In perhaps the most unusual year of its 51-year existence, Seventh-day Adventist supporting ministry Maranatha Volunteers International held its first virtual annual convention on September 19, 2020.
Despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic to its operations around the world, Maranatha has shown a remarkable degree of resilience and determination to carry on with the mission of providing churches, schools, and water wells on several continents. What is more, the lay-led organization has turned a season that for others may have seemed wasted into ongoing opportunities of relearning, adapting, and moving on.
“Maybe it’s OK if we don’t go back to a normal, comfortable situation,” Maranatha president Don Noble said as part of a video specially prepared for the 2020 convention. “We need to be a little pressured to trust God more.”
The 120-minute, pre-recorded video included words of thankfulness and encouragement from Maranatha leaders, viewpoints from longstanding volunteers, and inspiring and touching testimonies. It also featured reports from several Maranatha country directors in the field, and songs by Adventist pastor and renowned singer Wintley Phipps.
According to Maranatha leaders, the focus of everything the ministry does is serving others in love to share Jesus and the good news of His soon second coming. Against that background, there is no global pandemic or world problem that can affect that rationale for mission. “When the world is hurting, service is the best way to heal,” they said.
Maranatha Mission in 2020
Maranatha leaders acknowledged that 2020 brought with it challenges they had never experienced before. But it has not stopped Maranatha. While it is true that “mission as we knew it came to a halt, [it was] not for long,” as the video narrator said, explaining how Maranatha has managed to continue serving in many places around the world.
Its operations in North America are a popular, often sought-after way of serving. Maranatha volunteer crews usually travel to Adventist academies and campgrounds to provide much-needed repairs and maintenance. Projects for 2020 went ahead mostly as planned, even as social distancing and mask-wearing requirements became the norm. Volunteer initiatives in North America included serving the community in Paradise, California, United States, that was devastated by a wildfire in 2019. After building more than 200 sheds for survivors in 2019, Maranatha volunteers returned recently to complete dozens more. Other project sites included Milo Adventist Academy in Oregon and Blue Mountain Academy in Pennsylvania.
In some countries, Maranatha has continued operating while following lockdown and shelter-in-place regulations. In others, team construction leaders worked with local crews, which relieved the impact of restrictions on the arrival of foreign volunteers. Other countries found an innovative way to keep going, as Maranatha crews sheltered in place as they moved projects forward.
Roadblocks and difficulties have not stopped Maranatha.
“The road is sometimes fraught with calamity, opposition, and struggle, but no matter what, Jesus said go. And we will go,” leaders emphasized.
Some countries presented Maranatha with temporarily insurmountable roadblocks. In Peru, for instance, Maranatha has not been able to enter for months, as major airports are essentially inactive and the country has kept its borders closed. Leaders said it is an unfortunate situation, as church members are passionate about sharing the gospel and growing God's church.
Maranatha has had to postpone several projects with volunteers in Peru, including a family project and an Ultimate Workout designed for teenagers. “Peru church members were expecting almost 500 Maranatha volunteers for eight different projects,” leaders reported. “Some church groups that were expecting Maranatha to build a new church on their property tore down their old space in preparation for the volunteers to arrive.” Now they are without a meeting place as they wait for building projects to resume.
Maranatha is ready to return as soon as conditions improve and airports open, according to Maranatha vice-president of projects Kyle Fiess. “When the door opens, we will go,” he said.
Water of Life
In some countries around the world, Maranatha has not only managed to “keep business open” but has increased its output, according to leaders. They reported that in Zambia, Maranatha has dug more water wells in 2020 than in previous years. It is something that has brought pure, essential water to tens of thousands of people, they said.
“Water well drilling has become a significant component of our ministry,” leaders reported as they shared that other countries also report ongoing improvements in the provision of water. According to leaders, 74 communities in Zimbabwe have benefited from clean drinking water, and 48 in Kenya. New water wells have also been installed in the dry Brazilian northeast, in Mozambique, and in India, where, according to some statistics, half of its staggering 1.3 billion population has no access to clean water.
“Now people don’t lose their cattle during the dry season,” Maranatha leaders shared, explaining that oftentimes wells are drilled on the plot of land where the Adventist church building stands. “People are thanking the Adventist Church for providing them with clean water.”
Water has proved to be an outstanding way of reaching out to people. Often, the water well and its adjacent church building become a meeting place and center of activity for residents, who are now seeing the church with new eyes. “Seventh-day Adventists are showing that they care for their neighbors as they also lift up Jesus and the message of His soon second coming,” Maranatha said.
Mission Never Stops
No matter how difficult the current situation may be, Noble said, he is convinced that Maranatha’s mission cannot stop because it’s God given and God led. “I believe God is behind this, and He wants Maranatha to keep doing what it’s doing,” he said.
Maranatha leaders emphasized that there are many ways volunteers can get involved. One of Maranatha’s popular initiatives, The 10 Church Program, invites supporters to contribute just US$10 dollars a month, which then is added up and used to provide a new place of worship every month. Other options include funding a water well drilling or a new One-Day Church building, or volunteering in programs for teens, families, and local church teams, Maranatha vice-president of marketing Julie Z. Lee explained during the video presentation.
Lee invited prospective supporters to join Maranatha’s mailing list to receive regular updates about projects and initiatives. Those interested in volunteering can learn about future projects and other opportunities to support Maranatha’s mission. Maranatha's newest option is Maranatha Kids, a weekly email with a short mission video and discussion questions. “It’s perfect for your classroom, Sabbath School, or family worships,” Lee said.
Lee added that donating for Maranatha’s various initiatives is an outstanding way of getting connected with mission and the world field. In that sense, Noble said, Maranatha’s mission does not belong to the organization’s leaders but to the unwavering commitment of its faithful and committed volunteers and advocates. Even under the unusual circumstances of 2020, he said, “I have been blown away by the generosity of our supporters.”
It is the reason and motivation for Maranatha to go on, Noble emphasized.
“These are tough times, and we are uncertain about what the future will hold. But we have a clear indication from God that He wants us to keep going, and that is our intent — to keep going,” he said.