Church planters persevere in Puerto Rico
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the seventh of eight stories highlighting North American Mission Board missionaries as part of the 2010 Week of Prayer, March 7-14, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, with a goal of $70 million to help support Southern Baptists' 5,300 North American missionaries.
COAMO, Puerto Rico (BP)--At the onset of his missionary career, pastor Luis Rodríguez and his wife Lourdes Santiago were dismayed at the lack of commitment from members of the church they'd planted in Coamo, Puerto Rico. But this apathy did not hamper the couple's efforts. Besides, from God's divine perspective, this was only the beginning.
Rodriguez remembers the challenges faced during those uncertain days after being sent by Raham First Baptist Church in Santa Isabel to plant a new church in Coamo.
"When we arrived at Raham-Coamo, we noticed the believers there didn't really have a commitment to come to the services," Rodriguez said. "When we were on our way to a prayer service, they started calling to excuse themselves from coming to the service. In that moment I turned and looked at my wife and wondered if our efforts were really worth it. We began doubting if God was really involved."
When Luis and Lourdes arrived at the small church for the prayer service, only one other couple had come to intercede for God's work there -- but a couple with a very special need.
"With great sorrow in our hearts, we found brother Carlos Santiago and his wife Andrea, who was kneeling in prayer," Rodriguez said. Andrea's hair had fallen out because of the chemotherapy she was undergoing to fight cancer.
"I looked at my wife, she looked at me, and the Lord spoke to my heart, saying, 'For the love of that solitary life I'm sending you to Coamo. It's one life, one soul. Don't worry about the ones who made excuses and didn't come.'"
Because of Andrea's commitment, Luis and Lourdes were motivated to press on with God's challenge of planting a church in Coamo. The result was the creation of the Raham Baptist Church in Coamo.
The name of the church, "Raham," is the Hebrew word for "God has shown compassion." This is precisely the spiritual gift that continues to be one of the driving forces behind Rodriguez's work in Coamo.
Luis and Lourdes Rodriguez are missionaries for the North American Mission Board, responsible for planting churches in Puerto Rico. They are two of the some 5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, and are among the NAMB missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 7-14. This year's theme is "Live with Urgency: Share God's Transforming Power." The 2010 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering's goal is $70 million, 100 percent of which benefits missionaries like Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, 46, was ordained as a Southern Baptist pastor in 2001 by his local church at the time, Raham Baptist Church in Santa Isabel. He came from a background in business, with a concentration in accounting -- working up to a vice president's job at the company where he worked more than 20 years.
Since becoming a missionary three years ago, he has completed coursework at Luther Rice Seminary in Puerto Rico and is planning to continue his studies at the Baptist Seminary of Puerto Rico through Liberty University.
"My decision to become a missionary wasn't an easy decision. I faced all sorts of difficulties," Rodriguez said. "I quit a job with great benefits. Temptations came, uncertainty, good advice and bad advice. But God, who is rich in mercy, sustained me. My wife's support was unconditional and awesome. ...
"One day in a prayer meeting I began asking God, 'Lord, what do you want to do with me?' After several months went by without the slightest involvement in the ministry, without a desire to continue pastoring, God sent us to Raham in Coamo, where, with a group of 15 people, we planted a church."
Although the most predominant religious group in Puerto Rico is Roman Catholicism -- encompassing about 85 percent of the population -- the remaining 15 percent is made up of various groups like Southern Baptists, who impact the culture through schools and universities, among other means.
Coamo is a city of approximately 40,000, located in the southern region of Puerto Rico. Luis Rodríguez and his church planting team also have started a bilingual Christian school -- Coamo Christian Academy -- to minister to local children and their parents.
Coamo Christian Academy has met with great approval in the community. Beginning with only four students in 2006, the school now has more than 40 enrolled.
Rodriguez admitted he couldn't do the work without the support of Southern Baptists.
"Contributions given to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering support me as a missionary in the work we are doing and help us support the church to reach children and the parents who participate in this ministry. To God be the glory," he said.
Adalberto Muñoz, a member of Rodriguez' ministry team, spoke of the pastor's commitment and passion for the lost.
"When you talk to Luis and see him carry out his duties, when you see the fruit this ministry is bearing, there is no doubt that God really called Luis to serve in this capacity."
"Pastor Luis and members of Raham Baptist Church in Coamo have a genuine calling from God to the ministry, a sincere love for the Word, integrity and commitment towards the community," Muñoz said. "It's a church that inspires a lot of love. You feel you are in a wholesome environment full of love for God and for people."
Commitment to prayer and keeping God's Word also have inspired door-to-door evangelism, prayerwalks, interactive team sports with non-Christians, radio talk shows, Bible studies in neighboring towns and the capital, and other activities such as "One Night with Christ," during which sister churches interact to impact the Coamo community.
Now, the most pressing need has become adequate facilities and more space. "The current facilities aren't sufficient," Rodriguez said. "We have limited space, and if we don't do something about it soon, the growth of our ministry will be adversely affected."
Luis and wife Lourdes are the parents of three children, Victor, Luis and Lyanne Rodriguez Santiago.
John J. Correa is a writer in Dacula, Ga. To view video profiles of all 2010 Week of Prayer missionaries, go to www.anniearmstrong.com/2010video.