It was Sabbath, February 25, 2023, and Thássia Gomes was at home in Gandu, Bahia, Brazil. For three days, she had a new feature in her routine: following the online services of an Adventist church in Rio de Janeiro, 1,300 kilometers (approx. 810 miles) away from her home. She was already a Seventh-day Adventist, and a few months ago, she started visiting the congregation in her city again.
That was the period of the 10 Days of Prayer, and each day of live-streaming, the sermons of the official speaker, Pastor Josanan Alves, and the musical messages of Melissa Barcelos, with whom Gomes had already had contact in the past, were helping her to see a desire rekindled in her heart.
"I was going through a very difficult time. This service fit me like a glove. I had already wanted to be baptized, but it wasn't something definite yet. On the third day, that desire became much stronger, and I was able to get in touch with Melissa Barcelos' team to tell them about it. In a short time, I received a return with a video message from her and Pastor Josanan," Gomes said.
The church's team in Rio de Janeiro learned of Gomes' decision, and there began a mobilization to accompany her, forming a connection between Rio and Bahia. Quickly, the information reached the pastor of the Gandu Church, Anessandro Neves, who made first contact with Gomes by phone. Soon a visit took place, where she could tell her story, her past in the church, and her difficulties.
Two days later, on the next visit, accompanied by another leader, Pastor Neves talked with Gomes about church matters. At this moment, Gomes had the opportunity to ask questions and confirm her decision for baptism. "The church welcomed me from the first moment. I already have friendships there that are everything good for me," she shared.
The desire to be baptized was fulfilled on March 11 during a women's ministries event for the whole southern region of Bahia. Pastor Alves participated in the occasion online by video. Once again, technology enabled the closeness. "I am privileged to participate in this moment, even if at a distance. Baptism is the great [venture into] the Christian life, not the great arrival. You will still have struggles, tears, problems, but you are not alone. You have a God who will help you overcome," he stressed.
Now Gomes plans to get involved in youth ministry and will host a women's ministries meeting in her church. The baptism was an important milestone for her. "It was a very special day because I saw that my story inspired a lot of people. That, for me, was even a shock, I never thought that a person who felt invisible would impact so many others. It was very exciting. Now a new life begins," she concluded.
Between the Real and the Virtual
With the restrictive measures on contact, space, and movement brought about as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March 2020, the way to communicate could no longer be the same.
The popularization of live content over the internet made it possible to continue to maintain and create bonds between people, regardless of distance. If, during the pandemic, this was the only alternative, the presence of the church in the virtual environment is now a potential tool. According to the State of the Online Church survey, which gathered data from 176 churches in the United States as recently as 2018, 58 percent of churches have experienced physical growth since joining the online ministry.
Fabiana Lopes is part of the Adventist Church team in Rio de Janeiro and was following the comments in the chat of the 10 Days of Prayer live-stream. This attention is necessary so internet users know that, despite being in a virtual environment, they are being perceived by real individuals just like them. Lopes was the person who made contact with Pastor Neves in Bahia so Gomes could be closely supported.
For Pastor Alves, who is also director of the Stewardship Department for the South American Division, harmony and agility between the real and virtual can bring results. "May more churches be quick and more pastors be quick to attend and reach the thousands of people who are getting to know the truth in a virtual way," he commented.
The original version of this story was posted on the South American Division Portuguese-language news site.