Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer, General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, shared his five key ministry priorities for the denomination in June 2017: unify our family based on core convictions and joyful mission; strengthen our regions as they serve our churches and clergy; promote the mission of our national agencies and mission partners; lead our family into new church growth, evangelism and creative service; and encourage creative partnerships. These five priorities will be highlighted in reflections written by Spitzer on the ABCUSA website in a series through September and October 2017. This article focuses on strengthening regions.
The American Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico hosted the Executive Committee of the ABCUSA Board of General Ministries on September 14-16, 2017 – in between hurricanes! The gracious hospitality of the host church, First Baptist Church of Rio Piedras in San Juan was just amazing. Members of the congregation, even though they did not necessarily have power in their own homes, came to the church and cooked delicious meals for us – we were very grateful to them.
The church’s senior pastor, Laura Ayala, surprised the group when she pointed out the ABCUSA logo that is carved into the side of every pew in the sanctuary. Throughout Puerto Rico, the ABCUSA logo is proudly displayed outside church buildings to highlight that the church belongs to our family. What an incredible display of American Baptist identity and pride!
The deep and affectionate ties between the Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico (American Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico) and American Baptist Churches USA was demonstrated by the visit of Rev. Roberto Dieppa-Baez, interim executive minister; Rev. Doris Garcia, president of the Puerto Rico Evangelical Seminary, Mrs. Margarita Ramirez, president, Brunilda Gonzalez, vice-president, and several pastors.
Puerto Rico was spared significant damage from hurricanes Jose and Irma. The island’s Convention Center in San Juan, where the ABCUSA 2011 Biennial was held, was transformed into a shelter for people whose homes were devastated on other Caribbean islands.
And then came hurricane Maria. According to preliminary reports, this category 4 storm has wreaked havoc throughout Puerto Rico. Property destruction, loss of electrical power, and damage to trees are widespread.
Puerto Rican regional and national leaders have attempted to stay in communication, and I led the ministry team of the ABCUSA Office of the General Secretary in an intercessory prayer time even as the storm passed over the island. They also lifted up the needs of Mexico City following its earthquake. American Baptists throughout our country have been in prayer as well. In response, Rev. Roberto Dieppa-Baez, emailed this message: “Thank you very much for all your prayers. Difficult and with many losses in Puerto Rico, but his grace will sustain us.” Incoming ABCUSA President Josue Gómez-Menéndez similarly shared, “It was a long night. Through the middle of the night, we felt the fury of mother earth without compassion. Now, I want to share that we are ok. With a lot of destruction, but nothing that time and hard work cannot resolve. Thanks all for being with us through this time. It was really hard and scary.”
Rev. Judy Fackenthal, outgoing ABCUSA President, expressed the feelings of all of the ABCUSA leadership, when she said, “My heart is full of both gratitude and sorrow for our sisters and brothers of Puerto Rico! I think of all the devastation experienced just by our nation over the last few weeks and my mind is boggled by the destruction. Then I think about flooding in S. E. Asia and now two massive earthquakes in Mexico — it’s hard to grasp.”
Over the past few weeks, American Baptists across the country have responded sacrificially to disaster relief in support of Texas, Florida and the Caribbean through One Great Hour of Sharing. Now, Mexico City and an entire ABCUSA region (Puerto Rico) need our solidarity, support and care. It may be tempting to become overwhelmed and disheartened by so many crises. However, ABC of the South, ABC of Puerto Rico and our churches need the rest of the American Baptist family more than ever. Accordingly, I encourage us all to continue to express our commitment to Jesus Christ and our devotion to our brothers and sisters, remembering the counsel of the Apostle Paul: “Let us not become weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9).
How you can continue to help
Survivors continue to need your prayers. In addition, donations designated to “OGHS – Hurricane Harvey” or “OGHS – Hurricane Irma” can be made through your church; by visiting https://www.abc-usa.org/ and clicking “Give Online” at the top right of the page. In the “Comments” section, type “OGHS – Hurricane Harvey” or “OGHS – Hurricane Irma.” Or, mail 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.