Seventh-day Adventist volunteer leaders and participants celebrated the annual Inter-American Division (IAD) Adventist Volunteer Service (AVS) Day with an online program on May 14 that honored those who have served and continue serving selflessly, both regionally and around the world.
The three-and-a-half-hour program included encouraging messages from leaders, testimonies from former and current volunteers, short regional video presentations, and inspiring musical performances.
“It is a joy that we can come together for this special annual Adventist Volunteer service,” Leonard Johnson, IAD executive secretary, said in his opening remarks. “This is a special program to affirm our volunteers.”
World church leaders who attended the program included General Conference (GC) executive secretary Erton Köhler; Petras Bahadur, director of the Global Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations of the GC; and GC associate secretary Elbert Kuhn.
Passion for Serving Others
IAD president Elie Henry logged in from Montemorelos University, where IAD officers were participating in the school’s graduation weekend. Montemorelos has historically sent scores of young people as volunteers, Henry said. These are “people who dedicate their lives to preach, to share the gospel, through literature, medical work, education, and through serving the community.”
His comments reflected the fact that the Adventist university in Mexico has focused on mission service for decades around its main campus and beyond its regional and national borders. Since 1992, Montemorelos has sent nearly 350 students to volunteer in 63 countries on five continents, school leaders reported. School officers also emphasized that the institution is deliberately highlighting ways to foster a vocation for Adventist mission, provide trans-cultural mission training, manage student mission opportunities, host regular events to highlight mission importance and opportunities, and support hands-on involvement in mission projects in the school backyard and around the world.
This emphasis in outreach and mission is what not only Montemorelos but also the IAD as a whole has become known for, Henry said. “In the IAD we are known for the passion to preach the gospel, and for some years now, we have been sending people to preach in other regions.”
He added, “We are here this afternoon to reaffirm and recognize our volunteers. May the Lord continue to bless you all in your ministry.” Volunteers don’t have a salary, but the work is not in vain, he said. “God sees what you are doing, and He will have special words of welcome when you get to heaven but also many blessings here,” Henry said.
Kuhn also congratulated the IAD and its volunteers, whom he has met all around the world, he said. “Being a volunteer develops leadership, because you often go to a place where you know no one, but where you will have to fulfill a specific role, often developing a project from scratch,” he said.
Among other benefits, Kuhn mentioned that volunteering adds new skills to those who practice it, including cultural ones. Serving others selflessly, he added, brings peace and happiness. “It also supports the fulfillment of our mission,” he emphasized. “Volunteering transforms character and changes our priorities. These are key elements to find true joy and a meaningful existence,” Kuhn said.
Regional Video Presentations
Short video presentations from most of the church administrative regions in the IAD highlighted those institutions and places that have requested or are requesting Adventist volunteers.
Linda Vista University leaders said they are looking for English-language teachers, dorm assistant deans, and kitchen assistants. The school is also looking for a communication assistant, leaders said.
Leaders of the French Antilles-Guiana Union, which includes Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana, said in their territory there are several schools in need of French-speaking volunteers. Panama is looking for English-speaking volunteers to support learning of the language in Adventist schools. Other volunteers have already left a mark in that Central American country, like Zhang and He Bo Shujiu, who arrived from China in 2019. They are supporting an outreach center to reach out to the Chinese diaspora in Panama.
Therapist and nutritionist He Bo coordinates health therapy services in Panama, including massage therapy. At the center, the volunteers also offer Chinese-language and culture classes to younger generations. “We wish that more Chinese friends may get to know Jesus thanks to our services,” Zhang said.
A video presentation from Valle de Angeles Hospital in Honduras included testimonies from several missionaries from Chile and a couple from the United States. The Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union, on the other hand, has 14 volunteers from its territory serving in various countries around the world, including Egypt, Italy, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Spain, and a few others.
For several decades, the Jamaican Union has sent volunteers to other countries around the world, regional coordinators reported. Volunteers from Jamaica have served in Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, and across the IAD, leaders reported.
Other church regions across the IAD also celebrated volunteers from their territory serving abroad and pitched calls to invite volunteers to serve in their regions, including Mexico, the Belize Union, the Puerto Rican Union, the Dominican Union, and others from Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, and the Caribbean islands.
Testimonies from Volunteers
A significant part of the AVS Day program was spent listening to former and current volunteers.
Karla Martínez, from Mexico, shared how since she was a little girl, she was excited by mission stories. “I always had the longing to be a missionary,” she acknowledged. “When a group of missionaries came to my place and provided not only the resources but also the work needed to build churches, I saw first-hand what being a missionary means. It moved me to start the application process to AVS, which includes a missionary course,” she shared.
Martínez said she was called to be a Spanish teacher and Bible worker. “It is not easy to leave the comforts of home and family, but it is worth it if you are convinced God is calling you. God’s presence will be with you,” she said.
Siobhan Lawrence, from Trinidad and Tobago, is currently serving at Stanborough Secondary School in Watford, England, working with children and teenagers. “In my experience, I valued specifically the opportunity to develop patience and practice conflict resolution,” Lawrence said.
It’s been almost 20 years since Venice Irving, from Jamaica, finished a stint in volunteer service in Taiwan. “I served in Taiwan from 2000 to 2003,” he shared. “I had never traveled before. I learned communication skills. I was teaching Bible, so I had to do a lot of research and study to get ready.”
Irving shared how, among other outreach activities, she would distribute tracts in buses. “People were really surprised to see a black woman doing that kind of work in Taiwan,” she said. “I absolutely loved it.”
The now wife and mother said that her time in Taiwan absolutely informed what she is doing right now. “I am training people and sending them abroad to teach English,” she shared. “I also keep in touch with my former students. They found me on Facebook, and now we have a group where we share experiences.”
For Ezequiel Casango Salazar, who served in Togo, adaptation to the local culture is essential for a successful volunteer experience. “What I did to adapt besides learning French and a local language was not to try to change [the people]. Sometimes, as missionaries, we unconsciously try to bring people closer to our culture.… But we have to be with them, in their culture, and get them closer to God,” he advised.
A Crown of Glory
Toward the end of the program, volunteer Vanessa Ruíz from Venezuela, who is currently serving in Italy, summarized what the volunteer experience is all about. “We must have our ears and souls open to God’s voice so we can hear what He wants to tell us.… If God puts in your heart the call to go, you must say, ‘Yes, I will go!’ ” she said.
Köhler addressed IAD leaders and volunteers, thanking them for their service. “Thank you for all you do as volunteers, and especially because you help us carry the mission of the church. More than that, you help us to save lives, to serve people. You have made a difference,” he said.
He added that selfless volunteer service brings rewards in this world and in the world to come. “I know that all your work was rewarded by God because of all the joy and gladness that you have received, but I believe that God has a crown of glory for you in heaven,” Köhler said. “And that is the main reward that you will receive from the hands of our Lord.”