73 days.

61 days.

100 days and counting.

As Week of Compassion staff have traveled in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, visiting with communities affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria, we have heard these time markers from friends, partners, and strangers. In the midst of conversations about setting up volunteer housing or procuring building materials--93 days. Over a dinner of plantains (imported, since few plantains survived the storms)--68 days. They signify the number of days people have been without power.

In Puerto Rico, the power grid is operating at 70% capacity, and the first priorities for power restoration were public services, like schools and hospitals, and commercial customers, like grocery stores and hotels. Thousands of residences are still without power. Similarly, in the US Virgin Islands, territory-wide power restoration was only at 60% as of last Friday.

Today, Thursday, Dec. 21 marks 106 days without power for many who lost electricity during Hurricane Irma.

A generator at Iglesia Cristiana (Discipulos de Cristo) in Feijoo, Naranjito, Puerto Rico is one of the sole power sources in the mountainside town. Photo: Week of Compassion

A generator at Iglesia Cristiana (Discipulos de Cristo) in Feijoo, Naranjito, Puerto Rico is one of the sole power sources in the mountainside town. Photo: Week of Compassion

As we discussed logistics and long-term plans, these counts were reminders of the humanity at the core of our work. The shipments of lanterns are not about pallets and ports, but about people. The counts served, too, as concrete evidence that the frustration and exhaustion our friends experience is warranted, and is born out of struggle, heartache, and loss. The number of days without power became a signifier of the pain of waiting and also of the resilience of people who continue to serve one another in love, even as they begin their days with cold baths in unlit houses.

This season of Advent is, itself, another signifier of humanity, of struggle, of longing for restoration. During this time, we move into the darkness of the world. Days grow shorter and dark nights longer. Yet, through the stories of our faith and the traditions of the season, we also enter into the darkness of the womb, in which the Spirit dwelt, and into the holy space of a stable dark, where the Word was made flesh.

In her Advent Devotional, This Luminous Darknessartist and author Jan Richardson writes:

"In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God's first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. I will give you the treasures of darkness, God says in Isaiah 45:3, and riches hidden in secret places. For the christ who was born two millennia ago, for the christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins.

Can we imagine the darkness as a place where God meets us-and not only meets us, but asks to take form in this world through us?"                       

On this longest night of the year, we await--again--the birth of Christ among us. In this night of darkness, we give thanks for the ways God has taken on flesh through our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and through your gifts to Week of Compassion.