A Mission Team prepares for Puerto Rico. Clockwise, from Top Right: Reverend Dr. Pat Langlois, Senior Pastor of MCC UCC In The Valley Church in North Hollywood; Layne Sanden; Eva Velez; Jill Overfield; and Adrian Christian.
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It was something that happened out of a fluke. Singer Adrian Christian had the idea of wanting to take his mother to Puerto Rico to visit her sister, whom they have not seen in more than 20 years. It was also an opportunity to sing at a church, with his tour, aptly titled, The Mission Tour, supporting his newly released CD.
But when Adrian approached Rev. Albert Rivera at ICM Cristocentrica, a progressive and inclusive LGBTQ church in Mayaguez, he was not willing to arrive empty handed.
"I promised to bring money, because I knew Puerto Rico needed help," said Adrian about that first conversation. Asking what was needed, the reply came clear: galvanized steel panels for rooftops that had been obliterated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. It turns out, help never came to many of these homes, and the families living there had been barely getting by.
But what about FEMA? What about the Red Cross?
Adrian further explained, "The Red Cross had a controversy about appropriation of funds, while FEMA began placing blue tarp on many homes, but stopped working after the director stepped down, leaving many homes without rooftops.
"My family living there informed me that some help arrived in the largest areas, like San Juan and Ponce, but many small towns were ignored."
Only this past January, it was reported by GQ Magazine that although $20 Billion dollars was set aside by the U.S. Congress for Puerto Rico relief efforts, it remains in limbo because of bipartisan battles. As a result, Puerto Rico has only received $14,000 to date, and the commonwealth also faced severe cuts in food stamps in April 2019.
Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1897. Approximately 600,000 Puerto Ricans left the island to live in the states. There have been 2,975 deaths due to the impact of Hurricane Maria, according to NPR.
The Aftermath Of Puerto Rico: LEFT: Reverend Albert Rivera offers communion at ICM Cristocentrica in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico; RIGHT: Many homes of Americans in Puerto Rico are still left with blue tarp after promises from the White House are left unfulfilled.
Unfettered, Adrian met with pastors in Los Angeles with the idea of having a fundraiser for these panels.
Enter Reverend Pat Langlois, senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church/United Church Of Christ in the Valley, an LGBTQ inclusive church in North Hollywood, California that welcomes all people, and often provides help with outreach programs. She had a vision for Christian, whom she's known for fifteen years. As it turned out, her church had funds saved for Puerto Rico.
"I asked him, 'Oh, goodness, how would you feel about being our ambassador?'” said Langlois. "You see, we raised monies to be donated after the hurricane, but our contact fell through. Without hesitation, Adrian replied enthusiastically, 'YES!' We then let the Holy Spirit take over…and, thus, the Mission Project came to life.
"As this mission trip grew under Adrian’s stellar organization, I really thought, “Wow, it would be great to go and be a part of this endeavor.”
The sacrifice of leaving the church in North Hollywood for a mission, she felt, was important.
"Not just for me, but to highlight the situation [for] those I work with and minister to," she continued. "I also wanted to physically help out those in need the best I could. And… I know in my heart the blessings I will receive will far surpass what I can offer."
As quickly as the idea came together, so did the mission team. Adrian's mother, Eva Velez, was already committed and on board.
Christian then tapped on Layne Sanden, based on "intuition."
"I hardly even asked. I mentioned it with the feeling he would just be the right person to have on the team."
Jill Overfield heard about a meeting taking place after a church service. At the meeting, she joined the mission.
"It's like this," Adrian said. " These five people came together because we were meant to do this. I'm blessed beyond measure because I really thought I'd be alone. It's clear everyone I talk to is concerned about Puerto Rico, and we should be. It's an act of humanity."
A Facebook Fundraiser was launched to raise the first $5,000 dollars and is nearing its goal. The Mission Team paid for airfare out of their own pockets. A deal was struck with Home Depot, providing the steel panels at cost. It all takes place this Memorial Day weekend, with a special service and concert performance, followed by the restoration of the first home. Homes are selected on the basis of most need.
As the church in Puerto Rico awaits the arrival of the Mission Team, Reverend Rivera took to his Facebook page to express his deepest gratitude:
"Thanks to our beloved MCC congregations that have joined the effort to lift Puerto Rico. Here we wait for you at the end of May with a lot of love. Receive blessings from heaven. Thank you, Adrian Christian. Be blessed."
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Puerto Rico: "They know what's important."
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