In Venezuela, Adventists share hope and kindness in more than 50 cities

In the streets of Venezuela, Adventist youth hold signs that read “Smile, God Believes in You.” [Photo: East Venezuela Union]

“Close to You Venezuela—Smile, God Believes in You” reaches more than 700,000 people as leaders call it the biggest impact the country has ever seen.

August 18, 2016

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Caracas, Venezuela

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Inter-American Division Staff

Thousands of Seventh-day Adventists flooded cities and communities across Venezuela with a touch of kindness, a helping hand and a message of hope during a week-long outreach program held Aug. 7-13, 2016.

The program coined as “Close to You Venezuela—Smile, God Believes in You,” has become the church’s most comprehensive social program, benefiting more than 771,000 people in 50 cities in a single week.

Church leaders are calling it the biggest impact the country has seen since the social program began in the eastern part of the country three years ago.

This year both major church regions in the east and western parts of the country joined efforts with nearly 27,000 volunteers participating in dozens of coordinated activities. Activities included massive blood donations, planting trees in abandoned parks and areas, distribution of food baskets, restoring recreational areas, free medical check-ups, hospital and nursing home visitations, donating hair for children and women with cancer, teaching moral values in vacation Bible schools for children, health talks, exercise activities, and more.

Thousands of young people stood by traffic lights sharing smiles and message of God’s love, said Prieto, coordinator of the “Close to You Venezuela” in the East Venezuela Union. Volunteers aimed to collect pictures of people smiling to display one million smiles on social media networks.

The initiative was covered through national television, radio, print and social media.

“This has been a great breakthrough for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Venezuela,” said Prieto. “In the four years that the initiative has taken place, we have seen how God has blessed us and how our hero volunteers have given the best of themselves to help the community.”

Prieto said that thousands of church member volunteers gave of their time, money and effort to donate food for those in need, even in the midst of limited supplies and economic challenges.

In the east Venezuela region alone, where the “Close to You” initiative originated, more than 47 cities and municipal districts were reached. Over 400,000 people received free medical checkups and 141 Adventist churches opened its doors as centers to teach about health and family and to teach vacation bible schools. Almost 1,400 blood and plasma donations were collected, 676 young people donated their hair for cancer patients, 3,000 pieces of clothing were donated, 1,336 trees planted, and more than 300,000 pieces of literature were distributed.

“We are proud of our young people who have gone out to show the world that they are a different generation, ready help others, taking the message of hope, sharing hugs and smiles to a country that needs it so much,” added Prieto.
The Adventist Church in the West Venezuela region joined the initiative for the first time this year mobilizing more than 9,000 volunteers through the streets of Barquisimeto and eight other cities. More than 371,700 people benefited from the outreach program, with 1,161 blood donations, 2,200 new trees planted, 478 hair donations for cancer patients, 357,000 pieces of literature distributed and hundreds of prayers offered for people in need.

Volunteers also cleaned beaches, painted faces, visited orphanages, performed concerts, offered free massages, hair cutting services, and more.

“‘Close to You Venezuela’ has been a very significant initiative because the program is about the method Jesus used to connect with people, by socializing and meeting their needs,” said Pastor Julio Palacio, president of the church in West Venezuela. “This encourages us as a church to get closer to the community, because the community needs more of our presence,” said Palacio.

Luis Marquez was among those who benefited from a massage in the city of Valeria. “I thank the group of the Adventist Church for this program because this motivates people in these moments of crisis to move forward, to have hope and not lose faith at any moment.”

Showing that the church is concerned for the needs of people is at the core of the initiative, said Paul Gómez, who oversees a district in the north part of the city of Barquisimeto. “We saw so many people filled with joy and grateful for everything they received,” said Gómez.

The sacrifice of church members was a blessing to see, added Gómez. “Many of our members shared God’s blessings by donating vegetables from their gardens, baked goods and donated food items from what they had in their homes to distribute 4,000 food baskets,” said Gómez.

This is about the church understanding it’s mission well, said Emilio Perche, communications director for the church in West Venezuela. “It is about getting outside of the four walls of the church to be in the streets, in the community,” said Perche.

“As church leaders this initiative has helped broaden our vision to be closer to people, to the community, to keep the churches open during the week and continue with ‘Close to You Venezuela’ as a permanent initiative,” said Pastor Palacio.

Church leaders from both church regions vowed to continue the national annual initiative and carry on weekly activities to benefit those in need in their communities.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Venezuela has more than 314,600 members worshiping in 1,676 churches and congregations.

For more information on the “Close To You Venezuela” initiative, visit cercadetivenezuela.com

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