ARECIBO, Puerto Rico (BP) — Southern Baptists of Puerto Rico gained nine new congregations at the group’s 2018 annual meeting, held just over a year after Hurricane Maria cut church attendance by as much as a third in the U.S. territory.
“To the expansion of the Kingdom of God” was the theme as the Convención de Iglesias Bautistas del Sur de Puerto Rico (CIBSPR), the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico, held its first annual meeting since 2016.
Newly elected president David Colón, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Logos in Santa Isabel, called the Nov. 17 meeting historic because of the newly added churches and participation that allowed the election of a full slate of officers.
In an interview conducted by newly elected assistant treasurer Andrés Laracuente, Colón said the work of Southern Baptists will likely flourish on the island.
Now Puerto Rico’s convention has young pastors who are also experienced as part of the board; they want to put the expansion of the Gospel above everything, Colón told Laracuente. Colón expressed a desire to see Southern Baptist churches in every town in the territory.
Felix Cabrera, Southern Baptist Convention second vice president and pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, Okla., spoke to guests and 96 registered messengers on the importance of unity among churches in expanding God’s Kingdom.
“Today, if we want to fulfill the motto of this annual meeting, ‘To the expansion of the Kingdom of God,'” Cabrera said, “if we want to see Matthew 16:18, that the doors of Hades will not prevail, … let’s make a commitment that there will be no space for the tribes nor the division … among the Southern Baptists in Puerto Rico.
“United, we must put the Gospel above everything and before everyone,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera, a Puerto Rican native, is relocating to the island in December as a North American Mission Board church planting catalyst. Iglesia Bautista Ciudad de Dios, a mission congregation Cabrera is currently planting in San Juan, is among the nine congregations that affiliated with CIBSPR at the annual meeting.
In addition to Cabrera’s church plant, eight other congregations affiliated with CIBSPR at the meeting, the group reported.
Completing the list of new churches, with respective locations and pastors, are Iglesia Bíblica Metro, in Carolina, pastored by Laracuente; Iglesia Bautista de Lajas, in Lajas, pastored by Francisco Santiago Cruz; Iglesia Bautista Comunidad de Gracia, Guayanilla, pastored by Junior Martínez; Iglesia Bautista El Fundamento, Catano, with pastor Fredy Toledo; Iglesia Gracia Redentora, Vega Baja, with pastor Xavier Torrado; Iglesia Bautista Resurrección, Isabela, pastored by José Ponce; Iglesia Bautista Bethel del Sur, Ponce, led by Gerardo L. Rivera; and One Church Comerío, Comerío, led by Jorge Santiago.
The new churches bring the Southern Baptist presence to about 80 churches and missions in the territory, according to SBC church profile statistics.
CIBSPR unveiled a new strategy centered on three initiatives, namely pastoral training, evangelism and missions, and fellowship. A slate of new officers comprising experienced pastors, young pastors and church planters give the convention an advantage in accomplishing its goals, leaders reported.
Carlos Rodriguez, appointed this year as a NAMB Send missionary to Puerto Rico, and Jonathan Santiago, coordinator of the Send Relief Ministry Center on the island, expressed a desire to cooperatively work toward spiritual restoration there.
Serving is a major component of CIBSPR’s strategy, leaders said, focused on assisting and equipping local churches in Kingdom expansion, and exhorting churches to remain focused on the Gospel and evangelism.
Immediate past president Luís Rodríguez, pastor of Iglesia El Lirio del Valle Casa Para Las Naciones in Loiza, led messengers in approving a budget and selecting a slate of officers, board members and regional representatives.
Messengers approved a budget of $32,000 comprised of anticipated Cooperative Program gifts from membership churches. A total of 11 percent of receipts, or $3,500, will be allocated to evangelism and missions in cooperation with NAMB and the International Mission Board, according to documents the CIBSPR gave Baptist Press. In 2018, the CIBSPR received $39,092 in CP receipts and forwarded $4,217 to the SBC for national and international missions.
Joining president Colon and assistant treasurer Laracuente are vice president Martinez, secretary Torrado, assistant secretary Gil Ramos, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Renacer in Lares, and treasurer Raúl Torres, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Oasis de Amor in Penuelas.
Messengers elected Luis Caraballo, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Ríos de Agua Viva in Levittown, as Metro/East representative; Tomas Morales, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista de Utuado, in Utuado, North representative; Antonio Colón, a member of Member of Iglesia Bautista Logos, Santa Isabel, South representative; and Carmelo Medina, pastor of Iglesia Misión Urbana, Mayaguez, West representative.
New board members are Ponce; Toledo; Francisco Reyes, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Raham de Guayama in Guayama, and board attorney Edmundo Rosaly, a member of Iglesia Bautista La Gracia in Yauco.
See BP’s update  on Puerto Rico a year after Hurricane Maria.