Labor Day marks the beginning of a new school year for many youth in New York City and across the United States. Along with the arrival on school grounds comes the question: “What did you do this summer?” Some students will talk about their trips to exotic places, unique camping trips, their summer jobs, or their camp experiences, while others do a quick shrug, mutter, “it was okay” and try to switch the topic. But this year, a group of kids from Brooklyn, NY, will have something to talk about.
The youth from Berean Baptist Church, an American Baptist churches in Brooklyn, NY, had the privilege of embarking on their first ever Mission Trip. As part of their annual youth season, young people from Berean Baptist Church accompanied Associate General Secretary Rev. Marsha Scipio to Puerto Rico to participate in the American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” initiative. In a collaborative effort the youth worked alongside members of Iglesia Bautista Vegas y Farralon restoring their façade which had been gravely damaged by Hurricane Maria.
While some youth scraped paint off the walls and fences, others painted the church’s nursery for the children. Youth team member Jahleel Hills remarked, “After seeing how hospitable the people were to us and just how happy they were seeing us scrape paint, I remembered that God is everywhere. God is there in our times of joy and pain.”
Prior to leaving for Puerto Rico the young people did a drive for toiletries among the Berean church family. They were able to pack 75 bags filled with toiletries, t-shirts and games for the children. The youth held a worship service for children and families in the Farralon community and distributed the care packages. “The moment the Praise Team was singing in English and the people of the church recognized the song and began singing it in Spanish….we didn’t need a translator. We were all connected by the power of the Holy Spirit, worshiping God corporately. Puerto Rico has changed my relationship with God, showing me how real the Holy Spirit truly is,” said Kyrie Hills.
Rev. Scipio took youth team members with her as she went through the Farrallon community into homes of the sick and shut in to pray and offer words of encouragement. “As an Associate General Secretary I understand my calling to Pastor,” said Rev. Scipio. “As I walked from one of the homes we visited with one of the youth, Dana Saville, she told me that she now believes the church is a staple in every community and that it benefits the people in different aspects of their lives. She said that she now realizes that’ the church will be the people’s only hope during times of trouble.’ When our young people can begin to understand the true purpose of the church, I believe that is how the Church will survive,” said Rev. Scipio.
In addition to their work in Farrallon, ABCUSA Board of General Ministries Director Rev. Felipe Candelaria and members of his youth ministry served as hosts for the group. Rev. Candelaria took Rev. Scipio to visit American Baptist churches that were severely damaged, where she prayed with those present and shared words of encouragement. When the young people saw the damage done to the children’s rooms at Iglesia Bautista de Quebrada, where Pastor Candelaria pastors, they wanted to do something. They decided to purchase art supplies and decorations so the children would be able to have what they needed for Sunday school.
The trip was not all work. One of the best parts of the trip was the cultural exchange and friendships that continue today via social media. The young people from Quebrada made sure the youth from Brooklyn saw their beautiful island through their eyes. They took them to downtown San Juan and also made sure they visited local beaches and sites on the other side of the island; and of course, they tasted traditional Puerto Rican food and delicacies.
The youth from Brooklyn are still talking about their journey to Puerto Rico. When the youth led worship at Berean the young people ministered songs in English and Spanish. They also shared their testimonies with the congregation. “It is evident that their experience in Puerto Rico has transformed their perception of God and God’s love, especially in times of difficulty,” remarked Rev. Kimberly Headley.
When these young people return to school this week, they will have a lot to talk about. Kayla Parker, boldly proclaims: “After visiting Puerto Rico my faith has been strengthened, allowing me to see how real and powerful God is!”
The ABCUSA Office of the General Secretary continues to support the efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico by partnering with the ABHMS initiative, “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico.” American Baptists are also encouraged to get involved and to participate in our Puerto Rico Sister Church initiative, and we will continue to support our partners Iglesias Baptistas de Puerto Rico and ABHMS in this ongoing rebuilding effort.