Calvary Chapel Northeast Serves in Puerto Rico

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Building Up the Church Through Missions

Story by Jonathan Erdman and Margot Bass
Photos by Jeremy Dickerson and Karis Braddock

As the mission team from Calvary Chapel Northeast in Columbia, SC, made repairs to Ms. Emmy’s home in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in May, she was eager to serve them as well. The team members spoke little Spanish and the family, no English. Associate Pastor Jimmy Braddock recalled, “Every time we turned around, Ms. Emmy and her daughter gave us food and drinks. They were so incredibly gracious and hospitable—it transcended the language barrier.” Although communication had been challenging for all, everyone was able to connect meaningfully and forge strong relationships.

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Lead Pastor Brennan Aschleman (left) and Associate Pastor Jimmy Braddock (right) of Calvary Chapel Northeast in Columbia, SC, pray with Ms. Emmy, a homeowner in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The pastors’ daughters, Alexis Aschleman and Karis Braddock, join in the prayer.

Jimmy and Lead Pastor Brennan Aschleman had met Ms. Emmy and her disabled adult son on an exploratory mission trip to Ponce just over a year earlier, in March 2020. As they left her house on that first trip, they passed a doctor who would tell the family that the son, in his mid-30s and disabled for the past 18 years, might not be able to fight off the illness and infection that had invaded his weakened body—he was not expected to live. When they returned this May, the trip delayed because of COVID-19 restrictions, they learned he had survived the illness.

“Assuredly I [Jesus] say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40b

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Pastor Brennan surveys repair work to be done with his son, James (middle), and Carlos Hart Jr. Part of the mission team from CC Northeast worked on upgrading portions of Ms. Emmy’s home while others did repair work at a local church—Iglesia Bautista de Rio Chiquito in Ponce. The two churches formed a friendship and partnership after an early 2020 trip.

A Local Partnership

CC Northeast has formed a partnership with Ms. Emmy’s church, Iglesia Bautista de Rio Chiquito in Ponce, headed by Pastor Adriel Bermudez. The Columbia pastors hope to continue to build on that partnership and serve alongside the church in future years, to remind Ponce residents that God has not overlooked or forgotten them. According to Brennan, most of the island’s resources go to the tourist-rich areas such as San Juan, leaving the southern areas feeling overlooked or abandoned.

Jimmy and Brennan had already felt a burden to lead the church into more international outreach when both realized they were interested in serving Puerto Rico, especially after a series of hurricanes and earthquakes in recent years. The connection with Iglesias Bautista was made by a young man Brennan knew from another church, Jeremy Dickerson, who had family ties to the region. Jeremy had been developing relationships and arranging trips to the Caribbean island since 2017, following the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria.

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Ruth Lawson and Alexis (right) enjoy fellowship with Ms. Emmy’s family. Pastor Jimmy joyfully recalled, “Everybody was so gracious and hospitable. It seemed every time we turned around, they were bringing us more food and drinks.” CC Northeast has hopes that the Puerto Rico mission trips will serve as an introduction to foreign missions for its members.

In 2020, Brennan and Jimmy stepped off the plane onto Puerto Rican soil with this question in mind—Lord, how would you use us here? Neither pastor spoke Spanish. Neither had ever been to Puerto Rico. It was clear, however, that the Lord had given them both a desire to serve here in some way. But how, exactly?

During that trip, they met Ms. Emmy and her family, beginning repair work on her home. The day after they returned to South Carolina from that initial visit, the world began to shut down from the impact of and response to COVID-19. Jimmy speculated that they were most likely on one of the last planes that left Puerto Rico for the States at the time.

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Ms. Emmy (right) hands one of many water bottles to Alexis. The team of 15 ranged in age from 14 to their mid-50s, and the trip truly became a family experience for many of them.

However, the uncertainty of COVID and all that came with it didn’t change the fact that the pastors had formed a strong friendship with the church in Ponce—partly an answer to their questions. In the year that followed, CC Northeast began to pray for the door to open for a return trip to Puerto Rico. The prayers were answered by the second trip. Part of the team assisted Ms. Emmy, shoring up some flooring and finishing out the basement; other members helped make upgrades and repairs to the church property, including to bunkhouses for mission teams and displaced local residents; some prepared meals at the church.

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Pastor Jimmy shares a hammer with Nathan, Ms. Emmy's grandson who lives nearby. Nathan enjoyed being the center of attention. Despite language barriers, the CC Northeast team communicated well and experienced sweet fellowship with Ms. Emmy’s family and at the church.

A Small Leap

Brennan explained, “Puerto Rico is a mission field that functions like foreign missions without the difficulty and complexity in costs.” The flight is less than three hours from their airport in South Carolina, and, in theory, a person could be there and back in a single day if needed. Logistically, this enables the church to send groups with relative ease. CC Northeast believes the Lord will use this locational advantage to permit the church to serve her Caribbean neighbors well.

Jimmy added, “I think these trips can be used as a great introduction to international missions. We recognize that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, but it’s also a place that’s outside our comfort zones, with people who live, act, and speak differently than we do. It’s a great example of how Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, binds people together regardless of their ability to communicate with each other.”

The 2021 team included 15 people ranging in age from 14 to their mid-50s, a good mix of younger and older, black and white, male and female, Jimmy emphasized. Not only that, but families travelled together; both pastors brought children. “It was really neat to experience as a family to share that time together,” he enthused. “It’s not just ‘Do as I say,’ but us leading the way for our children. It was huge for me to have my daughter there.”

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Karis plays with Nathan, who also wanted to help with everything.

Love, the International Language

Despite language barriers, the team enjoyed services and corporate worship with members of Iglesia Bautista. They couldn’t sing the Spanish lyrics but recognized some songs and sang along in English. “It was a glimpse of the throne room in heaven,” Brennan said with sincere joy, “people from every tribe and tongue coming together.”

Krista and Ruth, a mother-daughter team on the trip, were invited to lead a couple of songs in English, Jimmy shared. He humorously recalled a time when he and Whitney, another team member, quickly google “translated” the Spanish lyrics into English “to understand what we were singing. As we knew what we were singing, we then tried to follow what was on the screen.” The language differences during worship weren’t awkward, he reflected. “We were singing to His glory and about His grace and mercy, … and the Holy Spirit does the rest. It really did turn out to be a special and sweet time of worship. Love for one another is an international language. People understand that.”

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Ruth plays with more of Ms. Emmy’s grandchildren.

Future Trips

CC Northeast is planning to return to Ponce in February/March 2022. “The goal is to continue to build the relationship with Iglesia Bautista, hopefully a couple of times a year for as long as we’re able to go,” Jimmy stated. Teams will, naturally, check in on Ms. Emmy and her son. Brennan and Jimmy are also looking into reaching out to an unreached community further in the mountains and expanding a relationship with a community center near Ponce that has experienced setbacks for many years.

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Alexis shows Nathan her cell phone.

Encouraging Discipleship

Beyond serving the church in Puerto Rico, the leadership at CC Northeast sees another purpose to these mission trips—to act as a catalyst for discipleship. They expose believers to a culture where the Lord is working through the faith of believers facing challenges we are not used to facing in our own homes. As Brennan put it, it is “disciples being discipled by making disciples.”

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Ephesians 2:1

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Ms. Emmy (right) brings a plate of food to a team member, continuing the gracious hospitality she demonstrated throughout the trip.

Observing the enormous faith of brothers and sisters in Christ in another part of the world challenged Brennan to understand that one of the reasons the church should go into foreign countries is to grow as disciples. He shared, “We don’t look at foreign missions only as a way to get the Gospel to the far reaches, but also as a way to give participants a perspective on their own culture and surroundings.”

In other words, Brennan noted, while God certainly uses us to go into all the world and share the Gospel, He also uses those experiences to build up our own faith. Brennan went on to challenge the Church as a whole to consider that when we are confronted with believers who are “on fire” for the Lord in a culture other than our own, we obtain “greater boldness to reach our local community because our eyes are opened.”

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Karis and Ruth show Jesus’ love by playing with the children.

Jimmy described the power behind the 2021 team. “It is a picture of the body of Christ as a whole, where each of us played our different parts. Each of us had our different strengths and weaknesses, but we worked together. Supernaturally, people are able to come together for the sake of the Gospel. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to do things that we could never do alone.”

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

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San Juan, the beautiful capital of Puerto Rico (pictured here), is nearly a three-hour drive from Ponce, in the south.

                  


To learn more about Calvary Chapel Northeast visit their website at ccnortheast.org

                  

 

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2021 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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