Hospital in Puerto Rico Celebrates First Baptism Since the Pandemic Hit

Adventist health-care facility has historically been an outreach and mission hotspot.

Luis Rivera and Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News
Hospital in Puerto Rico Celebrates First Baptism Since the Pandemic Hit

Traveling from her home in Florida, United States, to help take care of her sister, who was recovering from the coronavirus at the Bella Vista Hospital — an Adventist institution in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico — proved to be a life-changing experience for Maritza Tillero.

As she sat in the hospital room in August 2020, Tillero, 58, listened to the assistant chaplain’s encouraging words and prayer for her sister. As the prayer ended, Tillero had a question for the chaplain: “What do you believe is the state of the dead?” she asked.

That question led to more questions and to Bible studies in the weeks after she returned home. Months later, after going over 54 Bible study lessons through Zoom and taking part in dozens of prayer sessions and devotionals with a local church on the island, Tillero traveled back to Puerto Rico to get baptized on the hospital premises on January 20, 2021.

“I feel so much joy and happiness,” Tillero said as she got into the baptistry. “This has been the best experience of my life. The Adventist Church is truly a [Bible] school.” Her life has never been the same, she said. “I was born here at this hospital, and now the Lord allowed me to be born again today.”

Soaking in Bible Truths

Raquel Buergo, assistant chaplain at Bella Vista Hospital (BVH), said she was thrilled to witness Tillero get baptized after that first time she answered her question in the hospital room and then continued studying with her. “She was so ready to learn everything about the Bible, sometimes three lessons per week, and soaked in all the online worship programs from my church, and hasn’t missed any 6:30 morning prayer session with the church since day one,” said Buergo, who is also a Bible worker.

Tillero recently finished a Bible study on the Book of Revelation, Buergo said. “I emailed it to her, and she told me the day after that she was already on lesson five.” Tillero has also completed a study on homiletics offered by her church, the Conde Avila Adventist church in Cabo Rojo. “She’s been asked to give four devotionals in the morning prayer sessions and two more in March.” Buergo said that she’s already been in contact with an Adventist pastor where Tillero lives in Florida, and whenever church services resume, local church connections will transition in.

Tillero is the first to be baptized at Bella Vista Hospital this year and the 168th person to join the church through the hospital over the past 11 years, thanks to an initiative to offer further spiritual support to patients, employees, or family members who request it.

Program to Fill Spiritual Needs

“At one point about 11 years ago, we had a list of 70 persons who wanted to know more about our beliefs as Seventh-day Adventists, and then we thought, why not create a program that could fill that [spiritual] need for those who wanted to learn more about God?” Roberto Viscaíno said. He is chaplain ministries director for the Adventist Church in Puerto Rico in charge of Bella Vista Hospital chaplaincy ministries and its professional training program. He felt impressed by God to establish the program coined as Amparando al necesitado (Sheltering the Needy) to include a full-time Bible worker to be available for those requesting to learn more about Bible truths.

The program has been so successful, Viscaíno said, that an average of 13 people are baptized every year in a portable baptistry set up in what they have designated as “God’s Gazebo” on outdoor hospital property.

By the time the new believer gets to his or her fourth of 30 Bible lessons, chaplaincy ministries informs the pastor in the city or town where the patient lives, and local church leaders and members are ready to establish a connection. Then, Bible studies continue with chaplaincy ministries. After an average of six months, persons usually decide to get baptized, and the transition to the local church takes place, Viscaíno explained.

Increased Emotional Needs

“It is a real blessing to see so many who are searching from the heart to learn more about God and His redeeming power,” Viscaíno added. Maritza Tillero represents a real blessing at the start of the year. Because of the pandemic, no baptisms took place, and several began Bible studies later in the year through text and on the online Zoom platform. “We saw an increase in emotional needs through the lockdown and as the COVID cases increased, and that kept us really busy.”

As of February 2020, 18 patients and their family members and 10 hospital employees are studying the Bible with Raquel Buergo. “There is one nurse who is eagerly studying the Bible, and she’s on lesson 18 already. It brings me great joy because it’s as simple as using the method of Christ in connecting with people and leading them to His love and His Word,” Buergo said. “The Holy Spirit continues working in people around us, and we must have a passion for souls.”

About Bella Vista Hospital

Established in 1954, Bella Vista Hospital is operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and provides services to more than 20,000 patients each year. The hospital runs a continuing professional education (CPE) certification program to train chaplains of hospitals, clinics, schools and institutions, military, and government institutions accredited in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The hospital offers multi-cultural and inter-religious training for theology students to improve the ministry and pastoral care in chaplaincy ministries.

The facility has 153 beds and houses state-of-the-art equipment for services, including an imaging center, radiotherapy center, rehabilitation center, clinical laboratory, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, pediatric, cancer institute, family and chaplaincy residency, and more. The hospital is part of the Bella Vista health systems, including a polyclinic and health insurance plan.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.

Luis Rivera and Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News