ABHMS leads first mission trip since pandemic’s start

With pre-purchased airline tickets that were set to expire at year’s end, more than a dozen volunteers traveled to Puerto Rico in November 2021 on an American Baptist Home Mission Societies-led (ABHMS)  mission trip. It was the first such trip since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020.

Ranging in age from their 20s into their 60s, 16 individuals from the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey region worked at two homes in addition to Iglesia Bautista de Quebrada and Corporación Milagros del Amor (CorMA), a partner of ABHMS’ Community Outreach Ministries.

“This is the first group that we could receive [in Puerto Rico] since the pandemic lockdown was declared in 2020,” says Abigaíl Medina Betancourt, who lives on the island and serves as ABHMS’ Intercultural Ministries strategist. “It fills us with hope to know that we can resume working with volunteers.”

After an extensive orientation, volunteers maintained COVID-19 protocols while power washing walls, scraping ceilings, painting, and landscaping. One group was particularly generous at the home where it volunteered, making a collective decision to spend its own money to buy tiles for the living room.

At the church—where they also worshipped on Sunday—volunteers power washed the roof, applied primer and landscaped. Painting, cleaning the roof and organizing the thrift store and food pantry were the priorities at CorMA.

Noting that he was honored to be part of what the American Baptist family is doing in Puerto Rico, mission team leader the Rev. Mark Stauffer of First Baptist Church, Bordentown, said, “We joined God already at work. It changed the lives of those whom we served as well as those who participated.”

Commenting on the mission opportunity and its effect on volunteers, the Rev. Dr. Kadia Edwards, ABHMS’ national coordinator, Volunteer Mobilization & Disaster-response Ministries, said, “I’m excited about the relationship building that I saw happening.”

April Marino of Cornerstone Baptist Church, Mount Laurel, echoed that sentiment, noting that her favorite part of the trip was “watching all of us as strangers become family.”

The relational aspect of the trip was so strong that the volunteers are continuing to stay in touch via text, says the Rev. Marsha Harris of Second Baptist Church, Moorestown. From the time they deplaned, she says, the group quickly became family—with each other and with those they served. In fact, one of the volunteers missed seeing her fellow volunteers so much that she visited them at Second Baptist Church on a recent Sunday.

“Her husband came along,” says Harris, “because he had to see who her new family was.”

ABHMS will schedule additional volunteer work weeks in 2022. “ABHMS,” says Edwards, “looks forward to partnering with our regions, churches, community ministries, colleges, seminaries, and other institutions and individuals in serving across the United States and Puerto Rico.”