May 19, 2022 | Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division

New believers keep joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church across Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Venezuela after an online evangelistic campaign swept through social media platforms resulting in over 6,700 newly baptized persons last month. The regional online campaign saw pastors, church elders, lay preachers and active church members in six major church regions, or unions, doubling their evangelistic efforts leading up to and after the eight-day series that took place Apr. 23-30, 2022.

Nearly 1,000 persons who had been studying the bible during and after the evangelistic series joined the church as of the second week of May, church leaders said.

Seventh-day Adventists smile and hug a new believer who was baptized at the Camilda Convention Center in the Yabucoa Municipal Distirct in Southeast Puerto Rico last month. She was among over 6,700 new believers who joined the church throughout Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela, during an online evangelistic series distributed on social media platforms, April 23-30, 2022. [Photo: Manuel López]

Themed “Hope for a Sick World”, the series featured keynote speaker Pastor Arnaldo Cruz of the Southeastern Conference of Florida, the United States, and resulted in millions of viewers on the Hope Channel Inter-American YouTube Channel and Facebook Accounts.

Different evangelistic format

“This is the first time that we have ever had an online series strictly with a specific 35-minute format for social media platforms,” said pastor Josney Rodríguez, ministerial secretary for the church in Inter-America overseeing the regional campaign.  It was not your regular evangelism campaign with the traditional format held at church, with song service, introductions, and the like, he said. “The goal was to feature the spiritual message as the main segment, engage thousands of members in discipleship efforts to lead people to give their lives to Christ, and impact social media networks like never before.”

The online series was designed to mostly reach friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors and any persons who did not know about Jesus, and may be dealing with depression, anxiety, despair, pain and illness, and more, organizers said.

“You can trust in God, even in the midst of the chaos in your life,” said Pastor Cruz. “God can bring peace in your life, can heal your emotions, restore your marriage, no matter how low you have fallen.”

Hosts Lixamari Pedraza (right) and Japhet García (left) interact with viewers minutes before keynote speaker of the “Hope for a Sick World” one-week online evening evangelistic serie speaks.  [Photo: IAD Screenshot]

Pastor Cruz encouraged viewers and listeners to seek God and let Him lead them to places where the love of Jesus and the hope He gives can light up many lives.

In each of the six unions in the four countries, dozens of digital evangelists worked and coordinated to reach persons interested in bible studies, in prayer, and in seeking spiritual strength, hope and answers to their questions. A team of community managers worked daily to promote content on posts, videos and graphics to grow audiences on social media platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, WhatsApp and others during the evangelistic series.

Social media reach

The series has had more than 5.2 million views on the YouTube and Facebook platforms. Many of those views included small gatherings of 10 or more, or congregations of 80 or more in churches, leaders said. The 71 Adventist radios stations carrying the evangelistic series reached more than 219,000 people. In addition, hundreds of churches with no internet access in Cuba and Venezuela gathered hundreds of members and visitors to view the pre-recorded programs.

“We are so impressed with the social media impact and in-person impact we have been able to collect,” said Rodríguez. “Three of the six unions deal with power outages where most of the day and evenings there is no electricity available, nor water; however, many were able to watch the pre-recorded series when they could and give their lives to Jesus,” he said.

Pastor Arnaldo Cruz of the Southeastern Conference in Florida, United States was the keynote  speaker during Inter-America’s regional online evangelistic serie targeted for Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Venezuela, Apr. 23-30, 2022. [Photo: IAD Screenshot]

One way to measure baptism results during the series shows that 3.5 persons were baptized in in each of the 5,006 churches in the four countries that the series targeted in coordination with local leaders and laypersons, explained Rodríguez. “It still represents amazing results if compared to a normal in-person campaign that could yield 3.3 persons baptized during the first two quarters of the year.”

The East Venezuela Union doubled that amount to 9.2 persons baptized per their 765 congregations and small groups from January to the middle of May, said Rodríguez. It’s not about trying to measure baptisms or focusing on a specific speaker or evangelist, but ensuring that church members are committed and engaged in sharing the message of the gospel and winning souls for Christ, he added.

Nearly 20,000 baptisms have been added to the church books across the six unions since efforts began early in January as part of the centennial celebrations across the Inter-American Division (IAD) this year. The series became the fourth of five regional campaigns across the IAD territory scheduled for the first half of the year.

Cuba

In the Cuban Union, churches were bursting with members and visitors during the online campaign. “Our whole team of pastors and lay persons worked tirelessly to feature the series in 300 places and it was a tremendous success for us here,” said Pastor Aldo Perez, president of the church in Cuba. There were 1,335 baptisms as of last Sabbath, he said.

Members and visitors crowd the Mariano Adventist church in Havana, Cuba, during the online evangelistic series led by Evangelist Arnaldo Cruz, Apr. 23-30, 2022. [Photo: Cuban Union]

“In the whole history of the church in Cuba, we had never reached more than 1,000 baptisms in the first two quarters of the year.”

The evangelistic series stirred so many to flock to churches and small groups across the island on the last day of the campaign on Apr. 30, that nothing stopped them from walking several kilometers to get to the 40 churches in Havana, even when public transportation was not available.

There are many stories of conversion that were heard across the island, said Perez. One of those stories was of a school-age friend of Perez who left the church to study and work outside of Cuba, and, after 40 years, he returned to God and was baptized. “He is now working to bring his wife and children to give their life to Jesus,” he said. A well-known neurosurgeon in a local hospital was moved by the online series and was baptized in the Maranao Adventist Church in Havana.

“It’s been a wonderful and blessed week,” said Ailín Castillo, a church member who commented on the live chats on YouTube. “The San Andres Adventist Church in the Province of Holguín, Cuba, has never been so full of people. The messages were wonderful and practical, short and easy to understand.”

A new believer is ready to be baptized in the Villa Perla Mission region in Central Cuba, Apr. 23-30, 2022. [Photo: Cuba Union]

The commitment of the leaders and church members have been impressive, said Pérez. “God has done marvelous things, our membership is determined even through many challenges since evangelism efforts began in January, and we will continue to keep working to reach more souls before the end of the year,” Perez said.

Venezuela

In the East Venezuela Union, preparations for the online series mobilized church leaders, the youth and hundreds of seasoned members to share the evangelistic series through dozens of radio stations and churches and through social media platforms. There were 554 spaces where people gathered every evening to watch the series, reported Pastor Ney Devis, personal ministries director for the church in East Venezuela. “There were 7,263 persons who received the evening messages through WhatsApp and 1,967 baptisms during the campaign, adding to the 5,011 who have joined the church since January.

“We praise God for the arduous work of our conference administrators, departmental directors, lay persons, the leaders in small groups, and discipling couples for sharing the message hope,” Devis said.

In the West Venezuela Union, the impact of the campaign was very special, said Pastor Orlando Ramírez, president of the church in West Venezuela. The challenges of power outages across the region, and the lack of equipment or resources to stream the online series or play the pre-recorded version or cellphone access, affected the viewership during the evangelistic series. However, Ramírez said that during the series, 1,279 persons were baptized; two weeks later nearly 700 additional persons joined the church, reported Ramírez.

Hundreds gathered at the Guatire Sports Center in Caracas, Venezuela, at the start of teh online evangelistic series Apr 23, 2022. [Photo: East Venezuela Union]

Seventy of those baptized included students, teachers and parents across the 22 Adventist schools that featured the series each day on campus.

In the first five months, 3,423 persons have been baptized, thanks to the extraordinary efforts by the leadership and active membership in the union, Ramirez said. “This evangelism success so far means a lot to the church because it represents 51 percent more persons baptized in less than half of the year to the 6,000 reached during 2021,” said Ramírez.

Evangelistic efforts were doubled through small groups after baptisms were down in the last two years due to the pandemic. “Any type of activity or initiative held at the church is organized by the team of small groups in that congregation and right now we have reached a high percentage of members involved in missionary activities at each congregations,” he said.

Additional evangelistic campaigns under the same theme will take place across churches and groups that were unable to feature the online series last month, said Ramírez. The momentum needs to continue, he said. “We want to continue the theme because the series was so thoroughly promoted here that it made a real impact across the territory.”

One of four inmates at the PNB Detention Center in Ejido in the State of Mérida, Venezuela, stands in front of a small pool with church leaders before he is baptized during evangelistic efforts leading up to the regional online evangelistic series. [Photo: West Venezuela Union]

Colombia

In North Colombia, the impact of the online campaign was strong and beneficial not only in mobilizing the lay members but also the social media engagement, said William Barrero, evangelism coordinator for the church in North Colombia.

Thanks to the commitment, evangelism activities and the reopening of churches, a significant difference has been seen this year, said Barrero.

“Leaders and members united their efforts across churches, schools, medical centers, and radio stations in a new culture of evangelism for a greater outreach both online and in personal contacts,” Barrero said.

To date, more than 4,200 persons have joined the church since evangelism efforts began throughout the region in January, he added.

In South Colombia, the online evangelistic series has strengthened joint efforts across the region and mobilized the church membership to take part in a new evangelistic experience, said Pastor Alvaro Niño, president of the church in South Colombia.  The church reached 1,032 baptisms last month.

Two dozen people gather outdoors to watch the on online evangelism serie in North Colombia last month. [Photo: North Colombia Union]

Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, the church enlisted hundreds of young people who have already been assisting in transmitting church online services since the pandemic hit, said Pastor Luis Rivera, president of the church in Puerto Rico.

“Pastor Arnaldo has been a real inspiration to our young people and we are thankful to reach so many people throughout our churches, church-run radio stations, television media and the community at large,” said Rivera.  All churches across the island transmitted the online series every evening and saw hundreds connected.

Rivera met a woman in a church on a mountain in the Sabana Grande de Utuado Community who had been listening to evangelism programs from one of the church’s radio stations on the island. “She brought six members of her family, including one of her sons who had never been interested in visiting church,” he said. Many of them recently got baptized and others are studying the bible before baptism, he added.

Church leaders in Puerto Rico reported more than 225 baptisms during the one-week online campaign.

Daisy Coromoto Pacheco is prayed for before she is baptized after evangelistic efforts were held in the San Juan Community in the State of Zulia, West Venezuela, recently. Coromoto accepted Jesus after being a medium in her community. [Photo: West Venezuela Union]

Members involved in discipleship

“We are so grateful and satisfied with the outcome of the campaign and it’s not about the baptismal results we can measure right now but the fact that church members got involved in discipleship to share Christ through social media connections,” Pastor Rodríguez said.

Two weeks after the online evangelistic campaign, more than 1,000 have joined the church for a total of over 19,000 new members joining the church since evangelism efforts began earlier this year. In addition, more than 2,100 have registered to receive bible studies.

For information about Inter-America’s Hope for a Sick World evangelistic online series, visit esperanzaparaunmundoenfermo.com

To view the series online (in Spanish), click HERE

Daniela Arrieta, Laura Acosta, Dayami Rodríguez and Steven’s Rosado contributed to this report.

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