience of a previous hurricane means you know what lies ahead, and the situation is worse with fewer resources. The storm brings more damage not just to material things but to the hearts of the people who suffer more loss. Also, the country is different than in 2008. Food and gas shortages, blackouts, and an economic crisis complicate things.
During the hurricane, Carlos constantly kept in touch with church leaders by phone, learning about the events in their towns. However, he had to wait until after the storm had passed to assess the damage and visit the entire region. Also, the entire country was without electricity after the storm, even though the area impacted represents about 8% of the island. The country’s already strained power grid just collapsed. The hurricane hit on a Monday, and it was Thursday before the roads were open enough for him to travel to churches in his region. Travel was still dangerous, with electricity poles and trees lying on the ground, but it was enough for him to visit the churches in his region.
“I went to see people as soon as I could. My priority was encouraging people, being there for them, and seeing how they faced the issues. It’s traumatic for many emotionally and spiritually, and that’s why it was my priority. Then, I checked on their material losses to see how I could help. Finally, I showed them I’m there for them and brought a little help and hope.” – Carlos
The hurricane spurred several tornadoes, knocking trees over and destroying homes, buildings, and structures. Doors and windows ruptured, and water tanks on the tops of buildings were gone. When you lose your water tank, you don’t have clean water, and they’re not easy to restore. Heavy rains destroyed most of the contents inside the homes. Thankfully, his community didn’t suffer much destruction, but the surrounding area did. Of his 16 churches, 14 of those towns suffered damage.
Many people stayed too long in places they shouldn’t be to keep their belongings safe. He heard some congregation members say it sounded like bullets piercing the roof – very dangerous. And some people were injured, enduring the storm’s wrath to save as much as possible. Giant trees and electricity poles fell close to homes and buildings, but miraculously the people inside were safe.
Once the storm was over, the slow process of an organized recovery began. Recovery officials must assess your home and then return days or weeks later with the needed materials, which you must purchase from them. Local churches provided some clothes and food for people. Atulado came by the side of the Church of Cuba and equipped the Church to respond. Food was one of the first things people needed. Nine pastors were equipped with resources for food to feed each congregation member temporarily, and they created a plan to buy and distribute the food. This helped feed 1,800 to 2,000 people.
Small opportunities to encourage churches and their members resulted in pizza provided by a local church member and pizza delivery to the community. Over 1,200 pizzas were delivered to a community in the Pinar Del Rio area with the funds Atulado provided. Another church provided food for their congregation from the funds received and encouraged the children with a fun ice cream party. Churches and members are amazingly creative in helping others in hard times.
Getting cement, sand, and other materials is difficult because of regulations that control all purchases. Despite the challenges, Carlos worked diligently through the process to help people get the supplies they needed. Atulado made sure funds were available to ensure the most vulnerable of the community could get the materials. Once supplies arrived, Carlos gathered people from the church to make the much-needed repairs.
People had pulled apart wet mattresses to dry the stuffing in the sun. Then, they would be re-sewn and used. So, mattress needs were assessed, and a plan was created to provide mattresses. Also, water filters were critical to give clean water for people to drink and cook with.
Cell phones in Cuba are all pre-paid, and it is difficult to get minutes added to your phone, which was further complicated by the hurricane and power outages. To keep the lines of communication open, Atulado put minutes and data on the phones of key pastors so communication with extended family members was possible. Hearing the voice of a loved one made a difference for people. This was also key for Carlos. It helped him reach his leadership team throughout the area, pray with people, and offer support.
“I am very grateful to God and everyone who’s a part of Atulado for their support, encouragement, and prayers. It represents the Kingdom of God, and He has been so faithful. He allowed us to be a blessing for Christians and to show the love of Christ to people who don’t know Jesus.”
– Carlos Melia