Thousands of Seventh-day Adventists took time off work to touch the lives of some 200,000 people during a record nine-day community outreach in 29 cities in Venezuela.
The goal was to see people smile amid difficult times in the South American country, said Josney Rodriguez, president of the Adventist Church in East Venezuela.
In the most comprehensive community drive ever to take place in the capital, Caracas, and 28 other eastern cities, more than 12,000 Adventists donated 1,295 pints of blood, planted dozens trees, offered free health screenings, held health expos, visited the sick in hospitals, brought cheer to those in nursing homes, and cleaned up parks and city streets, church leaders said.
Church members also knocked on doors, offered prayers, distributed pamphlets, cleaned beaches, organized a clothing drive, participated in a 5K walk through main streets, offered free haircuts, provided warm meals to the homeless, taught Vacation Bible School to thousands of children, and participated in a campaign to end violence against children. Mothers donated their breast milk as well.
“We wanted to let people know that there is a wonderful God who believes in us,” Rodriguez said. “We wanted to help our fellow humans with love.”
Sharing hope and serving others is the vision that the local church has embraced since mobilizing 3,000 volunteers in Caracas in 2013 for the first of what has become an annual community drive.
“This initiative awakened commitment in our church members, especially our young people, who have dedicated time, money, and their talents,” Rodriguez said.
The community and government have looked favorably on the church as a result, he said.
This year’s Aug. 1-9 event, called “Close to You, Venezuela: Smile, God Loves You,” was covered by more than 70 media organizations, including national television, radio, newspapers, and social media. Church leaders held several news conferences in Caracas and the surrounding cities in late July, and the church’s Esperanza TV Venezuela, an online channel, covered the daily activities.
Church leaders are already planning to expand the initiative to include more cities next year.
The East Venezuela Union is one of two major church regions in Venezuela with more than 146,400 Seventh-day Adventists worshiping in 539 churches and 275 congregations. The West Venezuela Union oversees the work of the church in the western part of the country.
Rodriguez said this year’s volunteers, who gathered in various cities to discuss their work at the end of the nine-day event, expressed joy and satisfaction in participating in the largest such effort ever undertaken by a religious denomination in Venezuela.
“We praise God for each one of the volunteers who took time to serve,” Rodriguez said. “They are the real heroes of hope.”