Festival of the Laity seeks to empower members in a region impacted by emigration.
A lay, ministerial, and Sabbath School festival organized by the Puerto Rican Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church recently trained and empowered hundreds of pastors and lay members across the island.
The event, held in late January 2023, sought to acquaint pastors with the GROW Your Church initiative of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference (GC). Under the theme “His Light Prevails,” it also sought to buttress a church community that has been significantly affected by emigration in the recent years.
Special guests included Jim Howard, director of GC Personal Ministries and Sabbath School, and GC ministerial secretary Ramón Canals. Inter-American Division (IAD) personal ministries director Melchor Ferreyra and Sabbath School director Samuel Telemaque also attended, as well as Inter-American Division Publishing Association president Saúl Ortiz.
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,” Luis Rivera, president of the Puerto Rican Union, said 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,” he said.
Camille Ayala, Sabbath School director and event coordinator at the union, said, “We saw a united church, which has a desire to learn and share the [gospel] message with other people. It filled me with immense joy and satisfaction.”
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 helping 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.
“Discipleship is teaching another person what I excel at,” Ferreyra added. “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 impact 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 strengthened; and ministering to others to get them involved in the fulfillment of God’s mission.
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 has 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.
Finally, personal ministries director David Sebastian 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,” Sebastian, also an organizer of the event, said.
An Opportunity to Serve
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.
“The Lord is coming, and He is counting on each member to fulfill His mission,” Rivera said. “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.”
The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site. Melchor Ferreyra contributed to this article.