January 24, 2023

Hello from Puerto Rico. This is the first blog of the new year. Each month our goal, with God's grace, is to write a line or two, just a two or three minute read. Thanks for stopping by. 

Looking back into December, there were quite a few events that transpired. One of the most significant was a concert by the Viruet family. These people live less than a minute from our place. A few years ago I made their acquaintance and discovered the gentleman, Orlando, is an amazing "cuatro" (similar to a mandolin, more or less) player. For years now we have made sure he would play each Christmas season for the church. He and his band did a beautiful job. Also, one of the new church members, a great singer of Puerto Rican Christmas carols, left the people with open mouths. After his first song and a long applause, the people wanted more! So...we used him every week over the Christmas season. 

Youth drama
The youth presented a drama the first of January instead of me preaching. They did a great job! At the end of the service three of the men dressed as the Three Kings gave gifts to the children. Also, in one of those Sunday services, the musicians dressed down somewhat and put on a "pava" (sombrero) and played the part of "jibaros", country musicians. We had a lot of fun. 

On the 25th of December I asked our Benevolence team to wrap up one-hundred and fifty t-shirts that had been given to the church to bless people in the community. Originally, we had planned a Christmas caravan with the musicians playing from the bed of an open-air truck. Four-hundred and fifty bags of candy had been prepared to pass out on the night of the event. During the week as the band set up for a practice, we received a call from the "cuatro" player and his daughter, the primary singer for the group. They explained they had to cancel due to a death of a close family member. Their input was vital so we had to scrap the event. Yet, not all was lost. We passed out the t-shirts and candy to the families of the church and they passed them on to neighbors, friends, family. 

Three Kings giving happiness
Backing up a little more, a couple of months ago we had put up external solar lights at the church building. They lit up the building and grounds really nicely. It was a disappointment to arrive at the building one Sunday morning to discover every last light had been stolen...about a $1,000.00 worth. I think back to when I was a child/youth. Such a thing was unheard of! As our society ignores or turns away from God, much of our freedoms are lost. Once a preacher said, "People don't want freedom for religion. They want freedom from religion." He was right, and now we find ourselves in bondage in so many ways. How can this be better!

This weekend is our annual youth retreat. A total of sixteen people are attending the event. Prayers for blessings flow from our lips daily.

In early December over ninety percent of the congregation signed up for participation in at least two of seventeen ministries for 2023. Several are plugged in to the youth retreat this weekend. 
Church band

We have been having a few visitors the past few weeks. They have arrived just when our attendance has dipped due to travels off island, flu and COVID. I couldn't help but say "rats" 😄. However, as someone somewhere said, "And this too shall pass." And besides, the Lord has the final word. We also had a wedding over the holidays. One of our musicians/worship leaders tied the knot. It was a beautiful occasion.

Some of my time, like for all preachers and missionaries, has been spent organizing and planning the church calendars throughout the first half of the year. That includes the events calendar, preaching calendar, youth calendar, schedules and calendars for the participants for the seventeen ministries being untaken this year.  

That also has included getting the new church directory ready to pass out. We have forty-eight families that compose the congregation.     

Finally, to close "shop" for now, we were blessed to have out son, Ben, and his wife, Tiffany, over the holidays. It was a great Christmas. Well, I should stop. This is starting to stretch out a little long.  Blessings! 
Bob Gurwell

Okay... one more thing. A dear friend of ours and a director of Latin America ministries for Good New Productions, Robert Gurwell, passed on a week or so ago. He will be missed for a LONG time by people in many places. Certainly that will be the case in Puerto Rico.  Committed people of God leave their mark...and so he did! He was a wonderful man! I wish you could have known him! I felt the need to honor him in this simple way. 

I have added a few photos below for those of you who want to take a peek. Okay, I am done!

Johnathan and Mary

Jan/ Feb decorations at the church

Worship leader's wedding day

Our sons: Guys' day out fishing

Singing Christmas carols...two generations
I loved it!

Wishing well: A local beach in town

Sugar Pier: Built in the 50's: 
Aguadilla bay

December 20

Well, it happened again: another year is coming to an end and 2023 is just over the horizon. Much transpired in 2022; but let me focus on just the last thirty days in this update.

Thanksgiving was right around the corner when our last letter was distributed. The Thanksgiving church event was good, with an uplifting service and a traditional feast on the church grounds. The church is blessed with a big lawn, so we hold such events outside. The attendance was just short of eighty, almost like “old times” before two hurricanes, an earthquake and two and a half years of Covid. Our theme, or motto, for 2023 is: “…straining forward to what lies ahead…” (Php 3:13). A lot of churches, everywhere, have taken a hit in recent years. It is worrisome. Yet we are called to plant and water, and as we read in Corinthians: GOD GIVES THE INCREASE. So we are finishing up 2022 with enthusiasm and ready to move into 2023.

I firmly believe that every Christian has a calling to serve the Lord, in the church and in the community. That is why we have had a ministry fair for many years. The exception was
the last two years; hampered, due to Covid, but we decided it was time to put on our boots and hats and get everyone engaged, to get busy. This year there are seventeen ways for church members to be involved. So far, the sign-up has been at over 90% with only a few "stragglers" remaining. It will be a good year and I am convinced God blesses those who want to serve Him.

December has been filled with Puerto Rican Christmas music - aguinaldos - at church. Several in the church do a fine job leading the festive services. One short drama, written by yours truly, was presented by three of our church leaders. Another drama, which will be presented by the youth, is in the works for the 1st of January. This Sunday, the 25th, we are looking forward to an annual concert by a fine musician who plays a traditional, guitar-like instrument known as a "cuatro". Also, over the next two weeks, our musicians will be doing some Christmas caroling from the back of a flatbed truck moving throughout the area. It is a first for me.

Our son and his wife from the States are here for Christmas so we could not be happier. Our entire family will be together. In closing, blessings to all of you. Thank you for your interest in our lives and work in PR. We are blessed. This year we completed 50 years living and working in PR.

Until 2023...

Johnathan and Mary Reece 

Here are a few extra photos of Puerto Rico. Click to expand

Golondrinas Beach ten minutes from our home
(Taken by Johnathan Reece)

Another perspective of Golondrinas Beach
(Taken by Ben Reece)

Buye Beach on west side of the island
(Photographer unlisted)