GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico (BP) — Send Relief celebrated the start of construction of a new ministry center in Puerto Rico with a ceremonial groundbreaking on Monday, Aug. 19. As the compassion ministry arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), Send Relief expects the new facility will be a major boon to outreach efforts on the island.
“It’s not so much about the building, but it is about our testimony here on the island as to why we’re here,” said Send Relief President David Melber. “We’re here because God commands us and gives us the privilege to be here to be able to meet needs, to see lives change, to be able to share the hope of the Gospel and see a movement all across this island.”
In the aftermath of the historic impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Send Relief prioritized a response to the crisis and has continued sending volunteers to help homeowners rebuild. The new ministry center will expand the ministry’s ability to serve and equip mission teams who come to the island to meet needs and change lives through the power of serving communities.
“This gives hope to our people,” said Angel Perez, mayor of the municipality of Guaynabo, where the center is located. “In this moment, after two years and still having hundreds of families with blue tarps, with other needs, establishing this organization permanently here in Guaynabo gives hope for our families and through the whole island.”
Send Relief has established strong relationships with local government officials in Puerto Rico through their persistent presence, serving people affected by the massive storm. Volunteers have invested 12,278 days’ worth of service, engaged in 1,510 Gospel conversations, and seen 107 professions of faith.
Since the hurricane, Send Relief has helped distribute more than 760,000 meals, provided 1,134 water filtration kits, and assisted in the clean-up or repair of 400 properties.
Ricardo Agudelo-Doval, a representative with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith & Opportunity Initiatives and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), called the ministry center something Puerto Rico has needed for a long time.
“This is not a recovery that’s going to be over in the next few years,” Agudelo-Doval said. “This is something that’s going to take a long time to finish, and having an organization as established, as important, with the background that Send Relief has, is an amazing opportunity for Puerto Rico.”
Once construction is complete, Send Relief will have the capacity to house more than 100 mission volunteers at any given time as well as space for missions leaders. There will be a dining hall with a full, commercial kitchen as well as an event space that will seat between 100-120 people.
“The facility creates a permanent presence in Puerto Rico,” said Jonathan Santiago, Send Relief’s ministry center director in Puerto Rico. “It’s not just for relief efforts but for community engagement on behalf of Southern Baptists. We will run logistics from a centralized location, which will help facilitate ministry on the island.”
Melber said the permanent ministry center communicates a level of commitment to the residents of Puerto Rico.
“The fact that we’re still here, that Southern Baptists are still here, two years later and committing for the long term speaks volumes to the fact that we’re going to be here,” Melber said. “We want to embed ourselves in Puerto Rico, to know the culture and see these communities transformed.”
NAMB President Kevin Ezell noted the work in Puerto Rico revolves around starting new evangelistic churches and strengthening existing churches.
“We intentionally involve local pastors in the work the volunteers are doing,” Ezell said. “Meeting the physical needs is an urgent priority right now, but we know the larger, long-term need is spiritual, as it is everywhere. NAMB’s work will be all about the Gospel as we share Jesus in Puerto Rico.”
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.