May 18, 2022 | Miami, Florida, United States | Inter-American Division News

Seventh-day Adventist volunteer leaders and participants celebrated the annual Inter-American Division (IAD) Adventist Volunteer Service (AVS) Day with an online program which honored those who have served and keep serving selflessly regionally and around the world. The 3.5-hour online program on May 14, 2022, included encouraging messages from leaders, testimonies from former and current volunteers, short regional video presentations, inspiring musical performances, and even a brief training segment.

“It is a joy that we can come together for this special annual Adventist Volunteer Service,” said in his opening remarks Pastor Leonard Johnson, IAD executive secretary. “This is a special program to affirm our volunteers.”

Pastor Johnson reminded viewers across the vast IAD territory that currently, there are 28 Adventist volunteers from the IAD serving in other divisions, and 14 from other divisions serving in the IAD. This is in addition to local missionaries, several leaders acknowledged. But the current number of volunteers is bound to soon increase, Johnson said, as leaders have been conducting interviews to candidates in the last few weeks.

World church leaders who attended the program included Adventist Church Executive Secretary Pastor Erton Köhler, Pastor Petras Bahadur, director of the Global Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations of the General Conference, and Adventist Church Associate Secretary Pastor Elbert Kuhn.

From the IAD, AVS directors across the region followed the proceedings, as Janelle Scantlebury-Smith, coordinator for AVS in Inter-America, hosted the celebration.

Pastor Leonard Johnson, executive secretary for the church in Inter-America welcomes online viewers to the annual Adventist Service Volunteer Day celebration on May 14, 2022. [Image: IAD Screenshot]

Passion for serving others

Pastor Elie Henry, president church in Inter-America, logged in from Montemorelos University, where IAD officers were participating in the school’s graduation weekend. Montemorelos University is a place that has historically sent scores of young people as volunteers, said Pastor Henry. 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 seemed to be spot on, as the Adventist university 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 in 5 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 the IAD as a whole has become known for, said Pastor Henry. “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 your your 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,” Pastor Henry said.

Pastor Kuhn also congratulated the IAD and its volunteers, whom he has met all around the world. “Being a volunteer develops leadership” he said, “because you often go to a place where you know no one, but where you will have to fulfill specific role, often developing a project from scratch,” he said.

Inter-American Division President Pastor Elie Henry thanks volunteers who continue to serve throughout the territory and the world. [Image: IAD Screenshot]

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,” said Kuhn.

Reflecting on the Bible example of prophet Isaiah, he called volunteers and leaders to answer just like he did. Our answer to God’s call should also be, “Here am I. Send me!” he said.

Regional video presentations

Short video presentations from most church regions across Inter-America 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 the 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 a center of influence to reach out to the Chinese diaspora in Panama.

Janelle Scantlebury-Smith, Adventist Volunteer Services coordinator for the church in Inter-America, hosts the annual online event, on May 14, 2022. [Image: IAD Screenshot]

Therapist and nutritionist He Bo coordinates health therapy services, including massage therapy. At the center, they 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, and Spain and a few others.

For decades now, the Jamaican Union has also 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 church regions across Mexico, the Belize Union, the Puerto Rican Union, the Dominican Union, and others from Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Islands.

Cultural training segment

Pastor Bahadur led a brief presentation where he discussed specifically what volunteering in the 10/40 Window entails. The 10/40 Window includes a region of the world where most of the population lives but where Christianity is in the minority. A good part of that region includes Muslim countries, he explained.

Pastor Elbert Kuhn, associate secretary for the Adventist world church says volunteering develops leadership skills among others.  [Image: IAD Screenshot]

“We need more than just a theological degree to serve in Muslim countries. Otherwise, we will spend years trying to understand the religion and the culture,” said Bahadur. “That period of time can we reduced if missionaries get some training before going to the field.”

Pastor Bahadur explained that sometimes, when volunteers or missionaries go to those places, they assume that people will just listen to our message. But it is not as simple as that, he emphasized.

Several decisions can help bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims, including learning about Islam and the Qur’an, eating their food, and using the question method, in contrast with the answer method approach that Christians usually use, he said.  It is also important to reinforce Adventist identity ,which is closer to some of Muslim lifestyle choices over Christian identity and emphasize true Christians over nominal ones.

“Be open about your love for God, and share how you have found peace and assurance of salvation,” Bahadur said.

Testimonies from volunteers

A significant part of the AVS Day program was spent listening to former and current volunteers.

Adventist World Church Executive Secretary Pastor Erton Köhler thanked volunteers for helping carrying out the mission. [Image: IAD Screenshot]

Karla Martínez, from Mexico, shared how since she was a little girl, she used to get excited with 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 that she was called to be 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 the 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 2000-2003,” 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.”

Siobhan Lawrence form Trinidad & Tobago shares her volunteer experience serving at the Stanborough Secondary School in Watford, England. [Image: IAD Screenshot]

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

Towards the end of the program, volunteer Vanessa Ruíz, from Venezuela and currently volunteering 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.

Pastor Köhler, on the other hand, 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.

Köhler said 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 all the joy and gladness that you have received, but I believe that God has a crown of glory for you in heaven. And that is the main reward that you will receive from the hands of our Lord,” he said.

To watch Inter-America’s Adventist Volunteer Service Day of May 14, 2022, go:

HERE for English

HERE for Spanish

HERE for French

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