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In South America, continent-wide outreach takes message, magazine to community

Parades, airplanes, even a hearse herald hope in coordinated campaign across 8 countries

Hundreds of Seventh-day Adventists in South America took to the streets Saturday in the latest continent-wide outreach campaign, promoting health initiatives, distributing malaria-control kits and collecting food for community services centers.

Church leaders said the event and the accompanying distribution of 30 million evangelistic magazines were to highlight the seventh-day Sabbath as a day of hope for families, for physical and mental health and better contact with God.

The initiative spurred street-wide marches in big cities and small towns. Many featured loudspeakers mounted on trucks, cars and motorcycles. In the Brazilian city of Campos dos Goytacazes in the state of Rio de Janeiro, even a hearse was transformed into a vehicle of spreading the church's message of hope and information about the Sabbath.

Saturday's initiative was promoted by airplane in Brazil and Argentina, balloons in the Brazilian city of Santa Catarina, by boat in the Amazon, and the message rode into town on a horse in Augustinópolis, in the state of Tocantins.

"The message of Sabbath, for the current population which lives frantically and is full of activities, is important because it is necessary to stop and reflect on a life in relationship with God and our neighbors," said Erton Köhler, president of the Adventist Church in South America.

Previous initiatives of the Adventist Church in South America include a Day of Hope in 2008, with 20 million magazines distributed, and last year's Homes of Hope, where church members invited community friends home for lunch. Church officials say the large, one-day campaigns promote church unity across the continent and channel the energy of members for months leading up to the initiative.

"For us [in South America] it's not just one day, it's a lifestyle," Köhler told ANN during a March interview.

Local organizers said Saturday's campaign caught the attention of motorists, pedestrians, tourists and shoppers. Even politicians took notie. Jose Fortunati, mayor of Porto Alegre in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, commended the church's emphasis not only on spirituality, but also on social impact.

The church is a "practical" force in people's lives, Fortunati said, citing the church's global End It Now campaign against violence toward women and children.

On a street corner in Buenos Aires, Argentina, youth dramatized for passers-by the pressures of the week and the relief of Sabbath. In Chile, young jugglers entertained drivers, while others handed out the Day of Hope magazine. In Peru, the church charged a female minister with delivering copies of the magazine to political authorities. She even got a copy delivered to the Peruvian President, Alan García Pérez.

In addition to spiritual outreach, church members in various regions held community blood drives, registered hundreds of potential bone marrow donors, and offered health screenings and counseling on healthful living.Volunteers in Rio Grande do Sul collected 1.5 tons of food for distribution by local Adventist Development and Relief Agency offices.

Members also followed the initiative through church communication channels -- church journalists and webmasters in Brazilia covered the event all day Saturday, posting pictures, stories and videos on a Spanish and Portuguese blog.

There are about 2.1 million Adventists in the church's South America region, comprised of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

--Marcio Tonetti contributed to this story