Adventist volunteers travel by car, boat, and on foot for a first visit in two years.
Published on: 11-30-2023
Traveling several hours by car, boat, and on foot, and even spending the night in the middle of the jungle, were among the challenges Seventh-day Adventist pastors, health practitioners, and lay volunteers experienced in their efforts to attend to the physical and spiritual needs of dozens of people in several Venezuelan indigenous communities in the state of Bolívar.
The visit, which took place October 3-8, and included a delegation of 16 people, specifically benefited the Indigenous communities of Alto Paragua known as Periquera, El Plomo, and Arekuna. The communities, which total approximately 1,800 residents, had not been visited in two years, church leaders said.
A Long and Difficult Journey
It was a long and intense journey, participants said. The group began traveling by car for three hours from the headquarters of the Southeast Venezuela Conference in Puerto Ordaz to Alto Paragua. From there, the delegation was divided into three groups. The first continued for four hours by boat until they reached the community of El Plomo. The second group traveled three more hours by boat to Periquera, and the third group traveled three hours by boat and five more hours on foot before finally reaching Arekuna, the most remote location on the itinerary.
Five months before the trip, regional church leaders had sent a lay church member to preach the gospel in that area. Now, volunteers offered a Vacation Bible Experience program for the first time in all three communities. At each location, volunteers also offered a week of Bible conferences for adults. Free medical care was provided in El Plomo. As a result of these efforts, 24 people, including older children, young people, and adults, gave their lives to Christ through baptism. Each received a Bible as a gift.
Southeast Venezuela Conference president Mauricio Brito, who led the delegation that arrived in Arekuna, said his group had to spend the night in the middle of the jungle for reasons beyond their control. “It was a challenging experience, but we felt the protection of God’s angels at all times,” he said.
Activities for Children
Lay volunteer Naileyda Zapata shared the team’s experience. “After a long journey, we managed to reach Arekuna to attend to the children and their non-Adventist parents,” Zapata said. “Those children showed their joy during the Bible Vacation Experience, and God worked in them so much that 10 decided to accept Jesus and be baptized.”
Zapata also shared that the daughters of the community chief participated in the activity and said they support volunteers offering the program again in that area.
A total of 205 children — from both Adventist and non-Adventist families — enjoyed the Vacation Bible Experience program. Another 250 people benefited from the health day held in El Plomo, which included dentistry, pediatrics, general medicine, hydrotherapy, and pain and neuro-lymphatic therapies. The team distributed donated medicines and provided education on various aspects of health care, organizers said.
Dentist Fergis Marcano, who performed extractions, dental cleanings, and removable prostheses during the health day, said it was a joy to participate in the initiative. “It is very gratifying to carry out this work, to see how patients thank you because you made a change in their lives,” Marcano said. “We didn’t just talk about oral health but also about increasing their self-esteem, which is especially true for patients who received their prostheses.”
Marcano said her team also gave talks in schools about the importance of brushing correctly and suggested putting an oral health handbook together where people can go regularly to find dental information in their own dialect.
Covering Multiple Needs
Raul Zambrano, captain of the El Plomo community, said he deeply appreciated the visit from Adventist pastors and volunteers, because it is very expensive to leave the community to go to the city for treatment. “We want them to come back next year, because we were pleasantly surprised with their service,” Zambrano said.
Brito noted the high cost of living in that region of the state of Bolívar. “People can get enough food to get by, but anything beyond that — health, education, and housing — are often out of their reach,” he said.
But the service initiative to isolated Indigenous communities was not only about physical or spiritual health. Adventist pastors John Astroza and Samuel Sánchez offered a music school for the second time at El Plomo. Young participants learned to read sheet music, practiced with local musical instruments such as the cuatro and the recorder, and played some musical pieces.
Service in Love
At the end of the intense week of missionary work, Brito, accompanied by Julio Bastardo, executive secretary for the conference and organizer of the service work carried out in Periquera, said they felt joy after participating in the initiative. “We are happy to have taken care of our brothers in their homes. No matter how far away and how many resources are required, we won’t leave them alone. This group of pastors, doctors, and lay volunteers were there to serve them, helping to provide relief to their challenges,” Brito said.
He then urged church members in each of the communities visited to remain firm in the faith. “Christ will come and finish the work we have begun,” Brito told them. “From the bottom of our hearts, we tell you that we love you.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has six congregations in the Alto Paragua area of Bolívar. On this occasion, the team of pastors and volunteers visited three of them, with a total of approximately 170 church members. In 2024, church leaders expect that a similar medical-missionary delegation will be able to visit the community of San Francisco de las Babas, located 17 hours away from the headquarters of the Southeast Venezuela Conference.