November 9, 2022
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By Jeff Huett
DECATUR, Ga – A pastor, denominational leader and former nonprofit executive who has invested much of her life seeking God’s transformation both inside and outside the Church has been named CBF’s new Coordinator of Global Missions.
Laura Ayala, who has served almost nine years as pastor of the historic First Baptist Church of Rio Piedras in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was selected for the role Tuesday by a vote of the CBF Governing Board.
Prior to her pastorate of the 123-year-old church, Ayala was associate executive minister of Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico. She is active in FAMILIA, CBF’s Latino Network, also serving as the group’s current convenor, as well as on the CBF Nominating Committee.
“I said yes to be the next coordinator of Global Mission because I’m really looking forward to being part of what God is doing through CBF in the world,” Ayala said. “From local congregations to the wider ministries that are encouraged by CBF but also all around the world.”
She points to the work of Together for Hope, CBF’s rural development coalition combating poverty in the nation’s poorest counties, and CBF’s mission focus on the contexts of global poverty, global migration and the Global Church that captured her imagination about the powerful impact of CBF Global Missions.
Ayala said her concept of missions was re-shaped when Hurricane Maria struck the island five years ago.
“Being in Puerto Rico and going through Hurricane Maria is becoming aware that there’s a huge world, but yet this is an island. And the hurricane cut us off from help and assistance. You then have to do missions locally. You have to be prepared,” Ayala said.
She said she was grateful for partners that joined her church, provided guidance and resources and also came as missionaries.
“I always thought about missions, about going, not about receiving,” Ayala said. “In these years, we’ve learned that in missions you also receive, and it’s okay. That gives you a bigger responsibility because now that you have received, you have to give more. So, that’s what the church learned in this process. We learned how to respond in disaster relief. We learned how to respond in emergency settings. We were trained by those who knew how to do it. And then when the pandemic arrived, we knew what to do. No one could come, but we knew what to do.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley said that in her ministry as a pastor, denominational leader and nonprofit executive, Ayala has embodied CBF’s mission distinctives and has shown the gifts and practices that characterize CBF field ministries.
“She has, indeed, cultivated beloved community, borne witness to Jesus and sought transformational development in contexts of global poverty and global migration in partnership with the Global Church,” Baxley said. “She has also demonstrated the ability to invite a wide range of congregations, partners and denominations into Christ’s mission and has also formed leadership cultures and congregations that are beloved communities and that participate in God’s transformation of the world through Jesus Christ.”
Ayala credits Rubén Ortiz, CBF’s Latino Ministries Field Coordinator and leader of FAMILIA, with helping to introduce her to CBF and get her involved in its work. Ortiz said with Ayala’s selection, “we are living an extraordinary moment in the life of the Fellowship and the life of FAMILIA.”
“For years I have witnessed Laura, as a pastor and community leader, respond to the most significant difficulties with great hope, without losing her smile and generous kindness,” Ortiz said. “Laura understands the local church, knows how to roll up her sleeves, focuses on the urgent, and responds with wisdom and effectiveness. She knows the importance of being a witness in places of greatest need and values long-term presence. Furthermore, Laura has traveled paths of cooperation and engagement with key players in the mission. I am confident that her skills and talents will trail-blaze avenues for connection in CBF Global Missions.”
Ayala has also served in leadership of addiction recovery and homeless care organizations and in municipal government in Caguas, Puerto Rico, as a consultant and acting director of the Municipal Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
She earned Master’s degrees in Religion and Society from Drew University in Madison, N.J., and Business Administration from Universidad del Turabo, in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. She currently is a candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Theology from the Interamerican University in San Juan.
Jesús García, lead pastor of Church of the City in New London, Conn., said partnering and collaborating with Ayala during ministry has been a blessing. García previously served on the CBF Missions Council and as pastor of Iglesia Bautista de Metrópolis in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“Rev. Laura Ayala lives out missions in her everyday life, it’s her lifestyle,” García said. “I have seen how she has patiently and persistently led her congregation from an inward focus to an outward one. Definitely, she knows her community and her community knows her.”
Facilitated by Baxley and Adam Granger, CBF’s Strategic Engagement Officer, the eight-member selection committee was composed of leaders from across the Fellowship.
Members of the committee included: Hannah Coe, chair-elect of the CBF Missions Council and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas; Ruth Cuellar, pastor of Igleasia Bautista El Buen Pastor in Newnan, Ga.; David Hull, CBF Moderator Elect; Natasha Nedrick, minister of discipleship at Central Baptist Church in St. Louis, Mo.; Kevin Pranoto, associate pastor for social work, Second Baptist Little Rock, Ark.; Tammy Snyder, coordinator of CBF Florida/Caribbean Islands, chair of the CBF Missions Council; Ralph Stocks, retired CBF field personnel; Charles Watson Jr., member of CBF Governing Board and director of education at BJC.
Members of the selection committee were enthusiastic in their support for Ayala.
Hull said he was excited to recommend Ayala as CBF’s next Global Missions coordinator.
“Laura is an experienced leader and pastor who has transformed her church through their work in missions,” Hull said. “Her passion, energy and love for Global Missions will revitalize and renew field personnel and congregations across our fellowship.”
Retired CBF field personnel Stocks called Ayala an engaging and inviting communicator, a trailblazer in the various leadership positions she has held, well-versed in cross-cultural experience and second language acquisition and someone who has faced adversity but found success through creativity and hard work.
Nedrick said she is thrilled Laura has been chosen to lead CBF Global Missions to where “God wants us to be and what God wants us to do.”
“Laura’s expressive personality, her storytelling skills, significant cross-cultural experience, and genuine love for people makes her the perfect missions leader,” Nedrick said. “I know her presence will be warmly welcomed by both our churches and our gifted field personnel around the world.”
Snyder called Laura an “experienced leader and pastor who has transformed her church through their work in missions.”
“Her passion, energy and love for Global Missions will revitalize and renew field personnel and congregations across our fellowship,” Snyder said.
Watson highlighted the leadership and the Fellowship and CBF field personnel will receive from Ayala as their Global Missions Coordinator.
“Her experience as a pastor, and in nonprofit leadership, is an ideal fit for the position,” Watson said. “God has gifted her with enthusiasm and passion for people and her work that will bless our great congregations and our amazing field personnel.”
CBF Global Missions staff members Ellen Sechrest, director of Global Missions church engagement, and Javier Perez, director of Global Missions programs and impact, said they feel blessed and energized that Ayala will be leading the CBF’s Global Missions team.
“Laura will be a wonderful asset to CBF and especially Global Missions,” Sechrest said. “I am excited to be working with her as we expand our mission engagement and strengthen our congregational commitment to our partner churches and individuals.”
Perez added that “Laura brings a wealth of experiences in the social, missional, congregational and public sectors. Her leadership is characterized by revolutionary love, radical hospitality and strategic visioning; traits which will guide Global Missions to a flourishing and healthy future.”
Ayala will begin the transition to her work at CBF later this fall and will begin full-time in February 2023.
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith into practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.