The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America celebrated the culmination of its Year of the Child and Adolescent initiatives and activities during a program broadcast online last weekend in Miami, Florida. The event drew church leaders and regional directors from across the Inter-American Division (IAD) territory on December 8, 2018, to wrap up a year that reinforced Christian values and encouraged youngsters to study, live, and share the message of the gospel with their friends and neighbors.
The 12-month-long initiative took children and adolescents through a journey into the 66 books of the Bible. It also featured "The Talking Backpack," a program that allowed children and adolescents to earn patches and pins as they studied and learned character-building traits such as truthfulness, courtesy, respect, gratefulness, forgiveness, punctuality, service, responsibility, obedience, integrity, optimism, and kindness through various activities at local churches as well as Adventist schools throughout the territory.
The patches and pins were displayed on special backpacks worn by many youngsters, giving an opportunity for friendship and witnessing wherever the children went, explained Dinorah Rivera, children and adolescent ministries director for the church in Inter-America.
This initiative was intended to create more awareness of the importance of involving children in all facets of the church for mission, according to Rivera. “It’s about preparing children to uphold values and principles that a Christian should have, help them strive to possess a character like Jesus, learn to have a spirit of service and mission as well as become part of the church’s commission to reach others for the kingdom of God,” she said.
IAD president Elie Henry congratulated regional directors, teachers, and all who served in making the initiative a successful one in Inter-America.
"What a wonderful way to preach Christ by sharing what children have learned in schools, churches, and at home throughout this year to lead a Christian life," Henry said. “God needs to be important in our lives, and He seeks faithful witnesses in adults and children as well.”
Initiative leaders followed a manual, used a box of values, patches, pins, backpacks, and a mobile application called VE.app, which provided activities, verses, messages, and games that reinforced the monthly character trait emphasized every week and month of the year.
According to Rivera, more than 12,000 children and adolescents accepted Christ as their personal Savior through the efforts of this initiative. "We have been blessed beyond measure with this initiative, and we give God the glory," she said.
Rivera explained that the initiative falls under the IAD’s “Lord Transform Me” initiative, which includes connecting and sharing the hope of salvation across communities as well as helping to get every member involved in the mission of the church.
The online event featured union conference directors reporting on the success of the initiative in their respective territory and the impact children had in their neighborhoods and schools. Sandra Pinto of the South Colombia Union reported that more than 11,000 children and adolescents took part in the initiative, resulting in 1,157 baptisms so far. In North Colombia, Zorayda Perez reported that more than 10,700 young people registered for the program through schools, vacation Bible schools, and churches during the year's initiative.
Among the children featured during the program was Katie Willie of Waramadong in Guyana, who at 10 years old witnessed in the only public school in her village. Katie said all she did was share with others what she was learning.
“Katie would pray and encourage her classmates to be good and learn about character traits that could make them a better person like Jesus,” said Debra Henry, children and adolescent ministries director for the church in the Caribbean Union territory. Some 30 children took part in the initiative in Katie’s village, and her mother began attending church again, Henry said.
In El Salvador, more than 8,000 children took part in the initiative, which resulted in 2,224 baptisms. Perla Cardoza, children and adolescent ministries director in El Salvador, reported that six public schools in each of the church’s conference and mission territories adopted the program and will continue reinforcing the character traits studied in “The Talking Backpack” initiative. One district has 13 churches that are each adopting a public school to lead the initiative once a month during the next school year, which begins in February, Cardoza reported.
Children and adolescents from each union conference territory who gave outstanding service in completing the initiative were honored with a certificate, a trophy, and a new backpack.