Three California Bay Area churches become one in mission to Puerto Rico

When volunteers from various churches combine efforts as part of American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” initiative, they not only aid residents of the hurricane-ravaged island but also benefit themselves as they become united in faith.

That’s just what happened when 24 members of three churches in California’s Bay Area—New Life Christian Fellowship, Castro Valley; Iu-Mienh Friendship Baptist Church, Richmond; and First Baptist Church, Alameda—served side by side for a week in July at Iglesia Bautista de Barranquitas.

The multi-ethnic and multigenerational group—including Hispanic, Chinese, Mienh, Filipino, Naga and Caucasian individuals aged 10 to 53—scraped, painted and repaired walls, completing the large sanctuary, two baptistries, the balcony, a stairwell, electronics room, two classrooms, two nurseries, and the main hallway to the fellowship hall.

“At the end, we all agreed that it wasn’t just three churches on a mission trip but three churches working together to rebuild, restore and renew Puerto Rico,” says trip organizer the Rev. Karen Yee, who is both associate pastor at New Life Christian Fellowship and English-speaking pastor at Iu-Mienh Friendship Baptist Church. “We arrived in Puerto Rico as three separate churches but returned as one family of God.”

And, of course, mission trips are essential not only to creating relationships among churches but also to strengthening bonds within a single congregation.

“We need all ages on these mission trips,” Yee points out. “I could not do it without adults and young adults. It really needs to be an intergenerational experience. If you want to build community in a church, bring them on a mission.”

The group navigated winding mountain roads daily from lodging at Centro de Retiro Ruth Maldonado to the church—an hour each way.

“It was not an easy drive, but we made it there [to the church] six times—once for worship on Sunday and five days to work,” Yee says. “On Sunday, we worshipped. And from Monday to Friday, we did worshipful work. Everything we did was to honor God and God’s people.”

And God’s people on the island became like family to the volunteers, working alongside them and providing meals. In fact, Daniel Saephan, aged 22, of Iu-Mien Friendship Baptist Church, found his first-time-mission-trip jitters allayed by friendly, supportive residents.

“I thought people might be too prideful to receive our help or too demanding of us,” he says. “But all I have experienced is gratefulness and love—hugs and kisses, appreciation and humbleness.”

More information about “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” is available online.


Additional volunteers offer perspectives

Other volunteers from the three Bay Area churches offer thoughts about the mission trip to Puerto Rico:

“I realize that I am most blessed when I am working for God.”
— James George, 26, First Baptist Church

“We serve for others—not ourselves—because, together, we are one in Christ.”
— Lily Yang, 25, Iu-Mien Friendship Baptist Church

“Since I’ve been going [on mission trips] at such a young age, I realized how many leadership opportunities are out there. I have been able to develop by character and leadership skills. It has been very empowering.”
— Vithem Rumthao, 15, New Life Christian Fellowship

“Since going to New Orleans and now Puerto Rico, I have realized that faith isn’t just going to church. Faith is making a difference and meeting needs.”
— Logan Tom, 18, New Life Christian Fellowship

“It [the mission trip] has opened my eyes, and I appreciate what I have at home.”
— Mykala Saephan, 16, Iu-Mien Friendship Baptist

“My friends complain about losing power for a few hours back at home, but I remind them to be grateful. There are people in Puerto Rico who still have no electricity after 10 months!”
— Andrew Liow, 17, Iu-Mien Friendship Baptist