In One Day, Adventists Feed One Million
Church youth, adults participate
BY LIBNA STEVENS, IAD Communication, writing from Bucaramanga, Santander, Colombia
ladimir Gomez is not too shy to speak about his life. For 20 of his 35 years, he has been homeless and living on the streets of Bucaramanga, Colombia. Rejected by his family and by society, he begs for money and scrambles for something to eat every day. A prisoner to his decades-long drug addiction, Gomez lives off the kindness of the occasional Good Samaritan. But for one day, he didn’t have to worry about a meal.
Gomez was just one among nearly one million of the neediest people throughout Inter-America who received a special dinner on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 11, 2008. The effort, called the "Day of Kindness and Compassion", was orchestrated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in coordination with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) offices in Inter-America and local governments, to promote awareness for the less fortunate who go hungry every day. The event also reflected United Nations’ World Hunger Day, celebrated annually on Oct. 16.
“Our goal was to involve one million young people and church members in donating the equivalent of one meal to benefit those who are in great need,” said Bernardo Rodriguez, youth ministries director for the Inter-American Division (IAD) and joint-organizer of the event. Thanks to donations of less than $2.00 each from nearly one million church members and thousands of young people, this benevolent act, which spanned most of the IAD's 17 church regions, was made possible.
“Today is a new day for the youth in Inter-America,” said Rodriguez. “Together with ADRA we can show that it is possible to share the love of God, not only by proclaiming the gospel, but also by demonstrating the gospel through these acts of kindness.”
NEW ‘RECRUIT’ -- “My dear friends from ADRA and the Advenitst Church, thank you for being so much like Jesus when during this occasion you are giving us that extraordinary example we should follow,” Dr. Horacio Serpa, governor of Santander, Colombia, said. “Today I become an ADRA volunteer.”
A special program took place at the Luis Carlos Galan Civic Plaza in Bucaramanga, where church leaders, government officials, and thousands of volunteers gathered to feed more than 200 homeless. The program was broadcast live over the Internet. In addition to a meal, the guests of honor were also treated to a shower, haircut, a t-shirt and medical attention.
“I feel so good, I feel new, all my filth is gone,” said Gomez. “Thank you for doing this for us. It means that there are people with good hearts who think of us--the homeless.”
The governor of Santander and former Interior Minister of Colombia, Dr. Horacio Serpa, shared with the hundreds of participants his gratitude towards the church for its commitment in showing a wonderful example to society.
“My dear friends from ADRA and the Advenitst Church, thank you for being so much like Jesus when during this occasion you are giving us that extraordinary example we should follow,” Serpa said. “Today I become an ADRA volunteer.” At the conclusion of his message, 15 trucks loaded with meals left the plaza for the surrounding communities, where volunteers were waiting.
In Las Marias, a town southwest of Bucaramanga devastated by flooding months before, a group of 12 youth volunteers distributed meals and offered prayers. They passed out 150 dinners.
“I am so thankful for what you have brought us,” said Marloy, who lives in a small wooden house with her four children, parents, sister, and two nephews. She smiled as her 11-year-old son curiously investigated what the strangers had brought. “May God bless you for what you are doing,” she said.
It was smiles that brought church volunteers a sense of joy and happiness.
“God put it in our hearts to come and help here today,” said Cecilia Garzes, ADRA representative in the nearby Riveras del Rio Adventist Church. “It brings us so much joy to help these families who have so little.”
Young people were also excited to be part of the team of volunteers.
Joel Silva, from the Filadelfia Adventist Church in Bucaramanga, was among nearly 200 young volunteers who met early on Saturday at the Libertad Adventist School. He was excited to take part in packaging the meals.
“This is such an incredible event,” said Silva. “To see so many people helping so others can feel the love of Christ, and with these simple donations we can make sure that someone can have a dinner tonight. It makes me so happy to know that other people in other countries are doing the same thing today.”
The Day of Kindness and Compassion has been a wonderful opportunity for ADRA and the church to be known in its community, said Wally Amundson, ADRA director for Inter-America.
“Our ADRA offices have been very useful in helping to coordinate this event," he said. "ADRA has been working with the local government and the communities over time and these relationships were quite helpful in the coordination."
Gabriel Villarreal, ADRA Colombia director, agrees.
“This is a very good activity for the church to be known in not only Bucaramanga, but also in Colombia," he said. "The Adventist Church throughout the territory is going to be known as a church that cares about the needs of the population.”
REFRESHING PAUSE: Young girl sips a drink distributed on the ‘Day of Kindness and Compassion.’
The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization supported the event, and allowed its logo to be placed on the boxed dinners not only in Colombia but throughout the other countries participating in Inter-America.
“I’m sure churches across Inter-America will realize how easy it is and how cost effective it is to do something meaningful in the community like this,” explained Amundson. “My hope is that each church will continue to think about what they can do in their community from day to day and month to month--not just once a year.”
The idea for the Day of Kindness and Compassion was born four years ago in the minds of church member volunteers in Bucaramanga who wanted to assist the less fortunate in the community. In the following years, boxed dinners were distributed throughout the city. This annual event drew national participation in Colombia and gained attention among Inter-American Division leaders.
“Soon after, Inter-American Division’s executive committee voted to implement the project division-wide,” said Amundson.
On this single October day, volunteers in Colombia distributed more than 100,000 meals. In Mexico, nearly 300,000 were fed while the church in Central America reached more than 200,000. Thousands more were distributed in Trinidad, Venezuela, and Dominican Republic, as well as French Antilles. Additionally, the church in Puerto Rico collected special funds and food items for Haiti, which is still recovering from the devastation of four hurricanes in as many weeks last July and August. As soon as conditions in Haiti improve enough to allow meal distribution, volunteers will distribute to the neediest communities. The church in Cuba, which is also recovering from several powerful storms and hurricanes, will hold its special day later this year.
Church members in various countries are already planning for a repeat activity for 2009. In addition, countries in three different world church divisions have expressed interest in holding similar events in their territories.
“This event was so important because we captured the imagination of every level of society," said Amundson. “People that are usually discarded or despised were invited to…a table populated by governors, people of high influence, and church leaders, so there was a tremendous exchange between all levels of society, each one acknowledging we can do more to help those around us."