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Updates on member schools affected by natural disaster -- 2017

A number of ATS member schools have been affected by recent natural disasters, with the greatest devastation occurring in Puerto Rico. As our colleagues and friends work to recover, rebuild, and rebound, Association staff will attempt to keep the rest of the membership informed about what is happening and how we can help. Frank Yamada has provided a summary update, and schools have reported in on their status and how we can help. Please keep the following member schools in your thoughts and prayers and check back for updates.

Puerto Rico

Alliance Theological Seminary, Hato Rey campus

Julio Aponte, campus director, reports: "While there has been no loss of life that we are aware of at this point, the damage to the homes of faculty, staff, and students, the seminary building, and the overall challenges on the island with lack of power and fuel have been very difficult." Read more.

How to help: Contact Jeff Quinn, vice president for college relations at Alliance's Nyack, New York, campus, by emailing or phoning 845-675-4589 or 866-721-7946.

Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, San Juan

Doris Garcia, president, has reported in twice: "It has been devastating for the whole nation. . . .Thousands have been left without homes, water, and electricity. . . . communications are very hard. The seminary suffered major devastation to our physical facilities, windows, the roof . . . the fence around the Seminary . . . some flooding . . . especially the chapel . . . the trees of our forest-like area, which is one of few in the metropolitan area . . . no way to get in as trees blocked entrances. Fences down . . . I had to travel 40 min to get to a place where I can get some signal . . . . No gasoline, so lines to get some gas are at the hundreds vehicles.  Now we start the reconstruction of the Seminary knowing that people like you and ATS are also sustaining us in prayers and in any other possible way. We have cleaned and removed some of debris  . .  the classrooms are clean and dried. I am doing the best we can in these conditions to . . . finish the semester and see how we can help our students with scholarships. I know that as our denominations that support the students wouldn't be able to cover their tuitions for next semester or even the next year. I am also concerned about the safety and economic precariousness of our students, many of whom live in the small towns more affected by the storm. Their ability to just get to the Seminary is diminished almost 100%, and their limited economic resources must be redirected to rebuild and protect their homes and families. . . . My staff have responded well, and we are trying to set up our offices in a place where we have some electricity. . . . We are deeply grateful for your prayers, words of encouragement and concern. . . ." 

How to help: Contribute to a special fund for the seminary on the Presbyterian Church (USA). 40% of all donations will go to scholarships, 40% to reconstruct the seminary, and 20% to an emergency fund for those students who will need a lot of support to get through this crisis. Particular needs as of October 5 included a generator and fans with batteries.

Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary, Mayaguez

Efrain Velazquez, president, reports: " [the] island is devastated.  . . . We had water damage at our offices and there is no electricity. . . . However, we had prepared and we lost almost nothing, praise God. . . . Faculty and administration must work from home. . . Our staff has been active supporting the refugee centers and food banks."

Update on October 30: "God is good, all the time. Thanks for the support and prayers on our behalf. The Seminary's offices will not be usable until January 2018. We have moved to several locations to continue offering our services and this last place will be final until next year. We were able to solve the issues of power sources without any outside help. We have provided to the staff with some assistance from the Adventist headquarters. 

"Nevertheless, the focus of the administration has been on providing services for those in need around the island. The administrators have continued to be involved in shelters, food banks, and now a water purification project. Donations toward communal water filters have been sent by Puerto Rico Diaspora and other Latinos from California. The Seminary is the main coordinator for the efforts for providing clean water. There has been no time to deal with books, the offices, and other details. We will deal with that in January when the situation is better. Since communications are still a challenge we cannot answer promptly. Thanks for your concern. We just need your prayers, we are moving ahead standing on our knees."   Read more.

How to help: The school needs 7 small generators to support those working from home. Any restricted funding for library or care of books would be appreciated.  Contact the Inter-American Division Office.

Dominican Study Center of the Caribbean, Bayamon

 Héctor Márquez-Figueroa, interim director, College of Liberal Arts and Humanities at the Universidad Central De Bayamón reports:   ". . . we already have UCB's webpage up and running . . . this includes access to the internet and our institional email. However, we are just concluding the assessment of structural and property damages, and are still engaged in clearing the debris and cleaning up the buildings before we undertake the restoration, which is now our main focus, second only to the well-being of our students, faculty and employees. We know that many of our students and some faculty and non-teaching employees have suffered total or partial loss of their homes, although we have not yet been able to contact all of them because 90% of the island is still without electric power and over 85% without wireless or any other kind of communication . . . The projection is that it will take six months for electric power to be totally restored in Puerto Rico, and effective communications between three to four months. Although a definite date for commencement of UCB's operations has not yet been established, we are hoping to resume classes by October 30, albeit with limitations . . . " (Updated October 6, 2017)

       An article published on October 5 by Religion News Service offered suggestions as to other ways to help in Puerto Rico.


Barry University Department of Theology and Philosophy, Miami Shores

After Hurricane Irma, classes resumed on September 18. The school has a Hurricane Readiness information site:

Knox Theological Seminary, Fort Lauderdale

Laura Kastensmidt, assistant to the president, reports: " . . . aside from power issues and impact on landscaping, both the Seminary and all its staff/students came through very well, to our knowledge. . . . we continue to pray for those who were in the direct paths of this season's storms."

Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach

William M. B. Fleming, president, reports: " the University has an extremely competent Crisis Management Team who prepared [us] exceptionally well for the arrival of Hurricane Irma. Planned evacuation documentation is a requriement for all PBA students upon enrollment. . . . We experienced extensive landscape damage and water intrusion . .  did have to relocate 55 female undergraduates . . the faculty of our undergraduate and graduate programs have adjusted their schedules and course expectations to "catch up" on missed class time and assignments. . . .  Hurricane Irma brought out the best in our community. . . . As part of community outreach efforts we are reaching out to those areas devastated by recent storms. There have been food and clothing drives and mission trips are planned." Read more.

St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, Boynton Beach

Mary Froehle, director, OIRE and Educational Technology, reports: "Fortunately . . . St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary was almost fully unscathed by the storm. . . . familes from the area were able to take refuge in our relatively safe facilities . . . Damage on campus was limited to tree limbs and one broken window. We know that throughout our dioceses in FLorida and Georgia others suffered much more dire consequences of the storm. We ask that you continue to keep [them] . . . in prayer. Through Catholic Charities and other ministries, dioceses throughout Florida are providing basic humanitarian and pastoral support to thousands of Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma. Florida’s bishops are coordinating efforts with Catholic Charities of Florida, Catholic Charities USA and local civic authorities. This page will be updated as the situation develops."

How to help: Currently, donations for Hurricane Irma relief and recovery efforts are being accepted by diocesan Catholic Charities offices:  Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami

Southeastern University College of Christian Ministries and Religion Department, Lakeland

Alan Ehler, academic dean, reports:  "We cancelled all classes for a week and a half to allow students to prepare and recover. . . We had some minor damage to fences and a few buildings, but we are back to normal and looking forward to Tom Tanner's arrival next week to review our petition for candidacy. Certainly, our greater prayers are for those in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas."


Houston Graduate School of Theology, Houston

James Furr, president, reports:  "One staff person and one student each lost a family member who drowned in flooded areas. Several students experienced varied levels of flooding in their homes and/or lost vehicles. . . . The seminary facility did not experience any flooding. We did have some water in the building due to seepage and roof leaks but the issue was addressed quickly enough to prevent any permanent damage. . . . Classes were cancelled for two weeks because virtually everyone was engaged in personal recovery or helping others do so. Early in the event, we learned not to say “hope you weren’t affected” because that was never completely true. Counselors currently meeting with groups and individuals throughout the city remind us that the resulting trauma now affecting everyone in varying ways and degrees will parallel a multi-year recovery challenge. Still, the experience of God’s grace and compassionate care, especially through Houston area churches, has been nothing less than inspirational. Support from folks beyond the community has been deeply appreciated. We appreciate your prayers for the recovery for those who comprise our seminary community and for the entire metropolitan area as we grieve, make difficult decisions, and begin new chapters in our lives as individuals, families, congregations, and communities."

How to help: Designated donations thorough the website can be easily earmarked as Harvey-related gifts. Such funds can be relayed to students who sustained material losses or for whatever the donor requests. The financial repercussions of the combined property losses in the region will surely create significant financial shortfalls for the seminary as current and potential donors, and current and potential students face unanticipated expenses and needs in the days ahead. The school operates very modestly in the best of times, even slight variations in revenue have a real impact. Because the losses are disbursed throughout the school’s constituency and potential future donation and tuition reductions are only projected, the school can’t clearly publicize a “needs” list but would welcome anyone who wants to discuss the possibility of support to contact Dr. James Furr at 713-942-9505, ext. 122.  

University of St. Thomas School of Theology, Houston

Sandra Magie, dean, reports: "There was much suffering here by so many. Fortunately, the seminary did not have any damage at all. The electricity was off for a very short time, but other than that all faculty and students were fine. With damage throughout the city, it is incredible that none of the off-campus students or faculty were harmed. Once again, thank you for your prayers."