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5 News: Fort Smith Church Members Help Puerto Rico Community Rebuild After Hurricane Maria

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — Members of Cavanaugh Free Will Baptist Church in Fort Smith spent time in Puerto Rico helping a sister church rebuild after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

While parts of Puerto Rico are thriving like the tourism industry and bigger cities like San Juan, other more rural regions are still in need of help.

"One of the reasons why we felt so compelled to go was because we want to make sure the funds and the help that we were offering got to the people directly and not through any agency," said church member Matthew Ortega.

The sister church they helped was in rural Aguas Buenas, and it was just a concrete box when they arrived.

Fort Smith native Tom Savage says God called on him to go on this mission.

"This church that was blown away, they were having church in the ruins of it as it was and so they were a dedicated people, and I just felt like they needed some help," Savage said.

Construction teams helped to rebuild the altar of the church, an office, the sound booth and much more.

By the third day in Puerto Rico, the new altar was built, and they were able to have church services.

Church members went out into the community to feed the homeless and host a giant carnival.

"At the end of our event that Thursday night, one of the individuals came up to us and said, 'other churches have come to do reconstruction projects, this particular community event you did helped heal a community,' So that was really touching," Ortega said.

Savage says despite the poverty he saw, the people didn't complain and were a joy to be around.

"As bad as it was at the church, they are the happiest people that I ever saw," Savage said. "It was like they were grateful for what they had left, and they were grateful to us for coming to help and all the other churches that did."

The community donated about $40,000 to help fund the mission trip.

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