Thousands Welcome Free Medical Care in Venezuela

Seventh-day Adventist Church reaches out to people in need in Andean city of Mérida.

Marcos A. Izarra, Inter-American Division, and Adventist Review
<strong>Thousands Welcome Free Medical Care in Venezuela</strong>
Church-member volunteers take the blood pressure of a local resident in Mérida, a city in the Andean Mountains in Northwest Venezuela. [Photo: West Venezuela Union]

For more than three months starting in July, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Venezuela provided free medical services to thousands of people in Mérida, a city in the Andes Mountains in northwestern Venezuela. More than 70 medical doctors, 15 leaders, and dozens of church members volunteered their time and expertise to assist more than 2,700 people.

It is the first time free medical services have been extended for more than a few days throughout the West Venezuela Union territory. The effort is part of a larger strategy to assist the many who are not able to access or pay for such services, church leaders said.

The dozens of health professionals who took part in the city-wide effort included some from the local region. Others traveled to Merída for specific days to offer services in various areas, including general medicine, physiotherapy, dentistry, nutrition, psychology, ophthalmology, pediatrics, and gynecology. Volunteers in the group also performed dozens of minor surgeries and laboratory services.

The headquarters office of the Central Andean Venezuela Mission and two outreach centers located in various spots throughout the city were opened for the services sponsored by the mission and the Sonrisas para Jesus, or Smiles for Jesus Foundation. Smiles for Jesus is an Adventist lay organization in Venezuela that has been partnering with the church’s community health ministry for years.

“It has been a historic medical journey in this Andean city,” West Venezuela Union personal ministries and evangelism director Jean Carlos Rivas said. “It was very surprising to see how people in Mérida would come close to us to be cared for, and that opened more doors to better connect with people.” The evangelistic plan was to provide medical services for several months and end the initiative with a week of evangelistic impact, he said.

“The insights we have received [as a church] on the impact of medical missionary work has really allowed us to see miracles and open the doors to an extraordinary [evangelism] work to impact the city,” Rivas said. “It has been a wonderful strategy to reach people.”

As a result of the eight-day evangelism campaign led by church leaders and theology students from the Adventist University Institute of Venezuela, a new church and two new congregations were organized, with 106 baptisms and dozens of people now taking Bible studies.

“We are extremely happy with what has taken place here in Mérida; it’s just an extraordinary work done here,” Leo Acosta, dean of the Venezuelan Theological Adventist Seminary at the university in Nirgua, said. “The coordinated efforts have impacted a city which is … very grounded in their beliefs, but health and evangelism is something that doesn’t fail.” Many would ask for Bible studies at the different centers, he said. More than 679 visitations were carried out thanks to the medical ministry.

Luis Betancourt, general coordinator of the Smiles for Jesus Foundation, said it was wonderful to “to feel the collaboration and the teamwork with the Adventist university, the Adventist hospital, the mission and the union, united in the fulfillment of the mission.”

The evangelism efforts, coined as “Living with Hope” and coordinated with the Adventist Youth Hope project, saw more than 11,000 literature and 6,000 missionary books distributed, as well as 586 Bible studies conducted.

“We praise God for this wonderful medical impact, and we consider that this work must continue strong with the work of discipleship, because it’s not just about reaching 106 baptisms, but our purpose is to focus on forming leaders, grounding new believers in the truth who can defend and love this cause deeply,” Rivas said.

The initiative also saw dozens of health professionals and health evangelists form part of the medical missionary ministry, as they vow to continue impacting different cities throughout the western region in Venezuela.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.

Marcos A. Izarra, Inter-American Division, and Adventist Review