In St. Maarten, local church aims to reach 1,500 residents with hope, compassion

Members of the New Bethany Spanish Adventist Church planted trees, visited hospitals and led presentations on nutrition during week-long outreach in Phillipsburg.

Philipsburg, St. Maarten | Inter-American Division Staff

Dozens of Seventh-day Adventists from a small church on the Caribbean Island of St. Maarten took to the streets of Philipsburg to share smiles, show kindness and offer hope to pedestrians and motorists earlier this month. The outreach program is part of a comprehensive evangelism plan to reach out to more than 1,500 people.

"This initiative is all about sharing the message of God’s love," said Marcos Salas, organizer of the event and leader of the 130-member New Bethany Spanish Adventist Church.

The entire church membership wore t-shirts with the initiative’s slogan coined as “Smile, There is Hope, You Are Not Alone,” said Salas. Members split up into small groups to take part in a week-long schedule of activities including tree planting, prayer, hospital visitations, vacation bible school, assisting the needy, holding talks on nutrition and the family, musical and mime performances in main plazas, and offering hugs.

“We are proud of our young people who have gone out to show the world that they are a different generation, ready to help others, taking the message of hope, sharing hugs and smiles,” said Salas.

Salas explained that the initiative falls under Inter-America’s “Lord Transform Me” initiative coupled with the Adventist World Church’s “Total Member Involvement,” and is part of a larger comprehensive evangelism endeavor to minister to the needs of the people in the community.

Salas is a native of Venezuela and served in the East Venezuela Union. He was involved in the city-wide social program coined as “Close to You Venezuela, Smile God believes in You” and saw the need for a version of the initiative after moving to St. Maarten, November 2015.

“We know that people have a loneliness inside and we have been working on reaching out to people who want to receive bible studies within the 11 small groups we have organized in the church,” explained Salas. So far, this year, some 123 people have been studying the Bible and 47 of those have joined the church as a result.

This outreach program has surpassed almost all our objectives, said Salas. What’s more, the program “offers a space for all the ministries of the church, especially children and young people, that from our point of view are the most powerful but sometimes are frustrated in our church.”

The plan is to continue reaching out into communities with the “Smile, There is Hope – You’re not Alone,” program once every quarter and a larger impact once a year. “We want to invite other area churches to join our initiative and establish additional outreach strategies for the island,” Salas added. Plans are underway for a health impact in October and a Christmas Impact this year.

The New Bethany Spanish Adventist Church, in Philipsburg, is one of seven congregations in St. Maarten, which caters to the needs of a growing Spanish-speaking community.

Royston Philbert contributed to this article.