American Baptist Home Mission Societies has announced a goal to raise $1 million within the next three to six months to support the rebuilding of homes and churches in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico.
The national ministries arm of the American Baptist Churches USA pledged an initial $25,000 to launch a multi-year initiative called “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” to aid churches in the Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico reeling from the second hurricane to hit the island U.S. territory in less than a month.
Also known as American Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico, the group is one of 34 regions that cooperate with the American Baptist Churches USA and related ministries. It was host for the most recent meeting of the executive committee of the ABCUSA Board of General Ministries, held days after Hurricane Irma struck a glancing blow, compared to devastation on other Caribbean islands. It was less than a week before Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico Sept. 20.
Dumping rain at a rate exceeding that of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and clocking wind speeds exceeding those of Hurricane Irma in Florida, the Category 4 storm knocked out Puerto Rico’s entire power grid, 95 percent of cellphone towers, the bulk of the island’s water infrastructure, as well as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports and seaports. More than 40 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents live below the poverty line.
In contrast to the around-the-clock coverage of the Harvey and Irma, Hurricane Maria received scant attention on the Sunday political talk shows. According to Media Matters, the five major Sunday political talk shows dedicated less than one minute to the growing humanitarian emergency and conditions that Puerto Rico officials described as “apocalyptic.”
“Within the next three to five years, we will work with our American Baptist partners to restore all 114 churches and nine missions in the Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico as well as Corporacion Milagros del Amor and Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico,” Jeffrey Haggray, executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies, said Sept. 22.
Corporacion Milagros del Amor is a Christian mission center working with American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Neighborhood Action Program. Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, also known as the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, is an evangelical school with American Baptist ties in Rio Piedras.
ABCUSA General Secretary Lee Spitzer “wholeheartedly” endorsed the denomination-wide effort.
“I hope every American Baptist will give generously to rebuild the Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico,” said Spitzer, former executive minister for the American Baptist Churches in New Jersey elected to his current post in May. “In the midst of all the calamities that have hit Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Mexico City, God demonstrates his loving presence through the prayers and deeds of God’s people. We stand in solidarity with those struggling to rebuild their lives.”
Funds for Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico will be raised through One Great Hour of Sharing, an ecumenical humanitarian ministry combining resources of eight Christian denominations, including American Baptists.
Baptist involvement with Puerto Rico dates to establishment of First Baptist Church of Rio Piedras by American Baptist missionaries in 1899. With more than 25,000 members, Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico is the only fully Hispanic ABCUSA region.