Traveling several hours by car, boat, and on foot—even spending the night in the middle of the jungle—were some of the hassles Seventh-day Adventist pastors, health practitioners, and lay volunteers had to experience to meet 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, 2023, and included a delegation of 16 people, specifically benefited the indigenous communities of Alto Paragua, El Plomo, and Arekuna. The communities, which total approximately 1,800 residents, had not been visited in two years, church leaders reported.
A Long, Intense Journey
It was a long, intense journey, participants said. The group traveled the first three hours by car from the headquarters of the Southeast Venezuela Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in Puerto Ordaz, to Alto Paragua. There, the delegation was divided into three groups. The first continued the next four hours by boat until they reached the community of El Plomo; the second, three more hours by boat to Periquera; and the third, three hours by boat and five more hours walking to finally reach Arekuna, the most remote place on the itinerary.
Five months before the trip, regional church leaders had sent a lay 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.
Pastor Mauricio Brito, Southeast Venezuela Conference president, who led the delegation that arrived in Arekuna, shared that they 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. Those children showed their joy during the Bible Vacation Experience, and God worked in them so much that ten 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 neurolymphatic therapies. The team distributed donated medicines and provided health 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. 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 also shared that her team 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 of Adventist pastors and volunteers because, he explained, 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,” he said.
Pastor Brito explained that that area in the state of Bolívar has a high cost of living. “People can get enough food to get by, but anything beyond that—health, education, and housing—are often out of their reach,” he said.
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, Pastor Brito, accompanied by Pastor Julio Bastardo, executive secretary of 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,” he said.
Pastor Brito also urged church members of each of the communities visited to remain firm in the faith. “Christ will come and finish the work we have begun. 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 a similar medical-missionary delegation is able to visit the community of San Francisco de las Babas, located 17 hours away from the headquarters of the Southeast Venezuela Conference.