COAMO, Puerto Rico (BP)–For Adalberto Munoz and Elga Torres, married for 23 years and living in Coamo, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island had turned from paradise into a living nightmare by November 2006.
The 40-something Adalberto had lived in Coamo –- a city of 35,000 in south-central Puerto Rico -– since leaving Boston nearly 20 years ago.
“It was total chaos,” Munoz describes his life. “I wasted a lot of money … there was a lot of adultery. My life was a complete disaster.”
Munoz finally left the home he had made with Elga, planning on filing for divorce.
“It was turmoil all the time,” Elga said. “We were fighting almost every day. Our lives were based on material things. We gave value to things that really don’t have value.
“My husband and I were going through struggles, but I never expected or ever thought there would be adultery in our lives — that my husband would be unfaithful to me. When that happened, I fell into an abyss, and I was struggling to get out. I didn’t know what to do.”
Some of Elga’s Christian co-workers told her she should take a new direction in her life and seek God. One of them told her about a new Southern Baptist church in Coamo -– a church that eventually would help transform her unhappy life.
At the church, planted and led by North American Mission Board missionary Luis Rodriguez, Elga found a church family who offered support as her marriage to Adalberto seemed doomed.
Rodriguez was introduced to Elga several months after he arrived in Coamo in 2006 in response to “a feeling that the Lord gave me that we need to plant more churches -– especially here in Coamo, where we have an abundance of Catholics.” His key aim: to “start opening more churches so more people can learn the real way of the Lord.”
The church planting evangelist remembers that Elga visited his church first, before Adalberto.
“She came here with a need,” Rodriguez said. “She had a lot of difficulties in her life and she needed some help. We started assisting her, helping her, giving her whatever she needed, based on the Word of the Lord.
“Elga started coming to church and listening to the Word of the Lord and studying the Word. It developed in her a desire to learn even more about God, her mission in life and what the Lord wanted to do with her.”
Elga said she “felt love in the church. I remember one day when Adalberto had left home and I felt the whole world was crumbling. I walked into church and got a big hug from a woman who was a member.
“Then Luis took me to a small room and we prayed…. I was crumbling. And Luis lifted my hands and said, ‘Let’s pray and pray and keep on praying.'” Elga made it through.
Adalberto began to notice the changes in Elga. “She even invited me to come and said her pastor wanted to talk to me. I always said no. I didn’t want to talk to anybody.” But Elga persisted.
In December 2006, Elga again invited Adalberto to church. “I’m gonna go today,” he told her, “just to make you comfortable. I’ll go because you want me to go. It’s not because I want to go.”
On that Sunday, Adalberto now says a seed was planted in his heart. “The Lord told me, ‘If you turn everything over to Me, I can help you.'” But his ultimate decision for Christ would not come for another six months.
Sitting in a prayer meeting the next June, Pastor Rodriguez asked if anyone in the group wanted to pray to accept Jesus as Lord.
“I yelled out, ‘I want Him, I want Him,'” Adalberto recounted. He would never be the same. “Everything has completely turned around. There’s such a peace in my house now. It’s something completely different.
“Before, I used to go home and fight with Elga. Then I would leave the house. Now, besides going to church, I just want to be with my family and be home.”
Elga says their marriage has done a complete turn-around. “It was a real negative and now it’s a positive. It’s like being born again, a new beginning for us,” she said.
Now Elga and Adalberto counsel other local couples in troubled marriages.
“We tell them what we’ve gone through and what the Lord has done and is doing for us,” Elga said. “We tell them about the changes the Lord can make in them. I tell them how I fell into the hole and the Lord put his hand in and pulled me out. We tell others things will be different if you put everything into the hands of the Lord.”
Pastor Rodriguez said of Adalberto and Elga, “Their testimony is a testimony that would impact other lives around the world.”
The planting of Southern Baptist churches -– such as the one in Coamo — may be somewhat easier in Puerto Rico, said Carlos Rodriguez (no relation to Luis), director of missions and evangelism for the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico, where he assists churches in planting new works throughout the island.
“Puerto Ricans are mainly Catholic. Although they’re Catholic church-oriented, people here are nominal Catholics. They don’t go to their Catholic church but once or twice a year.
“So when you share the Gospel with them –- among the needs and situations of their lives -– people are more open to receive you to hear the Gospel,” Carlos Rodriguez said, adding that Puerto Rico has a strong evangelical movement among the different churches.
“Once you have baptized someone who was a Catholic, you have them for the rest of their lives,” Carlos Rodriguez said.
“If you are not experiencing salvations and baptisms [in Puerto Rico], then you are not working,” he said. “People are open to the Gospel, but the big obstacle is helping them pull up roots from the Catholic Church.”
Carlos said church planters like Luis Rodriguez have a real passion to start new churches in Puerto Rico. And one man, Adalberto Munoz, thanks God every day for giving Luis that passion.
“I’m still in ‘Pampers’ — just beginning,” Adalberto said. “But the more you learn every day and the more things you see, the more the Lord talks to you. If you follow the Lord and put your worries in His hands, anybody can be an Adalberto -– if you really, really want it.”
Adalberto and Elga really wanted it. They will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this coming October.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.