The U.S. Foursquare Church welcomed a newcomer this week, announcing at Foursquare Connection 2022 that the board of directors has approved a proposal to accept Puerto Rican congregations as U.S. Foursquare members.

This merger is important on several levels, says Ricky Navarro, mission mobilizer for the National Hispanic District (NHD). He says this gives pastors on the Caribbean island an opportunity to participate in their own country’s church. Although Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory, its residents have had citizenship for more than a century and look at themselves as Americans, Ricky says.

“We are a family,” the native of Puerto Rico states. “We want to be part of the U.S. church for our identity.” He notes that Puerto Ricans want to develop further so they can contribute to the Great Commission, not just receive.

Indeed, they bring something to the table, says J.R. Gonzalez, Southeast regional pastor for the NHD. A pastor in the Orlando, Fla., area, he hopes to see folks from Puerto Rico at the district’s Foursquare Leader Conference, to be held Sept. 15-17 in Charlotte, N.C.

“With their Spanish culture, they will be able to influence many American churches,” J.R. states. “It will bring a taste of the islands to us, which will be a blessing. They have a lot to teach us.” He adds that the exchange will help Puerto Ricans, as well, by providing them access to resources and organizational skills.

When J.R. and his wife, Grace, visited the island after Hurricane Maria in 2017, they kept in mind that their purpose was not to change the people, but to give them tools they could use. “They’re becoming part of us, but we have to keep in mind that we’re to protect their culture,” the regional pastor asserts.

“Expansion and growth are the big opportunities. It will be an opportunity to plant more churches and have more direct connections. It can expand Puerto Rico’s leadership capabilities by connecting them with other leaders from around the U.S.” —Martin Ruarte, supervisor of the National Hispanic District

Bill Gross, a former Southeast District supervisor who traveled to the island after Hurricane Maria, says the merger is a big deal for Puerto Rico. It confirms the hard work they’ve done after a succession of devastating storms in recent years, he says.

One thing that became apparent during Bill’s visit was how much residents of Puerto Rico wanted fellowship with the larger Foursquare family and to learn things they could adapt to their culture.

“For the U.S. Church, any time it has a chance to work with others, it broadens our world view,” states Bill, who now serves as Foursquare’s culture coach. “Anything that broadens our connection and helps us understand others is a huge benefit.”

NHD Supervisor Martin Ruarte, who will oversee Puerto Rico, sees many advantages to the merger. Puerto Rico’s National Leader Ruben Nieves will become a regional pastor, and the integration will establish a stronger connection with the U.S. mainland, Martin says.

“Expansion and growth are the big opportunities,” Martin explains. “It will be an opportunity to plant more churches and have more direct connections. It can expand Puerto Rico’s leadership capabilities by connecting them with other leaders from around the U.S.”

The history of Foursquare on the island stretches back to 1931. After struggles during the Depression, and after several changes of leadership, the board encouraged Foursquare’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson, to shut down the work. She resisted because of a check in her spirit, according to The Vine and the Branches by Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Th.D.

In 1943, Nathaniel, his wife, Lois, and their children traveled there to revive Foursquare’s work, which by 1967 reached 68 churches. A time of crisis followed over the next 15 years, with Foursquare dwindling to three congregations.

However, new leadership helped Foursquare survive.

Today, Ricky says, two churches from other denominations are preparing to join the four existing churches, with another in the planning stage. Last year, FMI Missionaries Daniel and Yolanda Rivera arrived in Arecibo to start a new Dream Center.

“The vision is 78 churches because there are 78 municipalities,” Ricky states. “The Lord gave me a word in 2004: ‘It’s time to plant churches.’ God was building a bridge. It’s a two-way bridge. It’s not just people coming to the island, but people from the island coming stateside.”

Ken Walker is a freelance writer and book editor in Huntington, W.Va.