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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Embracing diversity builds strong community in San Juan


Coffee shop is an instrument for social change, advocacy and education

May 27, 2017

A trilogy of ordinary people is creating some extraordinary results in a San Juan neighborhood.

This was beautifully illustrated by three special guests of the World Mission Competencies in Domestic Ministry ministerial team during March’s Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meeting in San Juan. The Rev. Nancy Ramsay chairs the committee.

The team was hosted at Iglesia Presbiteriana en Camarones by San Juan pastor Raul Santiago-Rivera, who invited the speakers to illustrate the way members of the San Juan community are coming together to live out their faith, embrace diversity and advocate for social justice. Guests included the Rev. Dr. Agustina Luvis, professor of theology at Evangelical Seminary of San Juan; the Rev. Arelis Cardona, pastor of Monteflores Presbyterian Church; and Ruling Elder Amilcar Cotto, a local entrepreneur. Cotto knows the other two well—Luvis was his seminary professor and Cardona is his pastor. Santiago-Rivera has been his friend since he attended seminary.

The original Latte Que Latte location serves more than 3,500 cups of coffee each week. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

Cotto owns “Latte que Latte” coffee shop. Just two months ago he opened a second location, Café Lab at Guaynabo. It’s called Café Lab because it’s a social experiment. He uses these two small businesses as a platform for advocacy and social change, and per many, he serves a pretty good cup of coffee—about 3,500 of them each week. He completed a degree in religious studies but was forced to drop out of seminary due to a family illness, so he began to look for other ways to live out his faith. The path he chose was not at all surprising to his longtime friend.

“He carries Christ’s theology and gospel wherever he goes,” Santiago-Rivera said. “I truly believe Amilcar preaches every day. He just does not preach from behind a pulpit.”

Cotto fashioned his business model around Biblical values. For instance, he offers jobs to those who are struggling with addiction, unemployment and homelessness. He’s proud that the coffee shop can help people faster than the government can. One employee who was homeless for 15 years had a permanent place to live within two weeks of starting work at Latte Que Latte.

Ruling Elder Amilcar Cotto (right) sits with his friend Raul Santiago-Rivera. Both preach but just one of them does it from a pulpit. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

And then there’s the “Coffee Forward” program. Customers can buy a cup of coffee for themselves and pay for another cup for someone who can’t afford it. When they don’t come in for the coffee, Cotto takes it to the neighborhood and uses it as a way to begin conversations and witness his faith. He calls it his therapy. Whatever money is left over is used to provide food for those who need it.

Cotto also started the “Pinky Promise” program, where he teaches others how to start successful businesses and how to become advocates of change. Most recently he brought together artists to do free performances based on social justice themes.

Cotto is a ruling elder at Ramon Olivo Memorial Presbyterian Church—also known as Monteflores—which also hosts the only Korean Presbyterian Church on the island. It is in a primarily Dominican neighborhood.

Cotto not only learned to embrace diversity from his church and pastor, but also his former theology instructor, Luvis. She serves as professor of systematic, feminist and Caribbean theology at Evangelical Seminary in San Juan and is a Pentecostal minister ordained to teach.

“We must recognize and respect others. It’s really the process of humanization,” Luvis said. “We live in a world that is inter-religious and inter-ethnic. We need to work toward embracing diversity. That’s the thing I want students in my classes to understand. This allows them to affirm the community of God in every community and every culture. God saves in many ways. All cultures have a place in God’s heart.”

Kathy Melvin, director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Coffee Shop in San Juan, PR

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Mission Co-workers

Leslie Vogel, Guatemala
Leisa Wagstaff, South Sudan
Esther Wakeman, Thailand

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Anna Edlin, FDN                                                                                          
Joe Edmiston, PMA                   

Let us pray:

Lord, please nurture peace and unity in our world and help church leaders and members understand that strength and large size are not required to carry forth your Word to a world in need of knowing your grace, love and compassion. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 92; 149
First Reading Ezekiel 3:4-17
Second Reading Hebrews 5:7-14
Gospel Reading Luke 9:37-50
Evening Psalms 23; 114