New London – In the days and weeks following Hurricane Maria which hit and devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Reverend Jesus Garcia did what he had done throughout his career with the church: he stepped in and provided all possible help to his community.
Carolina, Puerto Rico, was her community. It was there that he lived with his wife and two children and where he was the senior pastor of the Iglesia Bautista in Metropolis, the same church he attended as a child.
Garcia lived through the hurricane with local residents and spent his time organizing reconstruction efforts, leading hundreds of volunteers to help clean up debris, repair homes, and distribute food and essential supplies to areas hard hit. Most people in the area have spent weeks without electricity.
âI was raised in this community. I’m always more in the community than in my office, âGarcia said. âI want to be submerged. This is the only way to know the needs of the people and to be effective. That’s what the church does, help and serve.
Now the 47-year-old has left Puerto Rico and brought his community spirit to New London, where he will lead the town’s church, a Baptist church that, like his former church in Puerto Rico, shares an affiliation with the American Baptist churches in the United States.
Garcia, who has served in his church in Puerto Rico since 1997, will be officially installed Sunday at 11 a.m. as the city’s new senior pastor in a ceremony at his home at 250 State Street. Garcia assumes the duties of retired Senior Pastor, Reverend Daniel Martino.
Martino, 61, has led the church for the past 21 years, starting when the church was known as the Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana of New London, or the First Hispanic Baptist Church. The church’s first house was in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, but it then built a new, larger house on Redden Avenue in 2002.
The church flourished under Martino’s leadership and quickly overtook the Redden Avenue space. At the same time, the membership of the First Baptist Church was declining and the two decided to merge in 2012. The First Hispanic Baptist Church took over the site of the First Baptist Church on State Street and purchased the adjacent Bank building. of America.
It was then that the church became the town’s church, which continues to offer services in Spanish and English. Garcia is expected to lead Spanish services, while Pastor Antonio Vargas Jr. continues to lead English services.
Martino said a church committee unanimously chose Garcia as the right fit for the job and he wholeheartedly agreed with the choice.
âHe’s dynamic. He is nice. He is a people-oriented person and has experience. Pastor Jesus Garcia is a champion in community engagement. He’s good, âMartino said. “He’s not like me but we have a lot of similarities.”
The two shared a few laughs while talking about each other in a recent joint interview.
âI use a tie; it doesn’t, âMartino said.
âHe doesn’t use a tie now because I’m here, but he usually uses a tie. I think he was born with a tie, âGarcia said. âI don’t use a tie. They’re trying to push me, so we’re working on it.
Garcia joins a church with a solid foundation in the community and also one that seeks to expand its presence while adapting, like other churches, to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
âI think one of the challenges for the church is to get back to normal after the pandemic,â Garcia said. âA lot of people stay at home. This prompted more churches, including this one, to go online. “
Martino said the virtual services offered by the church are likely to remain.
Garcia, who has a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in divinity, is a longtime resident of Puerto Rico and has visited but never lived in the United States. A notable visit to the United States was in 2005, when it led more than two dozen volunteers to Louisiana to help communities suffering from the impact of Hurricane Katrina.
He will be in New London for a while without his family. His wife, Bethzaida Perez, is completing her Masters in Social Work in Puerto Rico. Her two children, Fabian and Alejandro, are both in college, one in the United States and the other in Puerto Rico.
For the moment, the ecclesial community is his family.
âIt was great, very welcoming,â Garcia said of the support he received. “I’m very grateful.”
âOne of the things that attracted me to this church is the vision. I don’t have to make it all up,â he said. “This church wants to continue working with the community. It’s up to my strength.”