After two hurricanes within two weeks flooded several countries in Central America twice, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is providing emergency food and supplies and making longer-term plans to help with recovery.
Hurricane Eta made landfall in Nicaragua on Nov. 3 and Hurricane Iota, the strongest storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, followed on Nov. 16. The storms progressed westward on similar paths across Honduras into Guatemala, El Salvador and southern Mexico.
More than 100,000 people were evacuated, sometimes twice, from their houses in Nicaragua and Honduras to shelters set up in schools and churches or to family members who live on higher ground. Farmers lost entire crops that were almost ready for harvest.
César Flores and Lizette Miranda, MCC area directors for Latin America and Haiti, live in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where in lower-lying parts of the city, flood waters covered rooftops after both storms.
“As Anabaptists, we say service is our practice. Now is the time to serve,” says Flores. “This is the moment to serve with the Central American people — just loving those who are in need in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Congregations of Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Hondureña (IEMH; Honduran Evangelical Mennonite Church) quickly responded by providing three shelters for about 200 people in or around San Pedro Sula who had to evacuate.
MCC is partnering with IEMH and with Comisión Social Menonita (Mennonite Social Action Commission) by providing emergency food assistance and cleaning and hygiene supplies to people as they return home and COVID-19 masks for people at shelters.
In remote areas of Guatemala where houses and communities were flooded, the Q’eqchi’ Mennonite Church conference provided shelter and distributed blankets, relief kits and hygiene kits that MCC provided to people living in the Alta Verapaz area.
Miranda says she sees a “loaves and fishes” effect taking place, referring to a Bible passage where Jesus fed a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish.
In San Pedro Sula, people whose homes are not flooded are donating supplies or volunteering at the shelters. Even churches in other parts of Honduras brought supplies by truck after Hurricane Eta.
One volunteer, Judith Lemus, who was evacuated from her home by Hurricane Eta, became an integral part of the team that coordinated services at the shelter. She returned to her house and cleaned out the mud, only to be forced back by Hurricane Iota to the shelter, where she continues to volunteer.
In rural areas of Honduras and Nicaragua, which also experienced significant wind damage, MCC is looking at ways to share food resources with farmers who have lost the first productive crops they have had in years.
“We had many years of drought,” says Miranda. “This year we had consistent rain and it was beautiful. People were expecting to have a good crop, but everything has been lost.”
Climate change is a root cause of the intensified weather patterns that Central America is experiencing, says Bruce Guenther, MCC’s director of disaster response. He cites the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change that has indicated Central America will experience more frequent and severe drought and flooding because of climate change.
“This has been one of the most active hurricane seasons on record, with Iota being the strongest hurricane this late in the season,” Guenther says. “As in other regions of the world, we are seeing the impacts of climate change play out, impacting millions of vulnerable people.”
Regardless of the cause, the needs are great, not just practical needs, but spiritual and emotional ones too, said Flores. He believes pastors and other leaders, who have been working nonstop and carrying the problems of many people, will benefit from the trauma healing that MCC plans to provide.
“We also need the support that brothers and sisters are praying for brothers and sisters in our churches,” Flores says. “We are not alone. We are part of a big family.”