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Puerto Rican pastors ‘not forgotten’ by SBC

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance’s involvement with the event, and the titles and pastorates of several in attendance.

SAN JUAN, P.R. (BP) — The “heart and spirit of Southern Baptists” are evident as churches and leaders help Puerto Rico recover after Hurricane Maria, pastor Jorge Alvarez said Nov. 11 in San Juan.

Alvarez, executive director of the Convention of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, was among 150 local pastors and guests who attended an appreciation dinner held in their honor. The Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance (HBPA) organized the event held at the Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel. The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources supported the event.

“I am sharing with our leadership that we have a denomination that has not forgotten us,” said Alvarez, pastor of First Baptist Church of Arecibo. “To the contrary, it has placed all their resources at our disposition, indicating the heart and spirit of Southern Baptists.”

Frank S. Page, SBC EC president and CEO, said the SBC appreciates the work of Southern Baptist pastors on the island.

“They have worked so hard and we want to give them a special time to show them that they are not alone,” Page told Baptist Press. “The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria is absolutely unprecedented. We are thankful for all the work that is being done by disaster relief; however, we wanted to reach out to the pastors in a way to show our love and appreciation for them.”

EC Hispanic Relations Consultant Bobby Sena, who represented the EC at the dinner, also praised the pastors and their congregations.

“I have no doubt that out of the ashes, rubble and devastation, a new Puerto Rico church will rise up,” Sena told BP. “The pastors may have lost their homes and church building — and many of their members have become part of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the USA — but they have maintained their resolve to continue preaching, teaching and ministering, despite the conditions on the island.

“The tenacity and resilience of the pastoral leadership and their church membership are amazing,” Sena said. “I went to encourage them and came away inspired. I will never be the same again.”

An upcoming banquet is being planned to honor pastors in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Ken Weathersby, SBC EC vice president for convention advancement, told BP that Southern Baptists are praying for fellow believers and leaders in the Caribbean.

“We want the pastors to know that they are not alone, even though they are going through difficult times in this crisis,” Weathersby told BP. “We as their fellow Southern Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for them, and we are doing everything we can to support them and provide necessary resources.

“Our churches have responded well,” Weathersby said.

Alvarez thanked Southern Baptists for their support, mentioning the EC, NAMB, Send Relief, state conventions, associations and churches.

“Despite the suffering and destruction that Hurricane Maria has inflicted on the church buildings, houses and the lives of our people, [and] the exodus of many of the church members to the USA,” Alvarez said, “the pastoral spirit is up, not down, and we are serving our communities and sharing the Gospel. Our pastors continue to be faithful to their calling in the Lord’s ministry.”

Felix Cabrera, HBPA co-founder and board member, has spent weeks helping pastors recover.

“The majority of our Southern Baptist pastors have been the hands and feet in many of our communities and towns on the island,” Cabrera said. “Week after week following the hurricane, they have provided physical food, water and medicines, but also spiritual food.

“Because of that, the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance decided to dedicate and invest time in the pastors, their wives and children,” said Cabrera, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. The dinner will strengthen pastors and “help them on the long road of recovery before them,” Cabrera said.

NAMB Mobilization Leader Ramon Osorio told churches they can count on NAMB’s support during their lengthy recovery.

“I am heartbroken for the conditions under which the people of Puerto Rico have to live. I am concerned about the challenges the church in Puerto Rico faces,” Osorio said. “But I am excited for how the Lord is already moving in His church and about how Christ is being glorified and exalted by His people here.”

The event’s keynote speaker was Rolando Otoniel Sanchez Perez, pastor of the Baptist Church of Ozama in the Dominican Republic, and director of the Dominican Baptist Theological Seminary.

Among others in attendance were event moderator Xavier Torrado, pastor of Casa Rendora in Venga Baja, P.R.; event attendance mobilizer Junior Martinez, pastor of First Baptist Church of La Gracia, Yauco, P.R., and Alex Comesanas, pastor of Providence Road Church in Miami. Jonathan Jerez, worship leader of Central Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, led those in attendance in worship.

LifeWay Christian Resources donated gifts to Puerto Rican pastors, Sena said.