ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A family of missionaries based in Puerto Rico found themselves separated and stranded in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
They reluctantly left the storm-ravaged island and are in Zeeland safe, but with heavy hearts thinking about those they left behind.
The family of five is safe and sound now, but it was a harrowing experience in the U.S. commonwealth as Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm, slammed the island leaving at least 16 dead and millions without reliable electricity, access to fuel, and running water.
But they think of little else than getting back there.
“We just really felt the Lord saying ‘hey, I just want you to come down here and I just want your life to be a ministry and reflect Christ as much as you can and help these people,” said John Hoogeveen.
Hoogeveen, his wife Jennifer, and his three kids ages 11 to 17 live and work there in some of the poorest areas of the island commonwealth, including a housing project there.
They have been there almost three years.
The family was together in Puerto Rico for Irma and then John went to St. Thomas with his oldest son to help that ravaged island when Maria hit 11 days ago.
“It was the scariest thing I ever experienced in my life,” Hoogeveen said. “I thought I was hearing people screaming and as I laid there and listened, I found out that was actually the wind.”
The devastation was beyond belief.
“We saw complete houses gone, roofs ripped off, really it looked like a nuclear bomb had went off,” Hoogeveen said. “And people, it was like they were zombies just nowhere to go, they were just wandering.”
He said desperation has grown as the island remains isolated and destroyed ports make getting help impossible.
“My wife and kids, I think it was two days ago, they sat in line for six-and-a-half hours to get $20 worth of gas.,” he said.
Food is stuck in ports because there is no gas for trucks and no one to drive them.
He said they struggled over the decision whether to leave or stay.
“We felt the lord saying, you can’t be of a help here right now, right now you’re just another mouth to feed,” he said.
“They’re stuck, they’re stranded and they need your help, they need the president’s help, they need other people’s help It’s not just that they want people to come in and rescue them, they need people to come in and rescue them,” Hoogeveen said.
He says blame helps no one now and says the government is working hard, the people are pulling together and even the airlines are flying people out for free.
“These people are in desperation. They’re not needy, they’re dying,” he said.
Hoogeveen says he is working with the Zeeland Based Barnabas ministries to gather resources to help rebuild and help those in need.
He plans to go back in November.
Anyone who wishes to donate can find information at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/barnabasministries or contact Hoogeveen at email@example.com.