ABHMS staff member exemplifies resiliency of Puerto Rico’s people

Taking lives, destroying property, causing power outages, and limiting the supply of such necessities as fuel, medicine, food and safe water, Hurricane Maria wrought havoc on Puerto Rico, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. In fact, much of the island remains without electricity, close to a year after the storm. However, one of American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) own staff members—Abigail Medina Betancourt—serves as a shining example of the resiliency of the people of Puerto Rico. Nine months after the storm ravaged the island, this native resident completed a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, graduating magna cum laude from Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico.

Medina began the 83-credit M.Div. program in January 2012. For the first five years, she attended school part time—two classes per semester, two nights weekly from 7 to 10 p.m.—because she was working a full-time job from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anxious to finish, she attended school full time—four classes per semester—in her final year. Prior to Hurricane Maria, Medina says, she’d spend 8-10 hours weekly reading, studying, writing and completing other school work.

As if Medina weren’t already stressed in her effort to balance academic pursuit with other life responsibilities—including spending time with her husband and visiting her ailing father—Hurricane Maria’s arrival on Sept. 20, 2017, further complicated the situation. Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico closed on Sept. 18 in preparation for the storm and, because of damage sustained, did not hold classes again until February 2018. In the meantime, Seminario Evangélico’s classes were hosted at Universidad Interamericana Recinto Metropolitano from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays because the island was without power, making night driving unsafe.

“Usually I used Saturdays to do homework and to read for the next week, but now I was taking classes on Saturday and washing clothes by hand and dealing with all the things in the house on Saturdays. It was really hard for me,” Medina says. “When I had time to start to study, it was dark. I had to read under the light of candles. Sunday was the day we usually spent with family, so that semester, I had to sacrifice a lot of family time.”

Medina’s studies were impacted by the fact that Seminario Evangélico students had no access to Universidad Interamericana Recinto Metropolitano’s library. She used only books from her own personal collection or those borrowed pre-hurricane from Seminario Evangelico’s library.

“For example, if I was going to do an exegesis, I would read around five different books to see different perspectives,” she says. “After María, I could read only two.”

And no electricity meant no computer. Medina found herself writing 10-page papers by hand.

Despite the challenges, at an academic awards ceremony on June 13, Medina accepted the Rev. Dr. Ángel Archilla Cabrera Award from the Sínodo Presbiteriano Boriquen en Puerto Rico for the best grades in Homiletics. The award means a lot to Medina, she says, because her final assignment—to write a funeral sermon—coincided with the death of the grandmother by whom she was raised.

“So I had to write the hardest sermon in my career to honor the life of my grandmother and also to heal the emptiness her departure left in my life,” Medina says. “This class gave me the space to grieve and to put in words what my heart was feeling.”

At the graduation ceremony on June 16, Medina walked the aisle to receive her diploma.

“For me, it is like the time of the harvest. I spent a lot of time and effort giving my best to do a great job,” she says. “Graduating magna cum laude was like receiving the fruit of all those years of hard work.”

Medina says of herself and her classmates who persevered: “We are the graduating class of Maria.”

Information about ABHMS’ “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” initiative is available online.