I was recently reminded of Hurricane Hugo which slammed into Puerto Rico in 1989, twenty-five years ago. Bill Mellafont, a firefighter from Lethbridge, Alberta, felt a personal link to this event because his friends, Craig and Noreen Fawcett, had once worked there at the Evangelical School for the Deaf. Hurricane Hugo destroyed the school’s dorm.
A plea went out for volunteers to join work parties and Bill knew at once that this was something he wanted to do and his experience in construction would be an asset. He contacted ‘World Mission for the Deaf” and arranged to take part in one of their work parties. His expertise was actually with concrete, but he was going even if there was no concrete work for him to do. He scheduled his holidays for the end of January,1990, and booked his flight for a two-and-a-half week stay.
“I misunderstood how they wanted me to book my trip,” Bill acknowledged later. The groups were limited in size due to accommodations, so not only was Bill an extra person, the time he booked overlapped with two work parties. He began to doubt his decision to go but God increased his faith.
He decided to go ahead with his plans which included a quick visit en route with relatives in Ontario. That’s where he was when he received news that his wife had just had emergency gall bladder surgery. Bill was tempted to go home. Why had this happened now? Was his faith being tempted?
He knew by experience that sometimes a crisis could be turned into praise. Years earlier the Mellafont’s lost their ten-day-old daughter. As a result of that tragedy his wife was drawn into a cult. At the same time, members of the Christian Fellowship of Firefighters began ministering to Bill and he realized they needed help. As a family they began attending an evangelical church and within a short time, he and his wife both committed their lives to the Lord. A crisis turned to praise.
Now, faced with this decision, his mother and mother-in-law encouraged him to carry on. They would look after his wife and children.
When Bill landed in Puerto Rico he was met by Jerry Martin, one of the dorm parents from the school. Jerry told Bill how the Lord had provided exactly the tradesmen they needed except for the next two weeks. “You wouldn’t happen to know how to do concrete work, would you?” They were at the roof stage and this time the roof would be reinforced concrete.
The first group Bill worked with finished their time. They had hoped to finish the roof but had to leave it for the next crew. Bill said good-bye to that crew and welcomed the next group. This group also, did not have a concrete finisher. Several days later, under a beautiful Puerto Rico moon, Bill put the final trowel to the roof and flew home the next morning.
If that wasn’t enough miracle for you, there is more. The dorm that was destroyed by the hurricane was almost uninhabitable. The roof and walls were infested with termites and filled with years of bat dung. The mission had been planning to replace it, but only had $4,000 in trust for it.
Following Hurricane Hugo, pledges totaling $70,000 came flooding in and ninety-seven volunteers signed up for work parties. Building permits were miraculously available. A School for the Deaf in Puerto Rico saw an infested building turned into a tribute to God’s faithfulness by a hurricane. Bill Mellafont was the concrete finisher God sent to finish the job.