Church Celebrates 100 Years
Wilson, in visit, says Adventists are a “people of hope”
BY LIBNA STEVENS, reporting from Caracas, Venezuela
Thousands of Seventh-day Adventists across Venezuela celebrated 100 years of Adventist heritage during a two-day event that gathered top church leaders and attracted tens of thousands in the cities of Caracas and Barquisimeto on August 7 and 8, 2010. Hundreds of churches throughout the country served as live satellite broadcast centers of the celebration events.
More than 13,000 packed the Caracas Polyhedron for the historic event that honored the work of Adventist pioneers and early church leaders, showcased the growth of the church, and challenged the new generation of church members to continue fulfilling the mission of the church in Venezuela.
PEOPLE OF HOPE: Adventist world church president Pastor Ted N. C. Wilson (right) speaks to thousands at Caracas Polyhedron during the church’s centennial celebration in Venezuela on Saturday, August 7, 2010, while Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America, translates.
The event was broadcast live across Venezuela and around the world through Esperanza TV, the Internet, and more than a dozen radio stations.
“I commend the government for preserving religious liberty in Venezuela,” expressed Pastor Ted N. C. Wilson, Adventist world church president, as he addressed the crowd during his keynote address. “We praise God on how He has guarded the church for so many years in this country.” Wilson went on to say how the Adventist Church continues to hold high its beliefs and its identity as a church with an important mission.
In his first visit to Venezuela and first trip outside North America after being elected as Adventist world church president in June, Wilson praised the work of the church and challenged every believer to become the best citizen of the country by serving others and moving into action for Christ.
Expanding God’s work is first on Venezuelan church leaders’ lists of things to do as they harness the momentum of the centennial celebrations and begin to strategize for greater church growth.
“For us this [100-year celebration] means a turning point for the church in Venezuela,” said Josney Rodriguez, president of the recently approved church union in East Venezuela. “There is a new generation of believers who weren’t born in the church or do not know the history, and must learn of the sacrifice of those who brought the gospel and sowed the seed for the work of the church here in Venezuela.”
For decades the church in Venezuela was part of the Colombia-Venezuela Union Mission, headquartered in Colombia. In 1989, when the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission was established, the church was comprised of three conferences and missions and some 43,000 members. Today, the church boasts 12 conferences and missions and nearly 250,000 members. The East Venezuela Union Mission was recently organized to look after the growing membership in the eastern part of the country, which includes Caracas, the capital of the country and its largest city, with a population of more than 2 million.
“We wanted to use this event as a launching pad to let Venezuela know more of what the Adventist Church is all about and our commitment to contributing to a better society and spreading the gospel,” added Rodriguez.
Leaders in East Venezuela are committing 50 percent of their evangelism budget to television, radio, and publishing to reach more unbelievers, especially in Caracas.
“We have purchased equipment and have already trained 143 of our members in television production, so we can penetrate Caracas,” said Rodriguez. “It’s not enough to evangelize [Caracas] through our small group ministry.”
With more than 830 colporteurs and 650 evangelists, the church in East Venezuela is also preparing for a larger impact through publishing.
“We want to use the media to promote the church in Venezuela and what it is doing in the communities,” said Rodriguez. “It needs to be the rain that prepares for the seed of God’s Word, so that when a colporteur knocks on the door, the resident will have already heard about us.”
Outside the Caracas Polyhedron, some 100 new believers were baptized as Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America, pronounced the baptismal prayer. More than 1,000 baptisms took place in the weeks leading up to the centennial celebration.
“We want Christ to come soon; but until then you must continue preaching faithfully, more than ever,” said Leito. “We must finish the work that the pioneers worked so hard to build, and continue proclaiming the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
GRAND CONGREGATION: More than 7,000 Seventh-day Adventists gathered at the Feria Bicentenario Center in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, for day two of the centennial celebration, August 8, 2010.
Julio Palacio, president of the church in the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission, also took part in the centennial celebration and was joined by church leaders and members from the western part of the country as well as a delegation from its Curaçao and Aruba church territories.
In addition to recognizing families of the early pioneers and early and current church leaders, a moment of silence was observed for those who dedicated their lives to the work of the church in Venezuela. Ivan Omana, first and former president of the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission from 1989 to 2000 and grandson of the first ordained Venezuelan minister, was among the leaders honored for his committed service to the church there.
“I am so filled with emotion that this dream of a fast-growing church has become a reality,” said Omana. “My vision was to see a growing church, filled with professionals, because the potential was so great back then. It is certainly amazing to see how the Lord has blessed the church in my country.”
Omana was among three relatives of pioneers who handed the replica of the large traveling Bible to a young generation of Adventists during the closing ceremony. The youth were challenged with the task of evangelizing the rest of the country.
Videos highlighting the history of early missionaries such as Frank Lewis Lane and Richard Greenidge, as well as native Indian tribe chief Raku of La Gran Sabana region, who received a revelation of the Bible truths, were also broadcast.
Hundreds of Adventists from across the country joined in a massive choir and orchestra, as well as a 300-member drum corps that performed during the special program.
Several leaders from other church denominations spoke at the event and congratulated the Adventist Church for its growth, influence, and unswerving commitment to upholding Bible truths.
Representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Venezuela praised the work of the Adventist Church and its Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) for its programs and initiatives in benefiting needy communities in the country, and requested the continued support of ADRA and
its volunteers to partner with new projects this year.
Day two of the centennial celebration took place at Feria Bicentenario Center in Barquisimeto on Sunday, August 8. More than 7,000 gathered for the day’s celebration in music and thanksgiving. There was also special recognition to the work of pioneers and church leaders in West Venezuela, home to the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission.
As keynote speaker, Wilson echoed his message of a church committed to upholding the Adventist message of the Bible and encouraged every believer to represent God at all times.
“In the last work of salvation, my brothers and sisters, today, as you celebrate 100 years of God’s blessings, God is calling you to march forward to beyond 100 years and be ambassadors for Christ,” said Wilson. “You see we know what will happen; Jesús viene pronto [Jesus is coming soon].”
As president of the church in the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission since 2000, Julio Palacio was joined by Rodriguez and talked about the growth of the church in Venezuela and revisited church history. Palacio promoted a new book available detailing the history of the Adventist Church in Venezuela.
With more than 130,000 church members in the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission, which includes Aruba and Curaçao, Palacio said that the church will soon add four more additional local fields in four different states in the union’s region. But he said there are still areas that have not yet been penetrated by the message.
Said Palacio: “We have been working with the government for a few years to open new radio stations and there are several projects underway to reach those impenetrable areas in our territory.
“We are also focusing on strengthening our publishing ministry by training some 600 colporteurs this month throughout our local fields and continue entering new areas with the message of hope,” Palacio said.
Located in the northern part of South America, Venezuela has nearly 250,000 church members worshipping in 849 churches and congregations. The Adventist Church operates a university, several clinics, and dozens of schools in the country.