TT he outer bands of Hurricane Eta struck western Panama on November 3, 2020, after its destructive path through Honduras and Guatemala, causing deaths, flooding, and the destruction of bridges, homes, and roads. So far, 17 people have been confirmed dead by local authorities, including one Adventist church member. In addition, authorities have reported 25 landslide sites and more than 800 people rescued. There are currently 19 shelters in use.
Local churches and Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Panama have mobilized to bring relief to those affected by the storm.
“Panama doesn’t usually experience natural disasters like this,” says Augusto Reyes, who lives in Quiriquí, located on the west coast of Panama. “I hurried home when my wife called and when I got there, I found the water rising from the nearby Quebrada Bruja.”
Reyes was able to get his family out minutes before his home became inaccessible.
“We are thankful God protected us,” says Reyes.
Unfortunately, 48-year-old Mercedes Rodríguez, a church member in Quiriquí, died when a mudslide covered her home. She is mourned by her fellow church members.
Donation centers open
The Adventist Church in Panama City, where the church’s headquarters are located, opened five donation centers where 500 church member volunteers and 100 volunteers from the community gathered to collect food, clothes, and toiletries to assist those in need.
ADRA Panama sent in five trucks and several pickup trucks on a 450-kilometer (280-mile) journey with food, clothes, and toiletries to Quiriquí on Nov. 5.
“About $50,000 worth of goods have been donated so far,” says Jose Smith, ADRA Panama director. “Every conference field was organized to receive donations from church members and those from the community goods with dozens of young people volunteering per region. Our emphasis is always to help everyone in need without distinction of religion or creed.”
So far, the church has identified 135 affected Adventist families who have lost their homes and are receiving assistance. The rest of the donated goods collected at the donation centers in Panama City were sent in seven truckloads days later.
“The donation centers throughout the country have been visited by regional fire departments, municipal authorities, commissioners from the presidency, and the national civil protection system, who have joined the volunteer work teams from the church to assist so many in the most affected areas,” says Pastor Misael González, communication director for the church in Panama.
Many volunteers joined the efforts to unload and organize donated goods.
For David Quintero, a church member in Panama City, helping the victims of Hurricane Eta was all he could think about.
“At the beginning of the situation in Chiriquí, I honestly didn’t have many resources to take to a donation center, but I decided to donate my time and efforts collecting food going to my friends’ homes to take to the Metropolitan Adventist School,” he says.
For three days, Johan Gonzáles helped as a volunteer at one of the donation centers in Panama City.
“I personally heard many testimonies from so many church members and saw how our members were moved to express their love for others in need,” she says.
Ana Flórez, a church member volunteer in Chiriquí, was amazed to see how the church responded after the flooding affected so many people in her town.
“The moment the announcement was made in need of donations and volunteers, you could see the response from so many church members who wanted to be part and help with what they could,” she says. “I was so proud to belong to the Adventist Church to see how we all work together to support people in need, and I saw firsthand how these efforts were recognized by the government of our country.”
González says the church will continue assessing the needs in Chiriquí. “We are committed to continuing providing support to all the displaced persons,” he asserts.
For more information on the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Panama, its initiatives and activities, visit uapanama.org.
This article was originally published on the Inter-America Division’s website