To conduct an evangelistic campaign in Africa is already part of the dream of every Theology student in SALT/IAENE. In the last few years, delegations of students of this institution have volunteered to spend a couple of weeks preaching the gospel in an African country. This year’s destination was the archipelago of São Tomé and Principe, a small country located on the sea coast of West Central Africa, just under the Equator. With a population of approximately only 170.000, São Tomé and Principe is a peaceful country, with few cities, but with a heartwarming and welcoming population that above all is open to the gospel.
The Adventist Church in São Tomé has set as a goal the reaching of half of the country’s population to Christ. In order to reach that goal, the project “São Tomé and Principe for Christ 2014” was born. It was developed through a three-way partnership composed of: SALT/IANE’s Institution of Church Growth (ICI) which is led by Pr. Otoniel Ferreira; “Ide-GO”, led by Pr. Gilberto Araujo (Vice President of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division); and the Santomense Association, led by Pr. Dias Marques.
Preparations for this project began in 2013 when the ICI was encouraged to gather as many volunteers as possible. Many students came forward and, by faith, immediately began to raise funds for the trip. By the end of it all, the group was composed of 24 theology students, an academic of Psychology in FADBA, and three pastors: Otoniel Ferreira (SALT / IAENE), Osmar Borges (ULB) and Cassius Marcelo (JRA), reaching a total of 28 preachers.
While volunteers were getting reading on this side of the Atlantic, the church was active in São Tomé. They organized Bible classes, met with people that demonstrated interest, gave Bible studies, managed to find a location for the conferences and finally worked effortlessly to prepare everything for the arrival of the Brazilian preachers.
The trip began by leaving Brazil on the 06/12, reaching the destination on the next day and having the conferences begin on the 06/14. Even with a three hour jetlag, getting used to the new environment, food and so many other details, the volunteers did not measure efforts. Being there was a dream come true despite the many challenges and unforeseen. With joy and enthusiasm they preached for fifteen days.
Each missionary was in charge of one of the preaching points, which in general were places in the open. There was no comfort or chairs for everyone, however, there was a growing eagerness in listening to the Word of God. The size of the audience rooms varied. The smallest of them held approximately 100 people while others counted around 600 daily listeners. Added to the fact that many of these locations were under the open sky and people who lived further from there could hear in the distance, many more were reached by the message.
What was the result of all this work? Isaiah 55:11 says that “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty…” The result was that on Saturday the 28th of June, the Word of God once again was fulfilled and for His Honor and Glory, 968 precious souls gave their lives to Jesus through baptism. In this way, the Lord crowned the local church and volunteer preachers with joy who through the action and power of the Holy Spirit combined the effort to transform lives.
After the baptism, the church got together in the main church in São Tomé to say goodbye to the Brazilian missionaries that would be leaving the next day. They awarded each preacher with a certificate of recognition and sang farewell songs as well as thank you songs. Some volunteers weren’t able to hold back their tears when witnessing the love and gratitude of those brothers and sisters whom they probably will only see again in eternity. At the end of the celebration, the hymn “We Have This Hope” was sang, a hymn that speaks of that day when Jesus will return and separation will no longer exist!
After that moment of joy and thrill had passed, the time to pack the bags arrived. Everyone had some handicrafts as souvenirs, but also a sense of accomplishment, experience gained by the contact with a new culture, friendships that had become deeper by daily contact with colleagues, gratitude to God and to all who made this trip possible, in addition to the firm conviction that they received more than they gave and learned more than they taught.
Pr. Otoniel Ferreira, director of the ICI and group leader, gave the project the following evaluation: “It’s impressive to see what God can do when we dedicate ourselves to the mission of finding lost souls. Anywhere where there are people, there is the need for valuable soldiers who will not measure efforts to rescue them, even if it is just for one more soul to Christ.”
Pr. Gilberto Araujo, vice president of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division (SID) shares his point of view on the project with the following words: “The SID would like to extend their gratitude to the missionary effort made by the 28 Brazilian pastors that came to the islands of São Tomé and Principe in order to direct evangelistic meetings in these Portuguese speaking islands. The work done here was a landmark of the presence of the Adventist message to the people of this country. Almost one thousand people were baptized as a result of this missionary effort and many more are getting ready for a near future. Never before had the church witnessed such a miracle, they were days of great activities and sacrifice from everyone. It is important to remember that after more than 60 years the Adventist presence was reduced to less than 5,000 members, but this evangelism provided a growth of more than 20%. Once again I would like to extend our gratitude to the pastors from Brazil for this help.”
Text: Darcy Propodolski Pinto