You don’t necessarily need to leave your native country to make a difference in somebody else’s life. Often, mission opportunities are geared toward people with limited time, offering them a chance to serve local people with specific needs, either in large or small cities.
There are also other opportunities that require more time and preparation, which results in a longer and more intense cultural immersion experience. The truth is, there are opportunities for mission service that cater to volunteers’ diverse needs. A recent mission fair during the 6th I Will Go event at Bahia Adventist College in Bahia, Brazil, sought to showcase many of these service options and match them with Adventist volunteers seeking to participate in missions in their own backyard or in other regions and even continents, event organizers said.
Inside the school’s Campus Coexistence Center, several mission agencies erected booths to show where and how they have made a difference, as they invited volunteers to sign up for their projects. One of these agencies was the LUSS Institute (Logistics Uniting Solidarity and Sustainability), which for three years has been working to build water cisterns and ensure food security through the use of family or community gardens. The institute also contributes to economic development through income-generating activities.
“We decided to focus our efforts on Piauí, which is one of the states [in Brazil] with the greatest needs. We have adopted 25 communities,” LUSS Institute president Guto Oliveira said. “Our goal is that people achieve independence, autonomy, and dignity,” he said.
Oliveira acknowledged the role of spirituality in the whole process. “Our goal is always to bring salvation to people. There is no use in improving their lives on this earth and ignoring their eternal life. Likewise, we can’t just talk about our hope while they are starving.”
Volunteer opportunities always take place during school holidays, when groups of 15 people spend 10 days constructing water cisterns in the region of São Raimundo Nonato. The volunteers have built 100 cisterns to date in 2022 alone.
Volunteer groups are formed on university campuses such as Bahia Adventist College and in local Adventist churches. Another successful strategy is to launch Instagram campaigns where people willing to volunteer can register. The next mission operation, set for January 2023, has already been filled to capacity and there are no open slots remaining, LUSS Institute leaders said.
“We perceive very relevant transformations in the [lives] of those who participate in a mission project,” Oliveira said. “Despite being in Brazil, the trip to the semiarid region of Piauí becomes a cross-cultural trip, since it is totally different from [how] most Brazilians live, especially in the South and Southeast regions. Everyone agrees that life is substantially different there.”
For those who want to go abroad, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in South America offers four types of volunteer opportunities: local, emergency, connections trips, and extended service. In the first case, those who live near an ADRA project can dedicate themselves to the local project of their choice.
The second opportunity calls for volunteers with specific expertise, because in an emergency, there is no time to offer training. “The goal is for the volunteer to be trained beforehand, so they are ready to serve [in] specific situations,” Eric Leichner, ADRA’s emergency management coordinator in the South American Division, said. Volunteers can also achieve different levels, from basic to advanced, to follow a career path in that area. “We want those who like this type of service to grow,” Leichner said.
Connections tripsare short10-to-15-day mission initiatives in which participants visit a new country and get to know a new reality, work with the community itself, and even take some time to travel around. Participants can choose among the countries in the region, which include Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Brazil.
Finally, there are also extended mission opportunities that last from 6-12 months in partnership with Adventist Volunteer Service, which connects volunteers with specific projects. “We want volunteers to experience the work that ADRA accomplishes. Our goal is for them to understand better what we do, so they can choose to participate in other initiatives,” Leichner said.
From South America to the World
And for those who want to broaden horizons beyond their continent, Middle East University (MEU) has offered the possibility for South Americans to participate in an English as a second language program directly in Lebanon. “We want to make it easier for them to have more opportunities to serve,” Rafael Garcia from MEU said.
Garcia said that it is a decision that brings concrete results. “I was a pastor here in Brazil and wanted to serve, but I needed to learn English,” he said. “My dream was to work in the 10/40 Window,” the densely populated region of the world where Christianity has made the least inroads.
Garcia shared that he went to Lebanon, studied English there, and was invited to be a pastor in Egypt. “I worked there for a few years and later I was called to MEU, where I am currently serving as a chaplain,” he said. “Opportunities arose from knowing the language I learned.”
The advantage of studying in the Middle East, according to Garcia, is that students are already in the mission field, which facilitates the adaptation to local culture and customs. Many haven’t seen this opportunity yet, he said, perhaps because they don’t even know about the existence of Middle East University. “That’s why we’re [at the mission fair],” he said.