Inter-American Division, with Adventist Review staff,
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Puerto Rico is seeking to reassure its membership and strengthen its schools and other institutions as a debt crisis and economic recession batters the the U.S. territory in the Caribbean Sea.
At least 100,000 people are estimated to have left the island in the past year, including more than 1,000 church members, said Luis Rivera, treasurer of the church in Puerto Rico, during a telephone conversation with Inter-American Division leaders.
“It’s getting to where we are processing dozens of membership transfer letters to the United States every month,” Rivera said.
In all, church membership has dropped by 4,000 people in the past two years, partly because of people leaving for better job opportunities, and partly because of an auditing of the membership books, he said.
“We are definitely concerned,” Rivera said. “Although we have been able to meet out budgets thanks to the faithfulness of our church members, and our institutions have been up-to-date with their tithe contributions, our tithing funds and offerings have not grown much since 2011.”
Puerto Rico is mired in crisis as it struggles to repay $70 billion in debt in a stagnant economy already crippled by widespread poverty and rampant emigration.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Puerto Rico has about 33,000 members worshipping in 333 congregations. The church also operates a hospital, a clinic, a university, and 20 grade schools and high schools across the island.
“Because the economy has not grown in nearly 10 years, the adverse situation has had a great impact in our church,” Rivera said.
He said the Puerto Rican church was reviewing its financial situation and working with its stewardship director to educate church members on how to be partners in the church’s mission.
“We are thankful for the commitment of our members, who continue to serve the church and the community,” he said. “The economic situation has not stopped our missionary plan and evangelistic campaigns have yielded many new believers this year. In the midst of uncertainty, we can bring hope.”
Church administrators are concerned because several hospitals on the island have declared bankruptcy over the past decade and the church’s Bella Vista Hospital — a flagship Adventist hospital on the island and in the Inter-American Division — has not been immune to the economic turmoil.
Bella Vista Hospital is struggling to attract and retain staff, with 17 current openings for nurses, said Rivera, who also is the hospital’s chief executive.
“A lot of the salaries in the United States are an attractive incentive for our nurses who graduate from our Adventist university nearby,” he said.
Antillean Adventist University has some 700 students enrolled in its nursing program and other health-related degrees, and many of them are offered jobs on the U.S. mainland immediately after graduation, he said.
Some teacher turnover is also taking place in church schools across the island, but this is nothing out of the ordinary because those bilingual teachers have long been recruited by school systems on the U.S. mainland, he said.