Send Relief’s grand opening ceremonies for its ministry center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, spanned two days on Nov. 8-9, hosting local government leaders, Send Puerto Rico church planters, local pastors and disaster relief organization staff.
“Five years after Hurricane Maria, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) along with Send Relief has made a commitment to [establish] a permanent presence in Puerto Rico,” said Jonathan Santiago, Puerto Rico Ministry Center director, during the ceremony. “In August of 2018, the hard work of construction began, to begin building a wonderful staff, of whom I’m very proud.”
Hurricane Maria made landfall in 2017 as a Category 4 storm, bringing with it devastating winds and catastrophic flooding. Homes were destroyed, residents were without power for months and the landscape of the island permanently changed. Many people evacuated the island and chose not to return.
Yet, Send Relief, NAMB and several Puerto Rican Southern Baptists, such as Santiago, felt burdened by the destruction and answered a call to leave their homes and jobs on the mainland U.S. to begin ministering in Puerto Rico through church planting and compassion ministry.
Santiago thanked Southern Baptist churches and leaders from the mainland and Puerto Rico along with local officials for how their combined efforts made ministry and outreach possible, bringing hope to thousands of families.
“It’s been a hard and beautiful work, but we have not done this alone,” Santiago said. “Each and every person, agency but most of all the Southern Baptist [Convention] and churches have made this possible.”
“Our team, not just here but nationally, has a really great relationship with Send Relief,” said Ricardo Agudelo-Doval, a representative with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “Send Relief is special. It’s an organization that is very committed, committed to those who are suffering and those who are in need.”
David Guadalupe, president of Puerto Rico’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, described Santiago and Send Relief as a staple during the last few disasters that have hit the island.
“We are hoping to continue the work and collaboration with Send Relief so we can continue the good fruit we have seen here,” Guadalupe said.
Send Relief president Bryant Wright also addressed the audience, sharing how Send Relief had trained hundreds of volunteers to be able to respond to crisis in Puerto Rico.
“It is our hope at Send Relief,” Wright said, “that serving local churches as they carry out the ministry of compassion and concern is always at the forefront of what we do.”
As a part of the ceremony, Send Relief surprised NAMB’s recently retired executive vice president, Carlos Ferrer, by revealing that the business office at the ministry center will be named the Carlos J. Ferrer Business Office.
“I’ve been coming to Puerto Rico for almost 30 years,” said Ferrer. “And I have fallen in love with the people and the island of Puerto Rico, and the need that they have for the gospel.”
Ferrer’s leadership was key to establishing NAMB’s church planting and compassion ministry in Puerto Rico. Originally born in Cuba before his family was forced to flee Fidel Castro’s regime as refugees, Ferrer served 30 years at NAMB, supporting the ministry that helped his family resettle in the United States.
“This center was a vision to train volunteers in Puerto Rico that could do the work of the Gospel in disaster relief and compassion ministry themselves,” Ferrer said, “and have all the tools and supplies ready here…This past hurricane we saw that vision come to life.”
NAMB president Kevin Ezell addressed those gathered on the second day of the celebration, speaking primarily to Send Relief and church-planting missionaries. The best way to see churches planted and needs met, Ezell said, is for the local church to accomplish that ministry.
“We realize that God uses the church to change communities. To change people,” Ezell said. “I’m thankful for what has happened but look expectantly for all that God is going to do.”
To learn more about how churches or mission teams can serve in Puerto Rico, visit the Send Relief mission trip page and click on Puerto Rico.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board)