We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

Wounded Healer in a Dark Community

Puerto Rican chaplain ministers to the hurting and needy around her in tangible ways.

The woes faced by those living in Guaynabo, a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, are similar to those in just about any world metropolis: crime, poverty, homelessness, single motherhood, domestic violence, ubiquitous drugs and alcohol — with the next generation poised to repeat the cycle.

Beyond urban blight, the working-class community on the northern coast of Puerto Rico faces the wild card of hurricanes. That also makes the region vulnerable to tsunamis, a remote but real threat.

Isabel López López, 70, grew up in this community and knows its people and its needs. A single mom, she still lives in Guaynabo with Félix Luis, her adult special-needs son, near a public housing project known as an epicenter of crime and drug activity. After her retirement 22 years ago from working with the language pathology program faculty at the medical sciences campus of the University of Puerto Rico, she sought a means to give back to Guaynabo through her church, Templo Smirna (Smyrna Temple), which is among the oldest Assemblies of God congregations on the island.

López became a licensed AG minister. As a U.S. Missions community chaplain for the Puerto Rico District, today she serves the city and surrounding area. She also works in her district’s Missions Division.

“It takes compassion and care to be a community chaplain,” says Manny Cordero, senior director of Chaplaincy Ministries. He describes López as a “wounded healer.”

She has had a passion for the disenfranchised, marginalized, people hurting in any way, family members taking care of people with needs,” Cordero says. “Because of what she’s gone through, the Lord has used that to minister through her to the community. In this difficult community, she’s been a light in the darkness.”

Community chaplains are relatively new to the U.S. Assemblies of God. As credentialed ministers, they work with services providers in their community — police officers, firefighters, in courthouses, with ambulance service, in corporate settings, in the marketplace. Community chaplaincy adapts to suit the needs of a given locale. Through Templo Smirna, Lopez is active in ongoing emergency preparedness should disaster strike.

“My goal is to preach the Word and bring help to the most in need,” López says.

Her chaplaincy ministry during the past five years has included a variety of outreaches in Guaynabo and beyond, from preaching on the streets with others from her church to administering Communion to the homebound. Her service as a chaplain began with ministry at El Refugio Home, a women’s shelter in Guaynabo. She leads women’s Bible studies and is a regular part of evangelism outreaches to residents living in low-income housing and to the elderly. Sometimes that involves taking food to the hungry and clothing to those in need.

In the community at large, perhaps the biggest stronghold López faces is addiction. Residents in the housing projects, even those who aren’t Christian, regard her as their “pastorcita.” They know her phone number and come to her for social services requests, spiritual questions, and prayer needs.

“Some don’t accept the Lord, because they’re deep into vice,“ Lopez says. “But the people are always open to prayer.” As a result, many have come to faith in Christ and become involved in church.

“Being able to save souls for Christ on the verge of death fills me with much gratitude to God,” López says. “The time that I have left in this world will definitely be to serve God and those in need.”

 IMAGE: Lopez ministers to many people in her community, such as the single mother pictured. 

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.