More than 700 pastors and lay leaders gather for a lay, ministerial, and Sabbath school festival at the at the Eliezer Meléndez Youth Center in the capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jan. 26-28, 2023. The hundreds gathered were trained and equipped for outreach and mission service throughout the island. “[Photo: Puerto Rican Union]

March 20, 2023 | San Juan, Puerto Rico | Inter-American Division News

A lay, ministerial, and Sabbath school festival organized by the Puerto Rican Union Conference trained and empowered hundreds of Seventh-day Adventist pastors and lay members across the island on January 26-28, 2023. Pastors got acquainted with the GROW Your Church initiative of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference. Under the theme “His Light Prevails,” lay leaders, including local church elders from across the four conferences in Puerto Rico, were equipped for outreach and mission service, leaders shared.

Special guests included Jim Howard, director of Personal Ministries and Sabbath School, and ministerial secretary Ramón Canals, both from the General Conference. Inter-American Division personal ministries director Melchor Ferreyra and Sabbath school director Samuel Telemaque also attended, as well as Inter-American Division Publishing Association president Saúl Ortiz.

General Conference Ministerial Secretary Pastor Ramon Canales reminded participants to rely on the Holy Spirit who empowers them to win souls for Jesus. [Photo: Puerto Rican Union]

More than 700 lay leaders across the island gathered at the Eliezer Meléndez Youth Center in the capital city of San Juan. “This is a gathering of God’s family in Puerto Rico,” said Pastor Luis Rivera, president of the Puerto Rican Union, in his opening remarks. “In a sign of unity, here we have leaders from local churches, conference department directors and leaders, Puerto Rican Union, Inter-American Division, and General Conference leaders, to proclaim together that ‘His Light Prevails.’”

The union’s ministerial and executive secretary Eric Del Valle agreed. “This gathering shows how three different departments can join their forces with a common goal, to drive the mission of the church forward in a balanced way. It has been a successful event,” Del Valle said.

President of the Puerto Rican Union Pastor Luis Rivera encouraged leaders in attendance to continue their dedication in proclaiming the gospel to win more souls for the Kingdom. [Photo: Puerto Rican Union]

Camille Ayala, Sabbath school director and event coordinator at the union, seconded. “We saw a united church, which has a desire to learn and share the message with other people,” she said. “It filled me with immense joy and satisfaction.”

The role of discipleship and outreach

During the training, leaders emphasized the role of discipleship so local congregations can overcome difficulties and thrive. Howard explained that the GROW initiative is not a project. “It is the biblical process of making disciples to grow,” he said, explaining that it involves preparing the soil, sowing, growing, harvesting, and preserving the seed. “A local church must be fully involved in the process of discipleship,” Howard said.

Pastor Jim Howard, personal ministries and Sabbath school director of the General Conference emphasizes the importance of discipleship in strengthening and growing the church. [Photo: Puerto Rican Union]

“Discipleship is teaching another person what I excel at,” added Ferreyra. “It is our hope and legacy that the light of the gospel of Jesus keeps prevailing.”

Ferreyra called pastors and lay members to work together, “as one man, under the guidance of one power, for the accomplishment of one purpose. We want to touch Puerto Rico.” He mentioned four goals of the work of the church, including connecting the church with God, with every member and others; understanding Jesus and His teaching; equipping every member by pairing them with another one to be assisted, nurtured, and strengthen; and ministering to others to get them involved in the fulfillment of God’s mission.

Pastor Melchor Ferreyra, personal ministries director of the Inter-American Division reviews the discipleship steps in the GROW model. [Photo: Puerto Rican Union]

Empowered to win and reclaim

Canals reminded participants that it is the Holy Spirit who “empowers you to win souls for Jesus.” Addressing pastors, Canals emphasized the role of evangelism. “A pastor must teach his church to do evangelism. And he must focus and use his best energies to prepare the church to do evangelism,” he said.

Telemaque showed in practical ways how to approach a member who have stopped attending church, explaining which steps to follow before inviting him to rejoin their local congregation. Ortiz, on the other hand, discussed how the Priorities outreach magazine and other resources can be powerful tools to sow the seed of truth.

Pastor David Sebastian, personal ministries director for the Puerto Rican Union shares the evangelistic roadmap for the rest of the year. [Photo: Puerto Rican Union]

Finally, David Sebastian, personal ministries director, and evangelist Daniel Recuenco of the Puerto Rican Union, unveiled an evangelistic roadmap for the island, including the resources to be used this coming spring and fall (April and October). “God moved lay members to come to be trained and inspired, so we can march together to fulfill His mission in Puerto Rico,” said Sebastian, also an organizer of the event.

An opportunity to serve

Pastor Rivera called participants to give every church member, including young people, an opportunity to serve. It is a timely call, since many working age Adventist members have emigrated, mostly to the United States, leaving seniors and younger members in charge of local congregations.

Pastor Samuel Telemaque, Sabbath School director of the Inter-American Division speaks during the festival training. [Photo: Puerto Rican Union]

“The Lord is coming, and He is counting on each member to fulfill His mission,” said Rivera “Go back to your churches and share the fire you have received here. A fire always starts with just a spark. If you become that spark, it will eventually become a fire. Then we will finish the work and go home, because His light shall prevail.”

On the sidelines of the January event, Rivera emphasized the importance of the training event. “It brought into perspective what evangelism is for our church,” he said. “It was about giving a mission sense back to the Adventist faith community across the island. “We enjoy gathering to praise and worship God, but it’s even better and blessed to share our faith.”

Presenters join church leaders from the Puerto Rican Union territory for a group photo during the Jan. 26-28, 2023. [Photo: Puerto Rican Union]

Rivera also shared some details about the upcoming evangelistic meetings in local churches, radio stations, and the internet across the island, and shared a recipe for success. “We have goals, even though they are not an end in itself,” Rivera said. “We depend on the pouring of the Holy Spirit through the service of our members, so we can enjoy perhaps the best harvest that we have seen in a long time.”

Melchor Ferreyra contributed to this article.

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