About 3,600 people from eight countries in South America met for the fifth annual “I Will Go” International Congress at Peruvian Adventist University in Ñaña, Peru, September 11-14, 2019.
The event drew Seventh-day Adventist college students and professionals who wish to dedicate their talents to serve the Adventist Church and communities around the world.
What was born as a student-led initiative to involve young people in mission has arguably become the most significant gathering and training of mission-minded Adventist youth, regional leaders said.
Adventist Church associate secretary John H. Thomas, one of the organizers of the first “I Will Go” congress, has followed its results since the beginning.
“It has greatly influenced the South American Division, because the church administration has decided, as part of the church’s mission, to send volunteers to other parts of the world, besides providing financial support for full-time missionaries,” Thomas said.
One of the many who followed this path is Rodrigo Sampaio Silva, who is taking theology and business degrees at Brazil Adventist University in Engenheiro Coelho, Sao Paulo. In 2015, the mission congress prompted him to dedicate one year to serve in Ukraine and another year in Guinea.
This time, Sampaio Silva attended the event as a speaker.
“Four years ago, I attended ‘I Will Go’ as a participant, and two years ago, as a missionary,” Sampaio Silva said. “This year, I am [here] as someone willing to share his experience in the mission field.” Today, Sampaio Silva works at the Adventist Frontiers Mission (AFM) Brazil office, which coordinates mission projects in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Willing to Serve
For others, their path was not so straightforward. Take 26-year-old Sebastián Venegas.
For years Venegas had entertained a desire to serve in a mission project outside his native Chile. Now, looking back, Venegas can see how God led him, though not according to his original plan.
Venegas, who graduated with an education degree in physical education at Chile Adventist University in early 2019, rejected two job offers while he tried to find a spot as a volunteer, but all of the volunteer options fizzled. He ended up without a mission project or a job.
“It was a moment of doubt,” Venegas said. “At the same time, I remembered the times I have felt God’s call in my life, so I decided to take my situation as a test.”
In April, Venegas was hired as a substitute teacher. He made the most of that time to save money and find a place overseas to volunteer. Finally, Venegas got his passport ready, obtained a visa and purchased the ticket that, on September 16, 2019, took him to Spain. He will volunteer for a year at Sagunto Adventist College in the province of Valencia.
For Every Age
The Peru congress showed that mission service has no age limit. SAD vice president Helder Roger Cavalcanti Silva has decided to prepare to serve in Lebanon. Roger, who is planning to retire by the end of this year, anticipates that he and his wife will spend six years in the Middle East.
“We chose Lebanon because of the high concentration of refugees in that country,” Roger Cavalcanti Silva said. “Approximately one out of every five people is a refugee, so we are planning to focus on assisting Syrian child refugees.”
Training before being deployed is critical, mission experts say. Roger Cavalcanti Silva has taken a graduate degree in Islamic culture at Middle East University in Beirut, Lebanon, to be better prepared for the challenge.
“‘I Will Go’ emphasized the need to be prepared before going into the mission field,” event organizers said. “During the event, several presentations discussed culture as an essential element that mission-minded people must take into account if they want to be effective in the mission field.”
Hundreds of Volunteers
By the end of the congress, more than 600 people had signed a written commitment to volunteer.
Church leaders said they are pleased with those decisions.
“Young people have given us a clear message,” said SAD Adventist Volunteer Services (AVS) director Joni Roger de Oliveira. “They told us, ‘We want to be challenged. We want to get involved in mission. We want to play an active part,’” Roger de Oliveira said.
The challenge, Roger de Oliveira argued, is to keep a high level of focus on those interested in serving as the church helps them to navigate through the whole process.
“At the same time, we want to make the opportunities for service better known,” he said. “We want to strengthen the AVS online presence, and work together with other church agencies with this goal in mind.”
As part of this process, the Adventist Church is encouraging the launch of cross-cultural mission schools on Adventist university campuses and other church-approved venues.
“We want our members to become aware of the missionary needs around the world, and to get ready for service,” Roger de Oliveira said.
The sixth “I Will Go” congress will take place at Bahia Adventist College in Brazil, where it is expected even more people attend and get energized for mission, leaders said.