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Why Puerto Rico?

Why Puerto Rico?

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In September 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Those among the Bible Church body who were aware of this tragedy mourned at a distance. But our brother and Director for Latino Ministries, Gaby Correa, grieved for his home and his family.

Recently, Gaby was able to return to Puerto Rico for the first time since Maria struck. He did so yearning for its spiritual and physical renewal. He sought ways to empower the Puerto Rican church for Gospel-centered service with enduring impact, and he wondered if the Bible Church could be an instrument of empowerment. Many hours of travel, meetings, and prayer have revealed that the Bible Church has a role to play in Puerto Rico.

I (Matt) had the privilege of visiting Puerto Rico with Gaby, Roddy, and Zane (another of Roddy’s interns). We learned much about the hurricane’s influence on various social and economic phenomena, the current state of the Puerto Rican church, and the general roles that God has set for the Bible Church in response to the disaster of Maria. Before I explain our observations, I want to mention that while Maria drew the attention of many Americans to Puerto Rico, some for the first time, the hurricane does not define the island. It has certainly left its mark, but it is a slight blemish compared to the island’s beauty, its rich culture, and God’s presence there, which manifests itself through the work of His church.

Soon after Maria struck, Gaby and Roddy began anticipating the Bible Church’s involvement in disaster relief efforts. Most broadly, Gaby’s vision consisted in empowering the Puerto Rican church through labor, cleaning up the physical damage of the hurricane, and preaching the Gospel. In this way, he hoped that the Bible Church would be one of many vehicles for restoration. After our recent visit, this vision remains the same but with greater nuance; we are now familiar with the Puerto Rican church’s most pressing needs. Earlier, I mentioned three general takeaways from our visit. I will now describe each facet more thoroughly.

The hurricane’s influence on various social and economic phenomena

On our visit, we witnessed physical damage, although it was not widespread. We learned from local pastors that relief work — the meeting of needs left from the physical effects of Maria — was largely complete. Access to food and water is widespread, and churches are repairing homes. However, there are persistent challenges in the mountainous regions of the island. Sadly, we were unable to see these firsthand, but we learned that parts of these regions are still without power and many homes remain unfit for human habitation.

While tangible, physical concerns like these are prevalent, pastors and community leaders with whom we spoke cited post-traumatic stress as one of Puerto Rico’s most pressing current difficulties. The mental and emotional health of many Puerto Ricans is grim. The hurricane certainly exacerbated health concerns, but other factors, including economic hardship and political unrest, have probably contributed. Since the hurricane, the suicide rate has doubled. Pastors noted that they are observing higher incidences of post-traumatic stress disorder in their congregations and communities. One pastor, whose congregation consists of mostly elderly individuals, has witnessed rapid deterioration in the physical health and mental state of her older congregants.

This is a narrow depiction of Puerto Rico’s current, pressing challenges, and I have not provided a complete list. However, persistent power outages and shelters in disrepair in the mountain regions, as well as the mental and emotional wellbeing of the population in general – were the most frequently noted concerns associated with the hurricane.

The current state of the Puerto Rican church

Those who comprise the Puerto Rican church body are facing largely the same predicament as the rest of the island’s population. Many of the pastors with whom we spoke emphasized the church’s weariness, which is a result of five to six months of consistent provision for those suffering from Maria’s devastation. The church is also under-resourced, as those with means have left Puerto Rico for the continental United States and taken their tithes with them. The pastors with whom we spoke mentioned a few interventions that would fortify the Body of Christ in Puerto Rico. These seek to address those intangible needs we heard most often from the pastors with whom we met: pervasive mental illness, unpreparedness for life int he continental US, and individual financial concern.

Pastor Xavier in particular alerted us to an additional concern associated with the practices of the Puerto Rican church. He is one of two on the island who teach in an expository manner. (Expository preaching and teaching is characterized by an emphasis on the Word of God and the use of it as a guide. Expository preaching is often mentioned in contrast with thematic preaching, during which a teacher chooses some topic on which to preach and selects scriptures that deal with said topic. If you were unaware before, the Bible Church values expository preaching, as do many other churches in the area, including The Summit and others.) When Gaby mentioned the Bible Church’s value of and expertise in expository preaching, Pastor Xavier became excited and mentioned the many churches he knows whose pastors would benefit from training in expository preaching.

With all of these crucial needs of the church in mind, I turn to the general role of the Bible Church this summer.

The role of the Bible Church

While the physical restoration of the island is becoming less of a concern it is still incomplete. The Puerto Rican church needs a source of labor in order to accomplish physical relief for the island. The Bible Church could certainly provide labor to aid Puerto Rico in the rebuilding process. In addition, to address the three intangible needs mentioned earlier, the Bible Church hopes to offer 4 main objectives for this trip:

  1. Educating Christians on identifying and counseling those suffering from mental illness;
  2. Training English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors;
  3. Discussing wise financial stewardship practices;
  4. To strengthen the teaching of Puerto Rican churches from the pulpit, the Bible Church hopes to be involved in training pastors in expository preaching and teaching.

Are you interested in participating in our trip, July 21-29? We’re hoping to recruit 20-30 partners to come with us as we minister to the body of Christ there.