While they lived in Canada, life was comfortable for Jonathan and Mara Hoepers, but for the fact that they missed their relatives in Brazil, where they were originally from. One day, Jonathan felt God was calling him to take theology studies. He shared that feeling with Mara, and they sensed they had to make a decision, since they were about to get their Canadian residency.
“It was not easy for us to leave what we had achieved in Canada,” Mara said. “I prayed, telling God that if Jonathan passed the college entrance examination, I would take it as a sign we had to move back.”
Wherever God Leads
Jonathan passed the entrance examination for the theology study program at four different Adventist schools in Brazil. Without thinking twice, in 2013, the couple returned to Brazil.
In 2014, Jonathan began his theology studies at the Instituto Adventista Paranaense (Parana Adventist Institute) in southern Brazil. It was the beginning of his passion for preaching the biblical message.
After graduating in 2017, Jonathan felt God was calling them to serve as missionaries. The Hoepers got in touch with Adventist Volunteer Service (SVA) of the South American Division and began to pray. “We had several options, but when we applied for Ukraine they immediately called us as English teachers to Kiev, the capital of the country,” said Jonathan, smiling.
After some months of teaching, church leaders called them to pastor the Kiev International Seventh-day Adventist Church.
A few months later, however, they got a phone call at 2:00 a.m. When Mara picked up the phone, she heard a request: would she and Jonathan be willing to serve in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic? The Falkland Islands — also known as Islas Malvinas — is a contested British territory about 400 miles (650 kilometers) off the coast of Patagonia in southern Argentina. The islands are part of the South American Division church region.
The group that had been meeting on the islands was headed by Robson Gondim, who had to leave because of health issues. As Gondim’s replacement had been denied a visa, Jonathan said, the church was looking for people willing to serve on the islands.
Two weeks later, in August 2017, the Hoepers accepted the challenge of leaving everything in Ukraine and traveling to the distant islands.
The Biggest Challenge
When the couple arrived in the Falkland Islands in December 2017, they began to meet every Friday with a group of about 15 people. On Sabbath (Saturday), they offered two services: English in the morning for seven people, and Spanish in the afternoon for the other eight.
But the Hoepers wanted to do more. Soon English and Portuguese classes followed on weekdays. “And we began to spend Saturday evening socializing with students interested in studying the Bible,” Jonathan said.
Jonathan and Mara eventually formed an Adventurer Club and Pathfinder Club, whose members meet on Sunday afternoons. “I was also invited to serve the community as a basketball coach for teenage residents,” Jonathan added. “I plan to eventually enroll them as members of the Pathfinder Club as well.”
Several residents in the islands identify themselves as atheists, which has proven to be a significant challenge for the missionary couple. Jonathan tells of the day a door opened for him to share his life story with one of them.
“One of our English class students is an avowed atheist, but he knows that I am a missionary. One day he approached me and told me that he was going through problems in his workplace, asking me for advice,” Jonathan shared. “I told him that as he well knew, I believed in God and that I would be praying for him.”
Jonathan, however, gave his atheist student a challenge.
“I told him that even though he was an atheist, he should try praying to God, because I believed He was willing to help him get out of his problems,” he shared.
The young man’s response was positive. Weeks later they met again, and the young man told him: “Everything is fine now. I can see that prayer really works.”
Soon the young man was praying regularly, this time for his family.
The Hoepers know the work ahead is difficult but are not discouraged. “[We are willing to] use all our gifts and any possible means to approach the people of the island and share the message of the Bible with them,” they said.