‘We Have Been Called by God to Go to the World and Change It’

At SAD youth convention, leader makes impassioned plea for Adventist youth to shine.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review
‘We Have Been Called by God to Go to the World and Change It’
“I want you to make the most of these moments, because we are telling the world that it is possible to have 20,000 young people together to sing, pray, shout, or be in complete silence,” said keynote speaker Odaílson Fonseca at the 2024 Maranata South American Division youth convention in Brasilia, Brazil, on May 30. [Photo: Naassom Azevedo]

“I want you to make the most of these moments, because we are telling the world that it is possible to have 20,000 young people together to sing, pray, shout, or be in complete silence.”

These were the opening words of Odaílson Fonseca, communication and religious liberty director at the Central Brazil Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in his special address on May 30 to the thousands of Adventist young people who attended the 2024 Maranata South American Division youth convention in Brasilia, Brazil.

In the next hour, Fonseca made an impassioned plea for Adventist young people to live up to the expectations the world has for Jesus’ followers. He also called them to give and commit everything they have in God’s service.

Witnessing to the World

The youth convention was making an impact even before it started, Fonseca said, as he shared how, on the long drive from his home to Brasilia, he stopped four times. “And every stop was a witnessing opportunity, as I could see young people traveling to Brasilia wearing Maranatha, Adventist Youth, Caleb Mission, and I Will Go t-shirts everywhere,” he said. “What might people be thinking? An army of young people, together, and all of them good people.”

Fonseca shared how he stopped around 6:00 a.m. at a service station and found himself in the middle of around 1,000 young people coming from different corners in Brazil. “They were sleepy, disheveled, but they were sharing a message,” he shared.

Then, Fonseca talked to one of the managers of the station. “I don’t understand,” the manager told Fonseca. “Who are these people? They eat an incredible amount of food, more than I have ever seen, but they didn’t touch the ham or the beer!”

“You know what that is?” Fonseca asked the crowd of young Adventists. “That’s witnessing, people!”

He also shared how, earlier that morning, he had tried to take some photos on the camp grounds, where thousands of tents sheltered young men on one side and young women on the other. As he approached the women’s side and tried to take a photo, a large, stern-looking woman in a helmet approached him. “Turn around, because you can’t walk in here,” the woman told him.

Fonseca tried to negotiate. “I’m a pastor, and I just want to take a photo of the tents where the women are staying,” he told her.

“I don’t care if you are a pastor or who you are,” the woman guard, who worked for a security company, told him. “If you step in, I’m gonna use my baton!”

Praising the woman’s actions, Fonseca asked the crowd, “Do you understand how illogical this [separation wall between young men and women] is for the world?” Other people might not understand why we protect our young people this way, but certainly they are watching, Fonseca emphasized.

Jesus and His Followers

Fonseca, who loves running, also shared his experience when running the Sao Paulo half-marathon with a colleague a few years earlier. “As we approached kilometer 12, we turned a corner, and as we did, we saw a massive sign. People were clapping as they saw it. “Run with Jesus,” the sign read, “but don’t run with Evangelicals.”

“From then on, my body kept running, but my mind stopped at kilometer 12,” Fonseca acknowledged.

“What is going on?” Fonseca asked his young audience. “What are people seeing in Evangelicals, in Protestants, in Christians, and in people who say they believe in the Bible?” He added, “It is a phrase that scares me a lot, because I hear the world saying, ‘Run with God, but don’t run with God’s fan club! Run with Jesus, but don’t run with His disciples! Run with Christ but not with Christians!”

In Search of Consistency

We are a people of the cross, of the Bible, a people who must show Jesus to the world, Fonseca emphasized. “We have been called by God to run to the world to change it.”

Reflecting on Acts 4:20, which reads, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” Fonseca called Adventist young people to focus on developing a relationship with Jesus. “It’s all about a relationship,” Fonseca said. “If you are going to run with Jesus, you have to endorse the words of Jesus.”

Fonseca then shared some troubling statistics. “Brazil is the country with the highest percentage of people who say they believe in God,” he reported. “But don’t start celebrating, because Brazil is also the second most promiscuous, perverted, and pornographic country on earth,” he added. “Brazil is also the least monogamous country on earth.”

“Don’t you see some inconsistency here?” Fonseca asked.

We also live in a hyper-connected world, where at the same time there’s an epidemic of loneliness, he added. “So, where are those Christians who should be able to boast the best, most solid relationships?” he asked.

Focused on God’s Dreams

Fonseca reminded his young audience, who came from eight South American countries, that they live in times of brainwashing all around them. “I am scared when I see how … the world is making a great effort to distract each one of you from your potential, from the dream God has for you,” he said. “I get scared when I see how willing our enemy is to make us irrelevant.”

At the same time, Fonseca acknowledged, we are different. “We speak a language the world does not speak. And we just can’t stop talking about what we have seen and heard. We just can’t stop witnessing about Jesus,” he emphasized.

In the last part of his message, Fonseca shared his vision for the Adventist young people attending the convention. “From here, a generation will go out to take the message to all the world … with the assurance that we can be a blessing for this planet,” he said. “And we are ready to proclaim, ‘Run with Jesus, but run also with the young people of the Maranata convention! Run with Jesus but run also with Adventist young people, for God’s honor and glory!”

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review