Chapter 4 of Neighborhood Portrait: Comerío
Sometimes God has His own timetable.
Why disaster recovery is not the only ministry focus in Puerto Rico.
Jorge Santiago likely saw much of his old self in his cousin Christian Reyes. Before Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, Christian had started dabbling in a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol to the point that authorities put him on probation for ten years.
Then, as he and his family were clearing out the rubble in their home after the storm, a four-inch nail went through Reyes’s foot.
“When I went to the hospital, they told me that I had an infection,” Christian recounts. “I was on oral antibiotics for two months. After that, they did some tests on my foot—an ultrasound—to get a better look. That’s when the doctors told me that the bone was infected.”
Christian Reyes works in construction during the day. Then in the evenings, he works to rebuild his own home.
The situation got so bad that doctors were contemplating amputating his foot. He went to a different hospital for a second opinion, had two operations and then decided to pray.
“I decided to ask God to heal me,” says Christian. “And I saw a change in myself. Those prayers were heard.”
After he started praying, his foot began healing. “That’s when I realized that there is a God who takes care of us and protects us at all times,” Christian remembers. “That’s when I started feeling things in my heart, in my mind.”
Reyes accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Christian’s decision to accept Christ started a chain reaction in his family.
Jorges’s ministry to the Reyes family has led to major life changes. Christian’s mother Marivel accepted Christ after seeing the radical transformation in Jorge’s life and hearing him share the gospel. Her daughter, Dayisbeth, also came to Christ through Jorge’s wife, Rebeca. Together, Marivel, Christian and Dayisbeth were baptized as a family.
Dayisbeth, Marivel and Christian show off their baptism certificates.
As the gospel message took root in the Reyes family, Jorge witnessed the birth of his church, called One Church, months ahead of schedule.
This is just one of many stories of Southern Baptist churches and compassion ministries in Puerto Rico. Before Hurricane Maria ever made landfall, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) had plans to launch the Send Puerto Rico effort to emphasize mission work on the island.
Rather than hamper the NAMB initiative, Hurricane Maria ignited a sense of urgency. Send Relief and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) served the physical and spiritual needs in one of the most significant disaster responses in Southern Baptist history.
As relief workers and missionaries brought material help to the island, they also shared the eternal hope of the gospel with survivors. Church planting missionaries established connections with community members and leaders because they persevered in service that helped lift communities like Comerío back to their feet.
Because of how he was able to help people here, most everyone in Comerío now knows Jorge Santiago.
As Comerío progresses through the recovery process, new ministry challenges will arise. The work of God began with disaster response and will continue as churches like One Church call for people to respond and dedicate their lives to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“God is working,” says Jorge, “And I’m just enjoying every step, every situation that God has been taking us through, whether good or hard.”
Jorge’s life before Christ mirrored that of his neighborhood. A battle against drugs and hopelessness nearly crushed him, but Christ changed his life. The gospel set Jorge on a new path and called him to bring that message to his old town of Comerío.
Jorge Santiago is one of a handful of Southern Baptist church planters in Puerto Rico who are seeking to be “the repairer of broken walls, the restorer of streets where people live.” Isaiah 58-12b (CSB)
Jorge and One Church are showing people in Comerío that there is life after Maria. However, this is not the only Puerto Rican community needing to hear the message of Christ. There are more than 40 cities and towns on the island with no Southern Baptist churches.
To learn more about how you can help believers like Jorge share the gospel with hurting people around them, go to www.sendrelief.org/PuertoRico. To find out more about how you and your church can help start more churches like One Church, go to namb.net/send-cities.