MBC to equip Puerto Rican leaders
By Allen Palmeri
August 3, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – The blending of evangelism, church planting and missions that Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Director David Clippard has been encouraging among staffers and affiliated churches was on display July 10-16 in Puerto Rico when MBC Partnership Missions Specialist Norm Howell, on his first visit to the island, traveled with Mauricio Vargas, MBC multicultural strategist in church planting.
In May, Howell and MBC Church Planting Director Jerry Field worked closely together in Romania to help stimulate that partnership. Howell views the work of Vargas, who can potentially bring Hispanic pastors from Missouri to Puerto Rico, as part of the MBC’s quest to evangelize, plant churches and encourage mission outreach among Puerto Ricans.
“The greatest needs in Puerto Rico are in equipping people to do evangelism,” Howell said. “The island is just packed full of people, and it’s growing every day. We need church planters.”
Puerto Rico has about 70 Baptist churches to service a population of more than 4 million.
“There are so many good opportunities in Puerto Rico to help develop new churches, but at the same time to help develop leadership by providing basic seminars in church planting, in administration, in evangelism and in discipleship,” Vargas said. “That’s what the pastors want, so I hope that Missouri Baptists can do that.”
Nodell Dennis, director of missions, Blue River/Kansas City Baptist Association, said 10-12 Missouri Baptist churches are currently in the partnership. Dennis drove Howell, Howell’s wife, Karen, and Vargas around about three-fourths of the island and introduced them to key Puerto Rican pastors in the partnership. They also visited a camp near Agua Dilla and Iglesia Bautista Misionera on a 45-acre site in the mountains, where the Puerto Rico Baptist Association is building a training center for pastors.
“There’s so much work to be done down there — church planting, soul-winning, training and construction,” Dennis said.
Short-term missionaries from First Baptist Church, California, and First Baptist Church, Lake St. Louis, were ministering on the island as the partnership leaders visited various sites. Another active church in the partnership has been Corticelli Baptist Church, Russellville, which sent a team June 17-23 to help build the training center.
“We could see that there was a strong desire for not only the church there to grow but for that camp to become something that they could really begin to reach the kids with,” said Sonny Sturgeon, pastor, Corticelli Baptist Church.
Howell drove to the church July 21 to videotape the testimonies of five church members plus Sturgeon who went on the June trip.
“You guys are leading the way,” he told the group, “and I’m excited for you.”
Howell said the key to growing the Puerto Rican Baptist/Missouri Baptist partnership is enthusiastic participation by churches like First California, First Lake St. Louis and Corticelli.
“We need more of our Missouri Baptist churches taking a more active role in partnering with individual churches in Puerto Rico,” Howell said. “There are places in Puerto Rico where our work is strong, but we have a lot of churches who have no partners and no help at all. There are a lot of areas where new churches need to be started, and the only way that’s going to happen is by encouraging our Puerto Rican pastors and leaders there to see that vision and to get out there.
“We could help with resources. We could take material that is in English, help get it translated, and then get it into the hands of their pastors.”
By going to the island for the first time, Howell was able to see some of the needs, meet some of the Puerto Rican leaders and try to establish good relationships with them, he said. Now he has a picture in his mind about the state of the partnership as he travels around Missouri to speak.
“I think I can really promote the needs and try to get more churches involved in Puerto Rico,” Howell said.
Churches who wish to express an interest in the partnership should call Linda Stockton, MBC Partnership Missions ministry assistant, at 1-800-736-6227, ext. 621.