At the onset of his missionary career, pastor Luis Rodríguez and his wife, Lourdes Santiago, were dismayed at the lack of commitment from church members at the church they'd planted in Coamo, Puerto Rico. However, that did not hamper the efforts of these Southern Baptists. Besides, from God's perspective, it was only the beginning.
Luis remembers the challenges faced during those uncertain days after being sent by the Raham First Baptist Church of Santa Isabel to plant a new church in Coamo.
"When we arrived at Raham-Coamo, we noticed the believers there didn't really have a commitment to come to the services," said Rodríguez. "When we were on our way to a prayer service, they started calling to excuse themselves from coming to the service. In that moment I turned and looked at my wife and wondered if our efforts were really worth it. We began doubting if God was really involved."
When Luis and Lourdes arrived at the small church for the prayer service, only one other couple had come to intercede for God's work there — but a couple with a very special need.
"With great sorrow in our hearts, we found brother Carlos Santiago and his wife, Andrea, who was kneeling in prayer," recalls Rodríguez. Andrea's hair had fallen out due to the chemotherapy she was undergoing to fight her cancer.
"I looked at my wife, she looked at me, and the Lord spoke to my heart, saying, 'For the love of that solitary life I'm sending you to Coamo. It's one life, one soul. Don't worry about the ones who made excuses and didn't come.'"
Because of Andrea's commitment, Luis and Lourdes were motivated to press on with God's challenge of planting a church in Coamo. The result was the creation of the Raham Baptist Church in Coamo.
The name of the church, Raham, is the Hebrew word for "have compassion." This is precisely the spiritual gift that continues to be one of the driving forces behind Rodríguez's work in Coamo.
Luis and Lourdes Rodríguez are missionaries for the North American Mission Board, responsible for planting churches in Puerto Rico. They are two of the some 5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada, and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, and are among the NAMB missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 7-14, 2010. This year's theme is "Live with Urgency: Share God's Transforming Power." The 2010 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering's goal is $70 million, 100 percent of which benefits missionaries like Rodríguez.
Luis, 46, was ordained as a Southern Baptist pastor in 2001 by his local church at the time, Raham Baptist Church of Santa Isabel. He came from a background in business, with a concentration in accounting — working up to a vice president's job at the company where he worked for over twenty years.
Since becoming a missionary three years ago, he has completed coursework at Luther Rice Seminary while in Puerto Rico and is planning to continue his studies at the Baptist Seminary of Puerto Rico, through Liberty University.
"My decision to become a missionary wasn't an easy decision. I faced all sorts of difficulties," Luis says. "I quit a job with great benefits. Temptations came, uncertainty, good advice and bad advice. But God, who is rich in mercy, sustained me. My wife's support was unconditional and awesome. I simply couldn't resist what God wanted to do with me.
"One day in a prayer meeting I began asking God, 'Lord, what do you want to do with me?' After several months went by without the slightest involvement in the ministry, without a desire to continue pastoring, God sent us to Raham in Coamo, where, with a group of fifteen people, we planted a church."
Although the most predominant religious group in Puerto Rico is Roman Catholics — about 85 percent of the population — the remaining 15 percent is made up various groups like Southern Baptists, who impact the culture through schools and universities, among other means.
Coamo is a city of approximately 39,500 located in the southern region of Puerto Rico. Three years ago, Luis Rodríguez and his church planting team also started a bilingual Christian school — Coamo Christian Academy — to minister to local children and their parents.
Coamo Christian Academy has met with great approval in the community. Beginning with only four students in 2006, the school now has more than forty enrolled.
Luis admits he couldn't do the work without the support of Southern Baptists.
"Contributions given to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering support me as a missionary in the work we are doing, and help us support the church to reach children and the parents who participate in this ministry. To God be the glory!"
Adalberto Muñoz, a member of Luis' ministry team, spoke of Luis' commitment and passion for the lost.
"When you talk to Luis and see him carry out his duties, when you see the fruit this ministry is bearing, there is no doubt that God really called Luis to serve in this capacity.
"Pastor Luis and members of Raham Baptist Church in Coamo have a genuine calling from God to the ministry, a sincere love for the Word, integrity, and commitment towards the community," said Muñoz. "It's a church that inspires a lot of love. You feel you are in a wholesome environment full of love for God and for people."
Commitment to prayer and keeping God's Word have also inspired door-to-door evangelism, prayer walks, interactive team sports with non-Christians, radio talk shows, Bible studies in neighboring towns and the capital, and other activities such as One Night with Christ, during which sister churches interact to impact the Coamo community.
Rodríguez said his ministry's most pressing need is adequate facilities and more space.
"The current facilities aren't sufficient," he says. "We have limited space, and if we don't do something about it soon, the growth of our ministry will be adversely affected."
Luis and wife Lourdes are the parents of three children, Victor, Luis, and Lyanne Rodríguez Santiago.
John J. Correa is a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Dacula, Georgia, and is a writer living in Dacula, Georgia.