The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Brazil recently inaugurated “Terra de Zion” [Zionland], the first Adventist theme park, which will focus on teaching children about sustainable development, healthy foods, and nature preservation.
In a special opening event, attended by the top leaders of the South American Division (SAD) church region and other regional church leaders, the ecological park opened its doors not far from São Paulo, a megacity with a population of 12 million and a metropolitan area of over 21 million.
As Bible-believing Christians, “we have always been invited to imagine what heaven will be like,” said reporter Lóren Vidal in explaining the rationale for the initiative in a television news report. “We have been told God is preparing wonderful things our minds cannot even comprehend—things that ‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard,’” she said, quoting 1 Corinthians 2:9 in the Bible.
“Even then, our eagerness for that moment to arrive drives us to at least imagine how a world without sin would be like,” Vidal said.
But we should also look back at our origins as humans, added Sidionil Biazzi, president of the São Paulo Conference church region, where the park is located. “We have been created to live in nature, in a garden,” he said. “And all of us carry that tiny seed inside.”
Looking to recreate that original state as we wait for God’s future recreation, Zionland set out to provide opportunities to reconnect with the natural world. The park includes an ecological trail, an organic garden, a “Fantastic Food Factory,” a zoo section where children will be able to get close-up and personal with animals, and a hands-on kitchen which will allow young visitors to become “Zion Chefs” for a day, among other attractions. In its first phase, it will welcome and cater to up to 200 children a day.
“Zionland’s mission is to prepare people for the great hope we have in the new ‘Zionland’ God is preparing for each one of us.”
It is expected most of the church members and students attending Seventh-day Adventist schools in the area will benefit from attending the theme park, located in the greater territory of the Central Brazil Union Conference, a 250,000-member-strong church region with almost 1,200 churches and congregations serving the State of São Paulo population of over 45 million.
Zionland is poised to be a magnet for families and schools, as most of the residents living in the area are city dwellers, and many, including children, live in neighborhoods with high levels of pollution and surrounded by concrete high-rises.
The theme park, however, is not only about providing natural entertainment for a day. Church leaders in South America emphasize that the mission of the park is to instill values that children may take with them for good.
“As Seventh-day Adventists, we uphold many of the values that society esteems,” said SAD president Erton Köhler in a television interview. “Our great challenge now is to instill those values in children.”
Köhler said he believes it is essential to impress those values on children now that they are young. “If we do, they will take those values as they grow old and will transmit them to the next generation,” he said.
São Paulo Union Conference president Domingos Sousa agrees. “We have the ability to awaken in children an interest in Creation, telling them they can learn to enjoy nature here, as they prepare to enjoy it for eternity,” he said.
“We can’t afford to destroy what God created here to enjoy then what He will recreate,” concurred Köhler. “We need to start growing here, caring here, loving here,” he said.
“No doubt, Zionland’s mission is to prepare people for the great hope we have in the new ‘Zionland’ God is preparing for each one of us,” Köhler said.
Lóren Vidal and the Sao Paulo Conference Media Center contributed to this story.