Students Find Church Home At Puerto Rico Kroc Center

A group of college students from Universidad Interamericana became soldiers (members) of The Salvation Army on dedication day, last October, for the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Guayama, Puerto Rico. Another student, Grace de Armas, was enrolled in February. This article is based on interviews with five of the young adults. 

Alexis Colón recently graduated from college. But he counts joining The Salvation Army as “the most important achievement in my life” because it has given him the opportunity to help others and to serve.

In Guayama, Puerto Rico, The Salvation Army has attracted a number of university students who have become soldiers. Alexis first visited because he had heard that the Army in Guyama had church services. But the rest of the students had no idea that the Army was a place of worship. What they did know about was the Army’s red kettles at Christmas, its thrift stores, and its reputation for helping people.

Several students came to the Army for the first time at the invitation of friends.

Alexis invited Luis Ortiz, and he brought Mykaella Morales. David Mendrell received invitations from two friends.

Grace de Armas first came to the Army because her boyfriend was going to church there and kept inviting her.

“I kept saying no because my family is Catholic, and I thought they would get mad at me,” she says.

‘Arms Wide Open’

What made the students come back after their first visit was a sense of welcome—and love.

“The kindness of the people of the church appealed to me,” says Luis.

“I was attracted by the people of the church because of the way they treated me,” Alexis says. “I felt as if I was part of a family.”

Grace agrees. “They received me with arms wide open. I wasn’t judged, and I was impressed with how many people they help.”

Majors Juan and Lydia Mercado, the Kroc Center administrators, were important factors in why David and Mykaella came back.

“Since I entered the door of The Salvation Army, [they] treated me as if they had always known me,” says David.

“What first attracted me … was the loving and caring that the Mercados showed me,” says Mykaella. “They trusted me and they wanted to help me, and I was hungry for the love of Christ.”

Ways to the Lord

The students come from very different faith backgrounds.

David, who grew up as part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, remembers the day his life changed.

“On Sept. 17, 2007, I met the Lord,” he says. A girl he was interested in had invited him to a Pentecostal church, where he gave his life to Jesus.

Luis first met the Lord at age 6 but became “lost in the world with the wrong people.”

Mykaella was “raised in the Gospel” by her grandmother and found the Lord for herself early, at age 11. As a teen, she strayed when “the enemy tempted me to get into wrong things.”

But at 18, she says, “I had an encounter with the Lord when my heart needed forgiveness and the love of Christ. Christ forgave me and saved me with His love.”

Grace didn’t have any experience with church as a kid aside from going to a youth group, where she received no teaching and didn’t feel comfortable.

Now she’s involved in youth ministries and drama at the Kroc Center.

“I want to know Him more, do things the right way, and serve Him,” she says.

Alexis says, “I had an experience with the Lord after I turned 17, and I was healed by His glory.”

Staying in God’s Army

He plans to continue being involved with The Salvation Army, as does Luis.

“I will never part from The Salvation Army,” he says. “My family is very proud [that I am a soldier]. My mother is now visiting the Army with me and is hoping to become a soldier too.”

Grace, who plans to become a pharmacist and continue with her “hobby” of acting after she graduates, enjoys the community center side of the Kroc as well as the church.

“The Kroc Center enriches my life in various ways,” she says. “I can come here with my family and friends and have fun in an active and healthy way. I have the option to get in shape, be part of activities, and be a volunteer, among other things.”

The $20–million, 85,000–square–foot facility, which opened in the fall, has a full schedule of activities, a gym, a pool, and a café, plus a theater that also serves as the chapel.

David is part of the choir at the Kroc Center and works with kids and in the red kettle campaign and thrift store.

After graduation, he hopes to become a Salvation Army officer/pastor.

“I know there are big things coming,” he says.

Mykaella hopes to be a psychologist.

She says the love of the people at the Kroc Center has changed her.

“They are my family; they see in me a lot of potential that I’ve never seen before. It has become the base for me to get closer to the Lord.”

About her new church family, she says, “They are my other half.”

by Linda D. Johnson


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