Four ladies at a park in Caracas are surrounded by Seventh-day Adventists young people smile as they pose for a photo to be posted on social media during the church’s annual “Close to You Venezuela” initiative July 30 to August 5, 2023. The annual initiative becomes the tenth annual event which has mobilized thousands of church members and volunteers to impact persons in cities and communities with goods and services for those in need across Venezuela. [Photo: East Venezuela Union]

August 28, 2023 | Caracas, Venezuela | Stevens’ Rosado and Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division New

For the tenth consecutive year, Seventh-day Adventists throughout Venezuela embarked on the annual initiative coined as Close To You Venezuela sharing smiles, books, toys, free medical check-ups and more as they marched, visited homes, swept parks and spread cheer and hope at traffic lights across the nation.

Under the initiative’s slogan: “Smile, God Believes in You,” more than 19,000 church members and volunteers joined in the annual initiative from July 30 to Aug. 5, 2023.

Young people smile after writing the slogan “Smile God believes in you,” of the annual initiative on a car before spreading  joy and goods to the needy across Venezuela.  [Photo: East Venezuela Union]

Sharing hope everywhere

In the East Venezuela Union, more than 7,000 church members and 2,000 volunteers took part in providing open clinics throughout Caracas, the capital city, and surrounding communities offering general, pediatric, psychology, dental, and other medical services to hundreds of people. In addition, children and adults enjoyed haircuts, face painting, athletic sports, and health seminars.  There was also distribution of clothes, cleaning of streets, parks, and alleys.  Thousands of meals were distributed, in addition to missionary magazines, literature and The Great Controversy book by Adventist co-founder Ellen G. White.

Sager, a volunteer nurse, was among dozens who assisted in Los Teques, in the State of Miranda, in eastern Venezuela, with clinic services. “Any of these [medical] services could cost anywhere from $50 to $100, which is a lot more than the minimum monthly salary in the country, so this is very valuable, he said. “Priceless in fact, because all the warmth and care offered to each person or patient seen is very special.”

A doctor listen to a patient describe her symptoms during a free clinic for the community led by the Adventist Church  in the East Venezuela Union. [Photo: East Venezuela Union]

Churches open for impact

Churches and community centers across Venezuela opened their doors to offer more than 3,000 children bible teachings through the church’s Vacation Bible Experiences program where children were gifted with special items and toys, church leaders said.

“I have felt so much joy to see the membership, especially the young people very active in this initiative, which is more than just an initiative because it has turned into a lifestyle now ten years in,” said Pastor Jesús David Chacón, youth ministries director for the East Venezuela Union.  “These activities are social support and are not only done one week during the year but permanently.”

A group of children show their toys at the end of a Vacation Bible Experience program in East Venezuela. More than 3,000 children took part in the bible lessons and activities led at Adventist Churches during annual initiative. [Photo: East Venezuela Union]

The idea has always been for “each church member and their friends who want to participate in the initiative to experience the joy and love of serving as Jesus taught us,” he added. “Jesus came to earth and was constantly looking to serve and love.”

Growing stronger than ever

Ten years in, Close To You Venezuela is more alive and stronger than ever, commented Chacón. “We hope that more may join this initiative.”

Angela Miolli, who joined the annual initiative this year with her Open Windows Foundation, said that taking part of the initiative in Caracas this year was very productive. “We do all types of social work like donating clothes, food, meals, toys and medicines.  Her team of volunteers aims to bring persons close to Jesus, she said. The foundation bears the name Open Windows, because on earth many doors may close but God always has open windows for all and sends angels that donate resources to keep the ministry.

A young persons paints the cheek of a boy on Margarita Island during the week of the initiative. [Photo: East Venezuela Union]

In Venezuela’s Margarita Island, dozens of church members visited Luis Ortega Hospital where meals, balloons, diapers, books, and magazines were distributed, and children had their faces painted during the initiative.

Nursing homes and elderly homes were also visited with gifts, food, songs and prayers across the country. Young people also held praise and worship meetings at churches and special locations to share the hope of gospel.

Serving in the community

The objectives of the activities held throughout the week are very clear, said Eli Josue Ramirez, a district pastor in Anaco, in the Anzoátegui State, who led the youth during the week.  “This is about taking the message of hope to the community, not only in theory but through practice because people will remember you not for what you say but for what you do for them and surely serving like this is the best way to show the love of Jesus Christ.”

Young people talk to a seller at a park plaza in Caracas before sharing a missionary magazine. [Photo: East Venezuela Union]

It’s all about keeping in mind that it’s important to create the kind of impact in the lives of people so they can know what the Seventh-day Adventist Church is about and many can learn more about the Bible and Jesus, said Alexandra, a youth leader in El Cartanal district, not far from Caracas.

In the West Venezuela Union, more than 10,000 church members and volunteers grabbed signs of hope at traffic lights, cleaned out city streets, city parks, public areas, provided medical services and food to thousands of people, held marathons, sports activities, vacation bible experience programs like what the church in the eastern region did.

Visiting the most vulnerable

Among the many activities held, food donation posts were organized throughout cities and communities to distribute in needy communities with hot meals, soup, clothes and books.

Young people hold up a sign that reads “Smile, God believes in You” part of the slogan of the annual initiative to point drivers and onlookers to God and his love in West Venezuela. [Photo: West Venezuela Union]

Health seminars were also part of the dozens of medical services offered to onlookers throughout the states in the western region of the country. In addition, church members donated blood, visited and distributed goods at orphanages, nursing homes, and health centers, and more.

Organizers said that more than 5,000 children, young people and adults were treated through the medical services provided during the week.

The impact activities were covered by radio, television, and the print media.

A mother and her baby receive warm arepa from a young person during a meal distribution in Barquisimeto, Venezuela.  [Photo: West Venezuela Union]

Following Christ’s method

“We believe that this activity follows the method of Jesus, one that he personally did in this world to reach people, especially those in need,” said Pastor Orlando Ramirez, president of the West Venezuela Union. “As a church, we want persons to know that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is very close to them and that through the love of God, we are inspired to serve and love others.

As part of the 10th year anniversary of the Close To You Venezuela initiative this year, Hope Media Venezuela in the East Venezuela Union launched a series of ten episodes featuring impact activities that have been available on Hope Channel Inter-America since early this month.

The impact of Close To You Venezuela has been felt all across the country, church leaders said.

The annual initiative saw hundreds of children and adults receiving haircuts during “Close to You” initiative earlier this. month in East Venezuela. [Photo: East Venezuela Union]

“We are so happy to have been engaged in this initiative during the past 10 years, bringing smiles and joy to so many persons in our territory,” said Pastor Carlos Oyaga, youth ministries director of the West Venezuela Conference in Maracaibo.  “Today more than ever we need to have more young people serving and willing to bring more smiles and hope to so many out there.”

Marcos A. Izarra contributed information to this report.

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