January 22, 2019

New Beginnings

I like beginnings. Whether opening a new box of Lego® blocks for my son and me to play with, starting a new responsibility at my church, or initiating another project for ADRA [Adventist Development and Relief Agency], it is always an exciting experience. It reminds me of the “beginning,” when God created the heavens and earth.

I distinctly remember March 29, 1999, the first day I worked for ADRA. It began an extraordinary sequence of new beginnings in my life.

After leaving a crying family and dozens of amazing friends at the airport, I took my first flight, alone, to Angola to start the biggest professional adventure of my life. During the eight-hour flight, many questions arose in my mind. What was I, a 23-year-old man who had just finished a business administration degree and had a promising career in the private sector, doing? The plane was taking me to a country devastated by forty years of war with thousands of people facing starvation. I have to confess, it was not my easiest flight.

In Angola, everything was new to me. A messy airport, extremely hot and wet weather, lots of noise, confusion, people asking for money, a lot of garbage on the streets, roads in terrible condition, and people darting in and out of the chaotic traffic. After the first briefing by the ADRA country director, my good friend Mário Oliveira, I went to visit the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps for the first time.

Luanda, the capital, was a city built for half a million people, but due to the war, had an estimated six million inhabitants at that time. Most of the newcomers were living in slums, others in family homes, but still, more than a million people were housed in dozens of IDP camps on the outskirts of the city. 

That first day with ADRA, I visited four of the camps and was overwhelmed by the terrible conditions these people were living in. Traumatized women who had seen their husbands kidnapped or murdered, hundreds of children who were orphans and alone in the world, and elderly people who cried for hope for the future.

There, on that first visit, in the middle of the most abject misery, I found the reason for that unforgettable beginning. God was calling me to be a blessing in the lives of those who didn’t have the same opportunities as I did. He called me to bring relief, hope, and new beginnings to these wonderful and joyful human beings who had run for their lives.

During the four months I worked on that project, we had many opportunities to help others. We worked in food distribution centers, assisted with primary health care for the people, initiated some education projects, strived to empower the children and advocate for their rights, and even had the chance to host the First Lady of the country while she visited our projects on Children’s Day. Nothing could give us more joy than seeing a new beginning in the lives of those who had no hope. That is the purpose of ADRA, to serve humanity so all may live as God intended.

As an ADRA network across Europe, we will walk together. In the same way as we did at the IPD camp in Luanda, we will provide humanitarian aid through service delivery, facilitate community development through the empowerment of communities, and conduct advocacy efforts by being a voice for those whose voice cannot be heard. 

The trends we see around us are quite challenging — the shrinking of civil society space, changes in the funding landscape, growing extremism in many countries and polarization in others — all of these are challenges that we will need to overcome.

I’m looking forward to 2019 and the great things God will accomplish through the ADRA offices, donors, and friends across Europe.

This commentary was originally posted on the Trans-European Division news site.