American Baptists visit Puerto Rico on pastoral, mission fact-finding trip

Left to right: Margarita Ramirez, president of Iglesias Bautista de Puerto Rico; José Quiles of Iglesia Bautista Berea; Betzaida Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Berea; the Rev. Salvador Orellana, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) national coordinator of Latino Ministries and deputy director of Logistics and Relationships for ABHMS’ “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” initiative; Dr. Lee B. Sptizer, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA; and the Rev. Steve Van Ostran, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains.

SAN JUAN, PR (ABNS 1/30/18)—A delegation of American Baptists and partners led by American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) and American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) traveled to Puerto Rico Jan. 26-29, 2018, to meet with pastoral and lay leaders to survey damage and devastation caused by last year’s hurricanes Irma and Maria. The delegation, invited by ABCUSA General Secretary Lee B. Spitzer, brought together members of a Puerto Rico Roundtable on the pastoral and mission fact-finding trip.

Leaders of the region Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico met with the delegation throughout the four-day visit, coordinated by Victoria Goff, ABHMS associate director of Mission Advancement and Passionary Movement and director of Disaster Recovery for Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico, and Salvador Orellana, ABHMS national coordinator of Latino Ministries and deputy director of Logistics and Relationships for the Puerto Rico initiative.

In a reflection shared with leadership of the region along with 59 pastors and lay leaders, Spitzer thanked God for their “work produced by faith, their labor prompted by love, and their endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2). On behalf of all American Baptists, he underscored ABCUSA’s support for ABHMS’ efforts to revitalize and restore damaged buildings and to strengthen the friendship between the island’s churches and American Baptist congregations on the mainland.

ABCUSA Board of General Ministries President Josué D. Gómez-Menéndez was deeply appreciative of the team’s visit.

“What a wonderful time we had with our general secretary and the team, whose messages reaffirmed the family’s support for our region through our common faith, hope, and love,” he said. “I am excited that the general secretary is planning to visit Puerto Rico regularly, and we thank the ABCUSA family for their response to our crisis.”

Goff echoed gratitude for the American Baptist family and its support of Puerto Rico during the months following the hurricanes’ destruction.

“It was good to come together as one family of God on this trip to hear from our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and to once again undergird them with support and encouragement,” she said. “Thank you to so many American Baptists who have supported Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico. As we complete the disaster-response stage and move into recovery and rebuilding, we face a long road before us. Continued prayers and financial support are still critical, and now we need volunteers as well. It will take all of us working together to restore churches, schools, communities and individual lives across the island.”

Along with Spitzer, Goff and Orellana, the delegation included: the Rev. Dr. Steven Van Ostran, American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains; Sister Kathi Reid, Lott Carey; the Rev. Angel Sullivan, American Baptist Women’s Ministries; the Rev. Terry White, National Baptist Convention; the Rev. Mark Mahserjian-Smith, American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware; the Rev. Timothy Gibson, World Servants and Building Legacies; Pattie Juarez, World Servants; and Denise Gratzel, American Baptist Churches of New Jersey.

The delegation visited churches throughout the four days, greeting pastors and leaders, sharing support for the island’s recovery and praying for churches, ministry leaders and members. Van Ostran, executive minister of Rocky Mountains region (which donated $50,000 in support of the rebuilding efforts), observed: “During our time visiting the pastors and churches of Puerto Rico, I was once again struck by the fact that we tend to ask the wrong question when disaster strikes. Instead of asking ‘Why did God do this?’ or better, ‘Why did God allow this?’, we need to ask ‘Where is God in this?’ Asking that question, we clearly saw that God has been and is in the response of our churches to the great need, both in Puerto Rico and the mainland. Those of us who live at a distance need to know that the need has not lessened and continue to respond in a tangible way.”

Sister Church Initiative Announced
Spitzer shared his vision of a “Sister Church Initiative” that will offer mainland churches the opportunity to befriend and express solidarity with Puerto Rican American Baptist congregations.

The initiative will be coordinated by ABCUA’s Office of the General Secretary and Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico. Up to three sister congregations from the mainland—ideally hailing from different ABCUSA regions—will be secured for each participating Puerto Rican congregation. These churches will be invited to join with Puerto Rico churches in friendship-building through prayer support, moral support and encouragement through written communications among pastoral leaders, church members and children, and opportunities for common worship experiences during the 2021 Biennial Mission Summit in Puerto Rico. Additional information about this initiative will be forthcoming. The Rev. Dr. Kevin Walden, ABCUSA associate general secretary for Congregational and Pastoral Effectiveness, will facilitate this initiative.

‘Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico’
Goff and Orellana emphasized ABHMS’ continuing multi-year “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” initiative, announced in September, which has raised more than $850,000 toward its $1 million goal to support rebuilding efforts.

As ABHMS moves into its second phase of disaster response, skilled and unskilled volunteers are needed to rebuild churches, communities and homes. More than 75 work projects—including several schools, Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico and Corporación Milagros del Amor (CORMA), a Christian center partner of ABHMS—have been identified. Some of the first projects will include roof repair and installation on several churches, schools and CORMA; restoration in the dormitories and library at Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico; and rebuilding several churches.

Register for volunteer projects at > Ministries > Mobilizing Volunteers. Cost of $150 per person per week includes housing, food and supplies. Volunteers are responsible for round-trip transportation to Puerto Rico as well as transportation on the island.

ABHMS goals for the Phase II effort include 1) creating sustainable communities, 2) providing health, emotional and spiritual recovery, 3) advocating for Puerto Rico and 4) creating and sustaining partnerships that will support the renewal effort.

“Even in the midst of the challenges caused by Hurricane Maria, I feel encouraged and full of hope when I witness the unbreakable and resilient spirit of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico,” says Orellana. “I am so grateful for the quick and generous response of the ABC family in support of our American Baptist Puerto Rican churches, schools and other ministries. Visiting this island is always a blessing, and now that blessing has been magnified by the networking I see with our entire Christian family, as our American Baptist partners join us in Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico.”

 Give to One Great Hour of Sharing
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; 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.

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.

 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.