ABHMS staff visit Puerto Rico, plan for Phase II of recovery effort

SAN JUAN, PR (ABNS 12/1/17)—With eight suitcases packed with more than 400 pounds of batteries in tow, Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS), and six staff members visited Puerto Rico this week to assess disaster-relief efforts following hurricanes Irma and Maria and discuss plans for moving into Phase II of the island’s recovery.

The visit is part of ABHMS’ multi-year “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” initiative, announced in September, to raise $1 million for the rebuilding effort here. A strategy session—held at Corporación Milagros del Amor (CORMA), a Christian center partner of ABHMS in Caguas—was attended by members of the team in Puerto Rico who are collaborating with ABHMS on Hurricane Maria response. They included Dr. Josue D. Gómez-Menéndez, administrator of Academia Bautista de Puerto Nuevo in San Juan and incoming president of the Board of General Ministries of American Baptist Churches USA; the Rev. Dr. Yamina Apolinaris, executive director, CORMA; and the Rev. Dr. Roberto Dieppa Báez, interim executive minister, Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico. Missing from the meeting was member Dr. Doris García Rivera, president of Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico.

As a follow up to the visit, ABHMS, in collaboration with the team in Puerto Rico, is developing a Phase II “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” plan, to be announced early in the new year. Volunteer work-group projects are expected to begin late in January 2018.

At Primera Iglesia Bautista de Juncos, Haggray greeted pastors—weary from the toll of dealing with so much loss—who were gathered to participate in a workshop about “compassion fatigue.”

“Much has changed in the world since hurricanes Irma and Maria, but we know that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” Haggray said. “We sing powerful hymns and hear powerful words, but the circumstances of life sometimes challenge our faith. We are being tested by Hurricane Maria. The question is not ‘Is God real?’ The question is not ‘Is our faith real?’ but ‘Can we hold onto all that we have preached in the face of these circumstances?’ We come from ABHMS to say, ‘Our preaching is real; God is real.’”

Apolinaris acknowledged the challenges of this time: “We don’t usually have holes in the roof, and we don’t usually have holes in the floor. It’s been a rough time, but it has been good to know you have been there. Thank you for being there, for listening. It’s hard to see what our people have gone through, and we are concerned about the future. But we are people of hope.”

Trees, stripped bare by Maria’s 155-plus mph winds, are beginning to show new growth in Puerto Rico, and electricity is being restored here and there. Little by little, stores are opening. Look deeper, however, at this tropical island, and signs of trauma remain apparent. Piles of brush and debris litter the roads, and blue tarps still dot the landscape—protecting home interiors from rain pouring through missing roofs.

Primera Iglesia Bautista de Cidra, a newly built church about to open its doors when Maria hit, had its roof ripped from the walls. Now the church, which had to choose between paying the pastor and paying for insurance, is struggling to find funds for rebuilding.

At Segunda Iglesia Bautista de Cidra, the hurricane’s winds ripped up floors inside the building, tore off pieces of the roof, and moved the air conditioning unit from the back of the church to the side.

Radio VIDA, the Christian radio ministry at Primera Iglesia Bautista de Carolina, was silenced by Maria’s destruction of its transmittal towers, lack of electricity and other factors.

At Academia Bautista de Puerto Nuevo—a Christian school for preschool through grade 12—where the children and young people have been attending classes since October with no electricity, Haggray spoke to the senior class: “We just wanted to come and check in on you. This is a historic time, a challenging time. Use this to motivate you; use it to know that God is faithful. What God has in store for you cannot be taken away from you … not by a storm. Continue to pursue your dreams and goals in life; they are waiting for you to come for them.”

In addition to Haggray, ABHMS staff who participated in the visit included: Valoria Cheek, ABHMS general counsel and president of American Baptist Extension Corp., which is partnering with ABHMS in the recovery effort; Victoria Goff, associate director of Mission Advancement and Passionary Movement and director of Disaster Recovery for Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico; Susan Gottshall, associate executive director, Communications; the Rev. Kristy Moeller, Director, Chaplaincy and Specialized Ministries; the Rev. Salvador Orellana, national coordinator of Latino Ministries and deputy director of Logistics and Relationships for Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico; and the Rev. Dr. Marilyn Turner-Triplett, director, Rizpah’s Children and Community Outreach Ministries. Geoffrey Haggray accompanied the group as a photographer.

Donations to One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) for the restoration of Puerto Rico may be made via your church; via credit card online at abhms.org > Give Now; or via a check designated to “OGHS-Puerto Rico” and mailed to the attention of Kim Wilkins at American Baptist Home Mission Societies, P.O. Box 851, Valley Forge, PA, 19482-0851.

One hundred percent of donations go to relief efforts; no dollars are retained for administrative costs. To ensure that your church receives credit for your gift, write the church name on your check or, if giving online, in the “comment” box.

Photographs by Geoffrey Haggray


American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.

One Great Hour of Sharing is administered by the World Relief Committee of the Board of General Ministries of American Baptist Churches USA. The committee facilitates American Baptist emergency relief, disaster rehabilitation, refugee work and development assistance by establishing policy guidelines and overseeing distribution of the annual One Great Hour of Sharing offering received by churches.