The Apostle Peter’s sermon, recorded in Acts chapter 2, took place in a context with an impressive manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The three thousand who converted on that day lead us to reflect on the importance of individual spiritual decisions. A few years ago, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America reserved a week in their calendar to encourage special worship services, emphasizing public decisions for Christ. More than 30,000 sites across eight countries participated in this special week, titled Essences. Pastors, lay members, and others led out in biblical exposition.
Marcelo Aparecido, 48, from Unaí, Minas Gerais, very close to the border with the Federal District, was just one of the hundreds who made a decision for Christ. In April of last year, Aparecido had his left leg amputated due to a chronic disease called thromboangiitis obliterans, also known as Buerger disease. It was the beginning of a turbulent period. At the time of his diagnosis, Aparecido was married and a partner in a rehab center for addiction and alcoholism treatment. His world collapsed quickly, however. His marriage ended, his partnership was broken, and a void settled within him. "I was at home, depressed, and I was seriously thinking about suicide because I could not bear the pain I was feeling," he recalls.
A book, a hug and a prayer
His situation began to change in May, when he received a copy of the book The Power of Hope during large-scale distribution by employees from the South American Adventist headquarters in Unaí. He hadn’t been outside his home in several days. Gathering his courage, he left his apartment, got on the elevator, and walked out of the building. When he got to the sidewalk, he met the President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America, Erton Köhler, who was handing out copies of the book with his family.
After taking a copy, receiving a hug and praying with Köhler, Aparecido states that his life is changed! From that moment on, he had a personal network to help in his spiritual development, including many working at the Adventist South American headquarters, and he connected with a local church.
A little over a month ago, he got a prosthetic leg and now sees life differently. He does regular Bible studies and, in this week of decisions, publicly committed himself to God through baptism. Jackson Pires, the pastor who leads the One Year in Mission team (young people who volunteer for regular evangelistic missions), is another friend who supported his decision. "Today I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Before I did not see a solution," he says, recognizing that he still has challenges but his method of dealing with them is different.
Released from captivity
Jorge Mota, 51, a resident of Brazlândia, in the Federal District, has contagious energy. He attended most of the meetings during the week and was baptized on the 18th, when Luís Gonçalves, the evangelist who coordinated the project, was preaching there.
Mota was a religious leader of therapeutic communities for 22 years and participated in various social projects in several states. Something bothered him, though. Although he knew the gospel, he watched various Adventist TV shows, including Novo Tempo programming, and saw the need to delve deeper into biblical themes. A friend invited him to attend the meetings during Essence week. He liked it and said that the decision to become an Adventist was inevitable. Asked about how he feels today, he uses a metaphor: "Do you know when you are in captivity and leave and become free? That's how I feel.”
Encouraged by his new perspective, Mota has already begun small group studies with friends and has invited many people to understand more about Bible concepts. "People say, for example, that the commandments were abolished, but when we know the truth, the truth sets us free," he says.
For Gonçalves, the Essences week is the opportunity for people who study the Bible personally or by other means, to make a commitment to Christ. "It is important to emphasize that our intention is to create programs that can help people who want to make a decision for Christ. But this can only happen once they understand, through the Bible, what this type of decision means,” Gonçalves summarizes.
Church in Unaí
Aparecido’s baptism occurred the same day as the inauguration of a new temple in Unaí (a city with about 83,000 inhabitants in Minas Gerais), specifically in the Divinéia neighborhood. The temple was built with support from employees of the South American Division, and from institutions linked to it, such as Rede Novo Tempo de Comunicação, Brazil Publishing House (BPH), Argentina and Brazil food factories, the South American Spanish Publishing House, Adventist Technology Institute (ATI), and Adventist Risk Management (Adventist Church insurance brokerage).
Edison Choque, the organizer of this church planting project, explains that it was the tenth congregation built with this effort. The plant began with a nucleus group of 30, but just in 2018, 48 people were baptized, according to Choque. The plan to plant new Adventist churches involves eight South American countries. The expectation is that 750 new congregations will be established next year in major South American cities.