“Torania Ywania I ewyte Musu” is a phrase affixed to the façade of the recently inaugurated Michiles Island Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maués, Amazonas State, Brazil. It is written in Sateré dialect, and means “To every tribe, tongue, and nation.” It is a phrase inspired by two verses in the Bible, Mark 16:15 and Revelation 14:6, and the motto that drove 47 volunteers to participate in a special service initiative.
Made up of high school and college students, professionals and business people, the volunteer team accepted the challenge and spent 10 days sailing up and down the Amazon River on a mission boat to assist people in need. The initiative is part of the “Change Your World” mission project instigated by the Adventist University of São Paulo (UNASP), a Seventh-day Adventist school in São Paulo State.
Volunteers, who came from six Brazilian states, with one from Romania, slept and shared meals on the boat. During the day, they assisted residents of two distinct areas—Pedreiro, a 300-resident coastal community mostly from another Christian faith, and Michiles Island, with a 150-resident, mostly Seventh-day Adventist tribe.
Dentist Walter Gomes, one of the volunteers, said that leaving the comfort of his home to help others was a life-changing experience. “We went to a place we could call inhospitable, especially as regards its health-care options,” he said. “There is a clear shortage of health-care providers, so it was essential we did our best to assist residents.”
Opportunities to Serve
The volunteer team provided various services to area residents. Volunteers offered medical assistance, nutrition information, dental care, and psychological services. One of the volunteers, a veterinarian, even made sure local pets were cared for.
For students, it was a great opportunity to put into practice the principle of selfless service they had been taught at school, group leaders said. The volunteers also saw first-hand how service given instills the best in those assisted. “It was very rewarding to witness the trust and thankfulness that people showed us,” said nursing student Greyce Rutz.
Every family served was given dental hygiene kits. Health-care professionals distributed free medications, and the assisted communities benefited from the distribution of more than 1,000 pounds (almost 500 kilograms) of donated items.
Besides health-care services, community residents were offered educational activities options, such as interactive classrooms for children, sex education talks, pastoral counseling, community gardening, and discussion about a sustainable project.
For residents, it was a service that made a difference in their lives. “We were so glad to see the volunteers since they assisted us in areas that nobody does,” explained Pedreiro deputy community coordinator Iracetu Silva. “We have learned so much. We hope they come back again and again.”
Challenges to residents are significant. According to project coordinator Antônio Braga, ongoing challenges demand a long-term approach. “Besides assisting residents in their basic needs, we need to teach them to take greater care of the environment and to become more self-sufficient through arts and crafts initiatives,” he said. It is the reason Adventists are behind the construction of a new 76-square-meter (820 square-feet) center of influence in the area, as they look to strengthen mission and community development initiatives.
Plans are underway for 2019, including adding another boat, which may allow assisting two groups simultaneously, leaders said.