A Kingdom Not Shaken

The Synod’s missionaries provide a message of hope even as the ground continues to tremble in Puerto Rico.

On Jan. 7, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico in the early morning hours, damaging buildings, complicating recovery efforts still underway from 2017’s Hurricane Maria, and causing renewed fear among the island’s already harried residents. More than 500 earthquakes of at least magnitude 2 have hit Puerto Rico since Dec. 28, and the area continues to experience daily tremors.

In the midst of this, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is there, caring for people in the cities of Mayaguez and Ponce. Mayaguez sustained minimal damage, but in Ponce many buildings were damaged, including the Synod’s new mercy center. Thankfully, the Rev. Charles St-Onge, regional facilitator for the Synod’s Latin America and the Caribbean region, reports that they quickly found a temporary space for ministry.

LCMS missionaries Rev. James Neuendorf and Rev. James Sharp listen to victims of the earthquakes.

“Rev. James and Deaconess Christel Neuendorf, with the assistance of Deaconess Intern Stephanie Wilde, continue to follow up with affected families,” he says. “There are many who are now interested in Baptism and membership, thanks to the Gospel spoken and the care shown to them in the hours and days after the earthquake in the name of Christ.”

Deaconess Christel Neuendorf (right) works with LCMS missionary Rev. Anthony DiLiberto (left) and lay evangelist William Torres following the earthquakes.

The Neuendorfs, who have been living and serving in Ponce for the last year, shared the following account in their newsletter.

“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken — that is, things that have been made — in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:26–29).

The last month has been a journey of faith and a trial of perseverance. Shepherding the flock across five different locations and moves since December has been nerve-racking and stressful. Seeing our brand-new property split from top to bottom by cracks through which the light of day can be seen has been disheartening. Canceling renovation teams and instead ordering demolition (for the dividing walls which were crumbling) has been demoralizing. The ground still shaking every day has been wearying and unnerving. Sharing in the grief and panic of those who have lost everything, whose children must sleep outside in a tent for weeks without answers, who have nowhere left to turn and no hope for a future, has become our daily labor and burden. Every day the rules change, the situation remains unclear, and we stand on ever shifting ground both literally and figuratively.

So, why are we so overwhelmingly excited, eager and amazed? Why is the best description of our reaction worship, reverence and awe?
Because we have a kingdom which cannot be shaken! The Lord has allowed our buildings to be damaged so that He could build His church, which is not built by human hands. He has stripped away all but the essentials from everyone, so that hearts would be called to the essence of the Gospel. Because those things are only means by which He delivers His Son to His people.

In the past month, your missionaries and your brothers and sisters in Ponce have been given the chance to publicly share the clear and unfiltered hope of the Gospel of Jesus to more than a thousand people. We have been privileged to be Jesus’ hands of mercy to those who needed a better and lasting peace, His feet to those who felt alone and abandoned, His voice to those who did not know Him, His ears to those who needed someone to listen. He is working in and through His people by the power of the Holy Spirit to work miraculous change and faith like the blossoming of spring from the cold ground after a hard winter. In the devastation that surrounds us, there is new life bursting forth everywhere!

The outpouring of support from the LCMS has enabled us to take a central role in the immediate disaster response with supplies and support, allowing us to work closely with the city leadership each day. Our tiny church of fewer than 20 people played a central role in the first spiritual response for the entire city on the day of the biggest quake. We have been able to provide pastoral counseling and care for leaders, from the mayor to the justice department to becoming the de facto chaplain of the Ponce police force. The ground has been prepared, and we are sowing the seeds of the Gospel as broadly as we can. Some seedlings are already showing above the ground!

In God’s infinite wisdom, our lack of a safe location to gather during the week has meant the opening of five separate devotional gatherings each week in different places. Several families have asked for confirmation instruction, and others are seeking Baptism, one of which we did immediately. Most of the others have begun instruction. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

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