Written by Kevin Walden, Associate General Secretary for Congregational and Pastoral Effectiveness
At the end of May, I joined American Baptist Churches of New Jersey’s Mission trip to Puerto Rico led by their disaster relief coordinator, Denise Gratzel. The logistics for the trip were coordinated through the American Baptist Home Mission Societies program: Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico. We were also joined by some team members from the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware led by Regional Pastor, the Rev. Mark Mahserjian-Smith.
While in Puerto Rico, I was able to meet with several of our American Baptist Church pastors about the Sister Church Initiative, which matches up to 2 mainland churches with a church in Puerto Rico in a covenant of friendship and prayer. A one-day meeting was held in Las Cruces with about 40 Pastoral leaders in attendance, which was moderated by Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico Executive Minister, Rev. Edgardo Caraballo. The dialog focused on information, questions and concerns that the pastors had about the initiative. Rev. Caraballo encouraged the pastors and closed his comments by stating the he believed that this was an historic moment for both Puerto Rico and the ABC.
Historic moment? Yes. Our family and movement of a million plus people is spread out all over the world. We are gathered in 33 unique regions plus Alaska. It isn’t difficult in these challenging ministry days to focus more on our own local priorities and interests than to continue to stretch ourselves by building new friendships among the family. I was touched by one of the local pastors who mentioned that the sister church program was not just a program for Puerto Rico. The sister church program, he said, is about building friendships. It could lead to mission trips to help Puerto Rico, but it could also lead to Puerto Rican churches planning mission trips to the mainland to help sister churches, he stated. It is a mutual friendship we are building with other churches, and what if it starts a movement, which spreads across our denominational family?
Historic moment, indeed. At this meeting in Las Cruces, 9 more churches signed up for the initiative. Later on a night meeting was held in San Juan, and again about 40 were in attendance. The spirit of the San Juan meeting was exactly the same with 30 churches responding to join the initiative. Special thanks to Pastor Felipe Candelaria (Member of the ABCUSA Board of General Ministries and local Puerto Rican pastor) who chauffeured me around the island to meet pastors and translate.
When not in meetings, I enjoyed working with the Mission Team at Iglesia Bautista la Esperanza in Caguas. Much of the church was destroyed in the Hurricane. They had just finished the shell of the structure when we arrived. The team went to work priming and then painting the outside (whole building) and the inside (sanctuary). Thankfully, the Lord provided some tall Pastoral leaders on this trip to make the project a little less stressful! In the evenings we fellowshipped and ate together at the retreat center owned by the region, which we had worked on the first day.
We ended our trip as the 2018 hurricane season began. There are many more trips being planned by ABC congregations and regions with the fine coordinating efforts of ABHMS.
Historic moment. Building new friendships across our denominational family. Is this initiative something your congregation can consider? There are limited spaces. Current statistics are:
55 Mainland Churches in the Sister Church Initiative
40 Puerto Rican Churches in the initiative
22 (out of 33) Different ABC Regions (and Alaska) with churches in the initiative
Sister Church Registration Online Form: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ABCPRSisterChurch
Puerto Rico Sister Church Initiative facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/635951916746969/?ref=bookmarks NOTE: This is a closed FaceBook group, but you can request to join. If you do so, your membership will be approved.