Hispanic Mission pastor reaches out to Florida hurricane survivors

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Hispanic Mission pastor reaches out to Florida hurricane survivors

March 19, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
tparham@flumc.org    Orlando {0460}

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

Months after hurricanes Katrina and Wilma had passed, many of her poorest victims in South Florida were still suffering. One Florida City pastor saw the need and responded.

"I felt greatly concerned and asked myself what to do, how to help them," said the Rev. Armando Rodriguez, pastor of Hispanic Mission, Florida City United Methodist Church. "My prayer was 'Lord, have mercy on these persons. Use me to find them help.' "

EVERGLADES — Residents affected by the 2005 hurricanes receive food, water and supplies at a distribution center coordinated by Bishop Armando A. Rodriguez and organizations that agreed to help. Photo by Bishop Armando A. Rodriguez, Photo #06-0324.

After attending several meetings at Migrant Services of South Dade and hearing groups and organizations talk about needs that weren't being met, Rodriguez traveled to the Everglades to survey the damage. He found communities that appeared forsaken and forgotten. Dirt roads were flooded. People sat on their porches, cooking with wood. Roofs were ripped from homes, and food was scarce.

"Families had lost their clothing, beds and furniture," he said. "People were without work and money and worst of all ... they were without hope."

Rodriquez also found many undocumented workers who were afraid to go to city agencies for help.

"People demonstrated fear and distrust. They feared we were immigration agents," Rodriguez said. He won their confidence when he told them he was a United Methodist pastor from the Hispanic Mission and that he came to offer assistance.

Many residents complained they were desperate for that help, but had received little from relief organizations. Rodriguez visited the Coalition of Florida Farm Worker Organizations (COFFO) and asked for help. He also contacted the Agricultural Worker's Association, a local food bank, the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center, the Salvation Army, the local United Way and other agencies.

The plight of the hurricane victims was real, but Rodriguez put a human face on the statistics. He told the stories of the people he'd met. 

Maria Barron was gravely ill and had a prescription bill for $211.88. She couldn't afford the medication. Maximiliano Torres had open-heart surgery shortly before the hurricane hit. Many families with children lived in the only bedroom left standing in their storm-ravaged homes.

The Rev. Deborah McCleod, superintendent of the conference's South East District, secured funds to pay for medicine and gave $5,000 from the district's committee on disaster relief. Armando found a house with a roof, but no walls, to serve as a distribution center, and churches, individuals and relief organizations responded with donations to help more than 1,000 people.

Hispanic Mission reports between last September and the first of this year, donations included 15,000 pounds of food, 3,000 gallons of water, 4,000 articles of clothing and shoes, 1,500 health kits, 3,000 food rations, and $15,000 in food, rent and utilities vouchers. The Department of Children and Families pitched in with food stamps for all the families.

Residents' immediate needs were met, but Rodriguez pointed to an even greater victory. "Thanks be to God that souls have been won for Christ. Several asked us for Bibles and some of the mothers asked that their children be baptized."

Even at age 76, Armando and his wife, Alida, are committed to continuing their missionary work. They believe God placed them in the Hispanic Mission to serve the hurricane victims in the Everglades. "Why am I certain of this? Because the daily prayers by both Alida and me are this: 'Do what you will with us, Lord. You are the potter, and we are the clay.' "


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.

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