RIO PIEDRAS, Puerto Rico (BP) – Students at Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR) have not only a space to study, but also a safe place to ask spiritual questions, thanks to a Send Network church plant.
What started with campus visits and casual conversations with students turned into a desire to offer students a physical space away from the darkness and sin that often surround secular college life.
“We wanted to create a place centered on the Gospel and on Jesus that was markedly different from what they see on campus,” said César Guzmán, lead pastor at Iglesia Bautista Sobre la Roca, which was planted two years ago.
Guzmán’s sending church sent him to Rio Piedras two years ago with the purpose of reaching the community and UPR students.
A little more than a year later, “La Casa del Estudiante” (The Student House) opened its doors in the space adjacent to where the church was already holding its Sunday worship services.
“We want to serve as a home away from home for these students,” Guzmán said. “Many of them are from other places in Puerto Rico, the interior parts of the island, and they don’t get to go home unless it’s the weekend or vacation.” College can be a lonely experience for some students as well as a time of asking important life questions.
Tables, chairs and coffee as strong as the Wi-Fi signal invite students to long, productive study sessions. There are comfortable couches alongside shelves stocked with books for reading breaks. Tucked away in the back of the house is a kitchen where students can heat up their meals and take hot food back to their dorms.
“This is an oasis for students,” Guzmán said of the space that sits just two blocks away from the university campus.
“Multiple statistics show that young people raised in Christian homes and who went to church their entire childhood after finishing high school and entering college, never return to church,” said Félix Cabrera, director of Send Network Español. “For more than 20 years, Southern Baptists focused very little on those young people and preaching the Gospel to them.”
But in recent years, Cabrera said he and others have worked to renew Southern Baptists’ focus on college students on the island, establishing a Baptist student union with the intent to have a presence on each of the island’s university campuses.
The effort is met with both skepticism and interest from students who at first may claim Christianity, but are questioning much of what they believe.
“By being here, we have the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations and build relationships,” Guzmán said. “We are reaching the next generation with the Gospel.”
Cabrera added: “We want not only to go to the campus and preach the Gospel to them, but also offer a place near each campus they can go to study, rest, be encouraged and ministered to. We can not only show them the love of Christ, but present them with the Good News of salvation.”
While students work on class projects, volunteers from the church are on hand as facilitators for whatever the students may need. The church members also talk to them and share the Gospel as opportunities arise.
Guzmán plans for the Student House to soon begin hosting Tuesday night discipleship for students who are believers but don’t attend a local church. He is also working to hold monthly dinners for not only students but anyone in the community with limited resources.
The Student House and Sobre La Roca church are filling a need that has been left unmet in the university community for a long time.
“We are a very relational church in the midst of an incredibly individualistic society,” Guzmán said. “That is attractive to the students and the community.”
On a typical Sunday, some 25 people are in attendance and the Wednesday night Bible study sees attendance in the 30s. Since opening, already several students are showing interest in Christ, and other students have expressed a calling to ministry.
“The point is to share as a community, Guzmán said. “The value we offer here is the Gospel, the Word, and fellowship.”