Nelson Robles, 56, is the maintenance man at Primera Iglesia Bautista Emanuel church in downtown Bridgeport. He’s also a percussionist during mass. Every morning, he walks to the corner of his church – just off the altar to the right – and prays. He said that while he’s down on his knees looking for guidance, he feels God.
“I put Christian music on in the background — very slow -- and I pray for a little while,” Robles said. “I feel comfortable and I feel God speaking to me.”
He found himself praying for a miracle after the Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. His 81-year-old father and 76-year-old mother live in Adjuntas in central Puerto Rico.
They both have diabetes and need insulin to survive. His mother has had a few inches of her left leg amputated several times.
But since the storm, Robles couldn’t get word of them.
“And then I said ‘God, can you please?’” Robles said. “I want to hear about my [parents] — how they’re doing — because they’re sick. I don’t know if they’re taking their medicine and stuff like that and how they are physically.”
He finally heard back from a neighbor he had been texting. The woman stops by his parents’ house a couple of times a week to nurse them and clean up for them.
She told Robles that his parents share rationed bottled water and rice with neighbors. And then she was able to call him. His parents were on the phone and didn’t sound good.
“That broke my heart because when they talk, [it sounds like they’re] very weak,” Robles said. “I said ‘Dad, don’t worry about it because I’m serving God and soon, you’re going to be off the island. You’re going to be with us.’”
Robles eventually found out about a social media campaign from his church’s pastor. Carrie Firestone, an author that lived 59 miles away in Avon, had started a community service project on Facebook aimed at getting plane tickets to people on the island so that they could leave and reconnect with their loved ones.
Robles reached out to Firestone and she booked a flight for his parents to get to Florida on November 5. But the problems didn’t end there. Robles told Firestone that he had no way of getting his parents from their home to the airport in San Juan.
“I’ll make it up,” Robles said. “I said ‘one way or another, God’s going to provide me everything.’ And she said don’t do nothing for one hour. And then after that, oh, it makes me sad.”
She called 15 minutes later.
“And she said ‘Nelson, I have good news. You’re going to fly with your family,’” Robles said. “I said ‘Oh my god.’ That touched my heart because my mother, she’s afraid to fly and there’s got to be somebody with her that she could trust.”
He’s flying down on November 3 to meet them at their home and bring them to Florida. His parents will stay with his sister for good.
This story is part of “The Island Next Door,” WNPR’s reporting project about Puerto Rico and Connecticut after Hurricane Maria.