By Caleb Mynatt
On March 4, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and its Latino network, FAMILIA, signed a Missional Relationship Covenant with Iglesia Bautistas de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Baptist Churches).
This covenant paves the way for CBF and Iglesia Bautistas de Puerto Rico (IBPR) to officially begin a relationship of free dialogue, open communication and mission work, as well as other joint ministry efforts. The agreement was signed by representatives of 114 churches, eight schools, and approximately 35,000 church members in Puerto Rico, making it the largest covenant of its kind in the history of CBF.
“Things have been happening over the last 15 years that led up to this agreement,” said Rubén Ortiz, CBF’s Latino Field Ministries Coordinator and director of FAMILIA. “It started with similar agreements with CBF Florida, but we all felt it was time to make it official with the entire Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.”
This covenant, according to Ortiz, creates an environment of “mutual dialogue and open collaboration” between the two religious organizations. Ortiz is excited for the leadership development, community work projects and the experiences that the covenant now makes possible for the benefit of Cooperative Baptists.
The covenant will allow both organizations to collaborate and equip one another, while also remaining independent of each other. It promises consistent dialogue and education as opposed to a merger. Both entities and their respective churches can continue to serve in the ways with which they are comfortable, while also creating a partnership that will allow the two organizations to influence and work with each other hand-in-hand.
“This agreement at its base allows more open communication, a better exchange of ideas and strengthens the bond between our faith communities,” Ortiz said. “These churches remain independent and are not affiliated with CBF, but rather are partnered. We are no longer strangers with churches in Puerto Rico; we are friends.”
Both organizations will be able to respond to the ever-growing number of natural disasters affecting Puerto Rico. The island, which is still recovering from the devastating impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the latter having claimed over 3,000 lives, now has to brace for hurricanes and tropical storms on a yearly basis. Many CBF churches have already provided aid to Puerto Rico. The new agreement will make delivering aid to Puerto Rico a staple of CBF’s ministerial outreach, as well as providing aid administration with a more collaborative and organized approach, Ortiz added.
“With many natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes affecting Puerto Rico, it raises a flag for us to have an established partnership,” Ortiz said. “We already have many churches that fly to the island to help with disaster response. We want to continue to extend an assisting hand. This more formal and official partnership makes that easier.”
Ortiz also expects the Fellowship to greatly benefit from this relationship with the Puerto Rican churches. The earliest example of this partnership will be the presence of workshop leaders from Puerto Rican churches at this summer’s General Assembly. Ortiz also expects the partnership to lead to individual CBF and IBPR congregations becoming sister churches as well as the IBPR providing new insight on missions for CBF and its congregations both here in the U.S. and in Latin America.
“Puerto Rico has a great history of holistic missions,” Ortiz said. “We have well-trained leadership there, with many former leaders living here in the U.S. who will continue to make connections and do great work.”
The signing of this covenant is reason for celebration for the entire Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This empowers CBF and IBPR to accomplish things together and to learn from each other and equip one another on a scale that has never previously existed for CBF and its congregations.
Kasey Jones, CBF’s Associate Coordinator for Outreach and Growth, praised the partnership and expressed enthusiasm for the opportunities that lie ahead. “It is exciting to have a covenant partnership with Iglesia Bautistas de Puerto Rico,” Jones said. “This historical covenant opens the door for CBF to intentionally expand our relationship to a mutually beneficial and equipping partnership. Iglesia Bautistas de Puerto Rico has much to offer our Fellowship, and I look forward to seeing what God will do.”
Ellen Sechrest, Director of Global Mission Church Engagement, noted, “The spirit of the pastors and members we met was so delightful and inspiring. This new work is very exciting for Global Missions, and I look forward to developing great relationships with the churches, discovering ways to partner in their ongoing work, learning from our sister churches and partnering congregations together for fellowship.”
Stephen Reeves, Director of Advocacy for CBF and Executive Director of Fellowship Southwest, echoed this enthusiasm.
“This new partnership has huge potential for collaborative work with CBF Advocacy and Fellowship Southwest,” Reeves said. “I was honored to help represent CBF for the signing ceremony. I’m confident the numerous new relationships will bear fruit in unexpected and impactful ways. I’m grateful for the years of good work by Rubén Ortiz and excited about the future.”
Jason Coker, President of Together for Hope, CBF’s rural development coalition, also represented the Fellowship at the signing ceremony in Puerto Rico.
“It was a powerful moment to watch Rubén on stage signing a covenant that brought over 100 churches across Puerto Rico into fellowship with CBF,” Coker said. “Getting to meet some of the pastors and seeing how Together for Hope can partner with them in rural municipalities was also deeply meaningful to me. There are great pastors and churches in Puerto Rico, and I am humbled to be in fellowship with them. The possibilities are endless.”
This is the first time that FAMILIA, which was founded in 2017, has signed a formal agreement with an entire region of Hispanic churches. It is an unbelievable accomplishment, but it is far from the only thing FAMILIA hopes or seeks to achieve. As Ortiz says, FAMILIA is an all-encompassing network that has the primary goal of outreach to Latinos in the United States, but prides itself on being present in other aspects of the CBF.
“This is far from the only thing FAMILIA is capable of accomplishing,” Ortiz said. “We want to permeate into every facet of CBF and be a bridge wherever it is helpful.”
This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of fellowship! magazine. Check out the issue and subscribe for free at www.cbf.net/fellowship.