She was afraid to smile because of her missing teeth but thanks to a free dental clinic held during a special initiative by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in West Venezuela, Martha Ferrer can smile again.
“I am so happy and thankful because now I can smile big with the five new teeth that this dental clinic has provided for me,” said Ferrer.
Ferrer was among the more than two dozen people who were beneficiaries of free dental implants in September thanks to a team of volunteers led by Jose Luis Tabares, an Adventist orthopedic dentist who oversaw medical and dental clinics in the western part of the region.
“We have been able to give smiles back to 30 people who otherwise would not have been able to afford the costly procedure in our country,” said Tabares.
The free dental clinic was part of the church’s annual initiative called “Close to You Venezuela,” a massive effort that encourages church member volunteers to provide services to the community. It is the fifth year the initiative has been held.
This year Ferrer was among nearly half a million persons who benefited from dozens of services ranging from medical check-ups, health expos, blood donations, haircuts, hospital visits, distribution of hot-meals, reforestation, musical concerts, sports activities, medicine drives, face-painting for children, park clean-ups, prayer sessions, and more.
Nearly 35,000 Seventh-day Adventists across the nine local fields in the West Venezuela union took one week off from their jobs to spread cheer.
“Close to You Venezuela” showed thousands of people what Seventh-day Adventists are all about, said Pastor Julio Palacio, president of the Church in West Venezuela.
“We are about sharing the message of hope in the midst of the despair,” said Palacio. “This ‘Close to You’ activity reminds us of Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness and healing. He loves everyone the same just as John 3:16 says, and He will soon return for us.”
Jose Vegas, a pastor from the San Jacinto district in Barquisimeto, coordinated one of the activities by the local hospital. “We brought a good group of blood donors from each district to the Antonio Maria Pineda Hospital, where we also cleaned around the hospital and distributed food,” said Vega.
“It is such a pleasure to donate medicines to persons in need during the circumstances the country is facing,” Vega added.
Moisés Suárez, prayer-booth volunteer, said it was a real blessing to pray with patients and families with fellow volunteers from the surrounding Adventist churches. “We shared many Bible promises and felt the powerful hand of God as we prayed, brought hope in the midst of difficult circumstances, and shared food with everyone around us.”
Gilberto Martínez of the Renacer Adventist Church in West Venezuela said that "helping those in need is a practical way to preach the gospel.”
“This was about leaving our jobs and closing our businesses to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus,” said Mirta Aldana, a church member from Barquisimeto.
Volunteers collected some over 48,000 pounds (22,000 kilograms) of trash from transportation terminals and city plazas. They painted over 150 murals and planted 2,212 trees in 56 different places across West Venezuela, organizers said.
West Venezuela administrators and leaders also took to the streets to work next to thousands of church members on the special initiative. Hundreds were stationed at traffic lights across cities to bring about smiles.
Giovanny Martin, youth ministries director for the church in West Venezuela and main organizer of “Close to You Venezuela,” said he participated in the city of Mérida at a traffic light holding positive signs with dozens of young people.
Martin reported that more than 10,578 persons visited the thousands of haircut stations across the union territory. Volunteers painted more than 11,000 children’s faces, paid more than 20,000 community visits, organized 80 sports events, distributed more than 9,000 clothing items, and participated in 162 walks and auto caravans across cities and communities.
“It was so amazing to see so many people who day to day need a smile,” he said.