Editor’s note: This is the final story in a series by news editor Andrew McChesney about how Seventh-day Adventists in South America are using technology to spread the gospel.
By day, Roberto Roberti is a police officer.
By night — and every other chance he gets — he browses the most popular Facebook page in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, replying to readers’ comments and questions.
His volunteer work on the Portuguese-language Facebook page of the South American Division has resulted in 45 baptisms since last July.
Roberti, 42, cuts an imposing figure: tall, muscular, with a determined thrust to his jaw. You wouldn’t want to mess with him on the street, even when he’s off duty in the suburbs of São Paulo, Brazil.
But Roberti also has a gentle smile and a deep baritone voice that quickly gains people’s confidence. Crucially, he also knows the intricacies of winning hearts online. His secret? Replying to people’s questions immediately, he said.
“People using the Internet want quick answers,” Roberti said. “A growing number of people are asking questions on Facebook after I started this job. The secret is I answer very quickly.”
Adventist believers in South America are known within the world church for their innovative use of technology to share the gospel. But Roberti is on the frontlines of what he views as a largely untapped goldfield: simply responding to users’ comments on Facebook.
He and three fellow volunteers have their work cut out for them. With 1.09 million likes, the Portuguese-language Facebook page of the South American Division is the most-followed Facebook page in the Adventist Church. The page focuses mainly on Brazil, while the division also has a Spanish-language page for the other countries on its territory. Nearly 200 people have been baptized through the combined work of Roberti and the other three volunteers over the past 16 months.
Roberti, a police officer for 22 years, said he got involved with Adventist social media shortly after his baptism in 2010 because he wanted to spare other people the fears that he had experienced in reading the Bible for the first time.
“I wanted to share the new hope that I had learned in the Adventist Church with others,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of a recent GAiN conference of Adventist communications specialists from across South America, held in Sao Paulo.
Roberti first volunteered to help answer readers’ questions on the Adventist website bibliaonline.net (now biblia.com.br), and later was invited to help with websites and Facebook pages connected to Novo Tempo, the Brazilian channel in the church’s Hope Channel network. Several dozen people were baptized through his work at Novo Tempo.
Roberti joined the South American Division’s Facebook page in 2015.
“I reply when people leave a message on Facebook, and if they show interest in more information, I offer Bible studies by e-mail,” he said.
The work can be time-consuming. He writes about 100 messages a day, about half on Facebook and the rest in follow-up inquiries and Bible studies by e-mail.
Replying quickly to questions is key on Facebook, he said. Roberti, who is married and has three children, wakes up early to check Facebook and a Gmail account that the church uses for social media correspondence.
One morning he found that a young woman, Elena, had written on Facebook that she wished to get baptized. Less than two hours after she wrote, he had replied with an invitation to begin preparatory Bible studies by e-mail. About four months later, she was baptized.
Meanwhile, two other young women saw Elena’s Facebook post and left comments expressing their own interest in baptism. Roberti also invited them to study the Bible. Both are now baptized members of the Adventist Church.
Elena is among the three moderators who work with Roberti on the division’s Facebook page. Roberti is training 20 more people to work as moderators — all who were baptized after reaching out to the Adventist Church over Facebook.
“There are many people who are curious about the Bible, and they really want to know the truth,” Roberti said. “I can do a lot by myself, but can you imagine if there were many more of me?”
Many of the people who post questions on Facebook are Millennials, and they speak in e-mail conversations about being depressed, suicidal, or desperate to escape broken families, he said.
“I invite these people to draw close to God through the study of the Bible, and this changes their lives,” he said.
The anonymity of the Internet is important, especially for Millennials, he said, describing a current Bible student as a homosexual who is deeply unhappy and refuses to visit a church.
“But he can talk via the Internet from home,” Roberti said. “After several months of Bible studies, he has found that things are improving in his life.”
Roberti witnessed a remarkable conversion shortly after he began to work on Facebook that he said confirmed the importance of his work. A married couple living in a city with no Adventist church in Brazil’s southern state of Santa Catarina posted a question about the Bible. Roberti immediately invited them to study the Bible by e-mail.
When the topic reached the seventh-day Sabbath, the couple began pressing their pastor to explain why their church worshipped on Sunday. Soon the church’s other 28 members joined in the discussion, besieging the pastor with Sabbath questions.
“He couldn’t answer,” Roberti said. “He eventually left the city. He just abandoned the church.”
Roberti then contacted an Adventist pastor who lived near the city. The pastor visited the church and spoke with the members. All 30 members asked to get baptized.
“It became an Adventist church,” Roberti said.
Roberti wept when he heard the news.
“It was the same as whenever I hear that one of my Bible students wants to get baptized,” he said. “I started crying. It was all by God’s power that this happened.”