SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (BP) – Baptist college ministry, biblical counseling and enrichment for pastors’ wives are among key goals Puerto Rican Southern Baptists voiced at their 2023 annual meeting in San Juan.
The Convention of Southern Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico (CIBSPR) also elected a new board and celebrated partnerships with Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and Send Relief.
Cooperation and an emphasis on edifying pastors were especially evident at the Feb. 4 meeting at Iglesia Bautista Ciudad de Dios, City of God Baptist Church, CIBSPR Executive Director Luis Soto told Baptist Press.
“I’ve never seen, through all my years of ministry, so much pastoral care for the pastors as well as providing workshops and different conferences to equip them, to help them, and to walk with them,” said Soto said, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Sin Paredes in Guayama. “And with (the unanimous election of new officers) we’ve seen a unity we have not seen for many years in the convention. We’ve seen a strong, united convention.”
The CIBSPR sees a rich potential for future church planters among the 190,000 college students on the island, including those who remain there and those who migrate to the U.S. mainland after graduation.
Through the Union Bautista Estudiantil (UBE), the equivalent of the Baptist student union on the mainland, the CIBSPR is preparing students to spread the Gospel on the island and abroad, UBE Coordinator Luis Gomez told Baptist Press.
“One of the things I’m passionate about and one of the reasons we have to reach the youth with the Gospel, is if they stay we want them to be members of local churches. We want them to be disciple makers,” Gomez said from Puerto Rico. “But if they go, we know that there’s a tremendous need in the States for mature, Spanish-speaking believers to join churches in the work that is occurring over there as well, as we know that the Hispanic population continues to grow (in the U.S.).
“If we can work with them here and they end up living stateside, we want them to be disciple makers, we want them to be evangelists, we want them to live on mission with their local churches over there so that the Gospel is preached, and so that people may be saved.”
Gomez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Ciudad de Dios in San Juan, will engage churches near college campuses in college ministry and plans to open a second UBE student house on the island.
In its biblical counseling initiative, the CIBSPR is offering training to pastors through an international counseling program with the intention of eventually establishing its own training program.
More than 250 pastors and church members participated in the first of four training modules in the two-year program, Gomez said, with the second module planned for October, and the last two modules set for 2024.
“The goal of that is to prepare pastors and church members to be able to be biblical counselors,” Gomez said. “But the end goal is to be able to see a biblical counseling organization created and existing in Puerto Rico that will be able to continue that work going forward.”
In its women’s ministry initiative, CIBSPR is committed to offering respite and training for pastors’ wives, including annual retreats and conferences, and other meetings.
Through a church-planting initiative with Send Network and the North American Mission Board that pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic, the CIBSPR welcomed three congregations to the convention. New Southern Baptist churches are The Summit Church Puerto Rico in Humacao, pastored by Gabe Bailie; Iglesia Bautista Raham Aibonito in Aibonito, pastored by Luis Rodriguez, and Iglesia Bautista Comunidad de Gracia in Patillas, pastored by Alfonso Pagán.
Newly elected officers are president Camilo Mendez, vice president Rafael Velez, secretary Oscar Ortiz, assistant secretary Rubén Rodríguez, treasurer Christian Acevedo, and assistant treasurer Juan Rodriguez. Additional board members are regional representative Joel Melendez, Geraldo Lebron, Ruben Santiago, Roy Vidal and Alfonso Pagan.
Tony Wolfe, executive director-treasurer-elect of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, preached the convention sermon in his previous capacity as SBTC associate executive director.