From ANN, April 20, 2016: The Seventh-day Adventist denomination baptized 4,012 new members during an evangelistic celebration in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 16, 2016. More than 20,000 witnessed the baptisms in the metropolitan city’s Estadio Universitario de Caracas (Caracas University Stadium), marking the culmination of eight months of intense evangelistic efforts across the East Venezuela Union.
Some traveled for more than 36 hours by boat, air, car or busloads to take part in the day’s festivities, recommit to sharing hope in their communities, and offer prayers for government leaders and the people in Venezuela.
“I am moved beyond words at the dedication of our church leaders, pastors and members just to be here,” said Josney Rodriguez, president of the denomination in the East Venezuela region. “It is no secret our members are struggling in so many ways, but their commitment to the mission of the church has been incredible to see.”
EVANGELISM WORK IN EAST VENEZUELA
It took pastors, small group leaders and lay members working together in the 5,000 small groups strung across the eight conferences and missions in East Venezuela to bring about evangelistic success, said Rodriguez. In Caracas alone, evangelistic efforts were held in 800 small groups leading to the 200 evangelistic reaping campaigns led by local and international evangelists from across the Inter-American Division.
One hundred new churches were also planted, thanks to the Global Mission pioneers who assisted in establishing new congregations across the union territory.
The event became the first of its kind organized by the church in Caracas, and the biggest evangelistic impact held in the 106-year history of Adventism in the country, added Rodriguez.
The day’s celebration was also part of an official launch of Inter-American Division’s five-year evangelism initiative to motivate its 3.8 million members to seek a daily transformation in Jesus, become more involved in the life of the church, and commit to sharing the love of Jesus in their communities.
PASTOR WILSON SPEAKS
Adventist denomination president Ted N.C. Wilson encouraged the gathering to seek a relationship with Jesus, study the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to bring about change in their lives. This was Wilson’s second visit to Venezuela. “Allow God to use you to make a difference in Venezuela and any other place you are at,” said Wilson, as he urged members to seek a transformation in Jesus every minute of the day.
“You have an opportunity to give people hope, to share encouragement and help people see a bright future ahead, in spite of the challenges you face every day,” Wilson said. “Allow God to use you to witness how God is changing the lives of people all around,” he added. “You may lose everything but you have Jesus and He can transform your life.”
As the new believers took their baptismal vote, each released a balloon as a testament of their commitment to following Jesus and pursuing a daily transformation in Christ. Helium balloons bore the logo of the church and a note with a verse and message of hope attached the string.
Wilson was then joined by IAD president Israel Leito as they witnessed pastors and church elders baptizing the new members in the 70 inflatable pools stationed across the outer edges of the stadium’s baseball field.
Freddy Morocoima, 22, was among those baptized. He traveled for nearly two days from La Gran Sabana, in southeastern Venezuela, to be part of the special celebration.
“I have this great joy in my heart today, I feel like a brand new person,” said Morocoima, who is from Mesek Meru, an indigenous community. He said his life was filled with anger, drinking and smoking just about every day, but one day his father-in-law invited him to attend a small group, which was having a week of prayer. “I was so impressed and moved by the message that I continued attending and began to feel a transformation take place in my life,” said Morocoima.
He feels God more than saved his life, because he was about to lose his wife and two small children. “My life has a new meaning, and I’ve left the bad habits behind,” said Morocoima, who works for the military. He dreams of becoming a pastor and reaching out to those in his community who are in need of a Savior.
Maria Iriza has found a peace she had been looking for most of her life. She says her story is long and one that started with her mother abandoning her at an early age, leaving her to live in the streets exposed to drugs and violence, to becoming a single mother at 15.
“My life changed when I began to study the ‘Faith of Jesus Bible Studies’ with a friend just a few weeks ago,” said Iriza. She was among hundreds who attended evangelistic campaigns in Caracas. During the evangelistic campaign last week at El Paraiso Adventist Church, she decided to give her heart to Jesus along with her husband,10-year-old son and four-year-old daughter. “In the course of just a week, I got married to my husband, God worked it so my husband does not have to work on Sabbath, and now I’m getting baptized today,” said Iriza.
“God took away my anger, my aggressive attitude and gave me peace. He teaches me every day to trust Him and let Him guide and protect me and my family in a powerful way as we raise our children to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.”
FAITHFULNESS IN VENEZUELA
There are 4,010 more stories of transformation in Venezuela—stories of faith, of new members taking a stand for God to see them through any crisis.
Ricardo Marin, secretary of the denomination in South Central American Union who oversees denominational affairs in Costa Rica and Nigaragua, says he saw first hand how church members in Venezuela are committed to trusting God even when they don’t have food to eat. Marin was among 51 ministers from throughout the IAD who traveled to Venezuela to lead out in reaping evangelistic campaigns last week. He was assigned to preach at the Adventist church in Alto del Aguila, in the outskirts of the city.
Marin was moved to learn that one member had not been able to buy food for over a week because her assigned day to purchase food was on the Sabbath day.
“She decided to trust God rather than to go buy on Sabbath, and had to go without,” said Marin. “I’ve been amazed to see all our members be filled with love and dedicated to sharing God’s love with what little they have or not have. They don’t care if they are hungry, they believe and trust in God,” added Marin. “I came to bless the people in the church with God’s Word, but I’ve been transformed and blessed with the outpouring of love and generosity,” said Marin, who has preached in Trinidad, Jamaica, Mexico and Central America every year with the Division’s evangelism initiative.
“The Lord provides, and I am so touched by the spirit of giving, the trust and loyalty to God that our members have,” said Rodriguez. After he taught Sabbath School at a church in Caracas on April 9, a member shared how she was praising God because she had not been able to buy food, but she found two plantains in her house; that was her meal. “Her strength is the same as our members all across our union territory. God has blessed us immensely and continues to do so even with the challenges we are facing.”
The denomination continues to grow in East Venezuela, with nearly 158,000 church members. The union has 112 pastors overseeing 814 congregations. “Many pastors have left the country, so we began a special training for head elders across the union so they can be fully equipped to lead our congregations with overseeing pastors.”
“God has done great things in Venezuela, and we are thankful that there is religious freedom here,” said Leito, who has traveled to the country dozens of times during his ministry in Inter-America. “We truly admire the spirit of our members in Venezuela, they remain faithful and are always cheerful in the midst of their challenges,” added Leito. The membership continuous to be generous in their tithes and offerings in Venezuela, he explained. “It’s just that when you convert the funds into dollars, the difference is very significant.”
Leito explained that years ago, a pastor’s salary was the equivalent of $1,400 dollars, and in recent years has dropped to about $25 dollars because of the currency devaluation. “We stand in thankfulness to God for how he continues to bless this committed membership in Venezuela.”
It was fitting to launch the Division’s five-year “Lord Transform Me” evangelism initiative in Caracas, commented Leito.
Rodriguez said it was no easy task to coordinate such a large gathering. “We saw miracles every step of the way from the time we began getting ready for the initiative with our leaders, pastors and lay members to coordinating every detail of the program in the stadium,” he added.
The celebration featured some 1,000 choir singers, 600 band players and a 200-member orchestra with musicians from across the union territory. Hundreds more offered health screenings for skin care and dental check ups during the afternoon hours, as part of their Cerca De Ti Caracas (or Close to you Caracas) community impact the church has organized over the past three years.
The event became one of the top trending topics on twitter in Venezuela, said Abel Marquez, communication director for the denomination in Inter-America, with more than 16,000 tweets on the event’s official hashtag #SenorTransformame.
The morning event was scheduled for satellite transmission, but due to technical issues, the transmission had to be postponed for a date later this month, explained Marquez.
“LORD TRANSFORM ME” INITIATIVE
“Lord Transform Me” has had an enormous impact in East Venezuela, said Balvin Braham, assistant to the IAD president for evangelism and organizer of the evangelism initiative. “The church here has taken on this initiative as their own and made it work successfully,” said Braham.
“It is a special moment in the life of the church in the IAD because their efforts are a clear example of how effective the initiative can be throughout the IAD territory,” explained Braham.
“Today the church in Inter-America will switch from its Vision One Million strategic evangelism initiative to Lord Transform Me initiative,” said Braham. “They are both different paradigms but the mission remains the same.”
Vision One Million, he explained, involved one million members trained to reach their communities and cities with the message of the second coming. It resulted in 1,041,165 baptisms during the 2010-2015 period. “The ‘Lord Transform Me,” is a personal prayer based on Romans 12:2 which focuses on the renewing of the mind in order for us to actually do what the Lord expects from us,” he added.
The initiative involves a collaborative effort of all the ministries of the church, where every spiritual initiative and church activity will strengthen the local church and its surrounding community, explained Braham.
“We are looking to motivate our church members to be totally involved in the mission of the church, being transformed in the way they live, in the way they worship, in the way they serve and proclaim the gospel, remaining connected and in readiness for the second Coming of Jesus Christ,” Braham added.
Church leaders are already looking forward to next year’s territory-wide impact scheduled to take place in the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union in early April.
Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the denomination’s world headquarters in Washington, DC. Featured image: Estadio Universitario de Caracas, Caracas, Venezuela, April 16, 2016. Photo credit: ANN/Libna Stevens/IAD.