Lifting Up The Banner
God has a plan for Portugal and He is guiding the work forward, using men and women to uplift His name.
By: Cory McGinn
Six Volunteers from different countries
participated in the first School of Health Evangelism in Portugal. The new graduates will help the Church in outreach programs to follow the extensive Health Expo work done in that country.
Portugal exudes history and tradition. The Westernmost country of continental Europe, it is the home of over 10 million people. People are warm and hospitable, aware of their long history and bravery in exploring the world in days gone by.
Over 90 percent of the Portuguese are registered Catholics but secularism is increasing and today less than 12% of the people attend church services
regularly. The Adventist Church has been proclaiming God's message in this country since 1904, most of this time under suspicion and prejudice. Today, over 8,000 baptized Seventh-day Adventists worship in 100 church groups and small companies. This gives a ratio of one Adventist in 1,250 people of the population!
How will the Gospel be taken to the millions in this increasingly secular country? Most people are concerned about their health. Cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes are the biggest killers. Many people also suffer from depression and anxiety, largely due to a lack of meaningful relationships with others and with God. People are desperately looking for solutions for these and other medical problems.
2002 saw the beginning of Health Expos in Portugal. Adventists have been able to share the best there is in preventive medicine, in a non-threatening way. Many people have come to know the Adventists as friends and these friendships have been nurtured through a variety of follow-up programs. As a result, many are open to spiritual values and the Word of God.
Between the years 2002 and 2004, more than 22,000 people were helped at the Health Expos, with over 3,000 requesting follow-up programs. In 2005, 34 Expos are being organized all over the country. This explosion of new contacts has created an urgent need for follow-up programs and personal visitation.
The first School of Health Evangelism opened in September 2004 and trained people how to meet these needs. This program was a partnership between the Portuguese Union of Seventh-day Adventists, ASI, OCI and the EUD Adventist Youth Service Program. For eight months, six volunteers from different countries participated in this challenging pioneer project: Daniel Seniuc, 24, from Herghelia, Romania, led the team; Nick Urrutia, 22, a pre-med graduate from the USA; Phillip Reiner, 22, from Austria; Monica Agarbicean, 27, also from Austria; Felipe Robalo, 24, from Portugal; Cory McGinn, 19, a pre-med student from the USA; and Martin Neumann, 33, from Austria.
Pastors and health professionals from Portugal also participated in teaching the 12 students who came from all over Portugal. Some students had just finished high school while others left their jobs to enroll in the course. One student took a break from his PhD program in Chemistry to join the school as a student. Throughout the course, they received instruction in Health and Evangelism including Physiology, Nutrition, Hydro and Massage Therapy, as well as Bible and Evangelism.
As the year wore on, students and teachers became more excited about outreach and uplifting the banner of Christ. They put into practice their newly gained knowledge at the different Health Expos and pioneered the establishment of Health Clubs in two Lisbon suburbs. The large Health Expos reach a broad
spectrum of people and the Health Clubs allow local churches to focus on smaller groups living in their vicinity. This makes the forming of one-to-one
relationships more realistic and becomes yet another bridge for progressing from physical to spiritual health.
Volunteers and students have also pioneered a Children's Health Ministries Program in local public schools. This program is expected to expand and include many public schools in the future.
Christ's method cannot be improved and we are told that He spent more time healing than preaching. Not wanting to neglect the preaching part of this ministry, Volunteers and students presented a two-week long "Happy Life" series in April 2005, simultaneously at five different locations near Lisbon. These seminars were designed to progressively take the audience from their day-to-day problems to more spiritual themes and to present Christ as the answer to their problems. Besides church members, over 40 non-Adventist visitors attended these seminars and some have begun Bible studies since then.
All of these advances in Portugal indicate that God has a plan for this country and He is guiding the work forward. God knows the future for Portugal, but if the past is any indicator of the future, then we all have reason to hope and praise God for inspiring men and women to continue to lift up the banner of Jesus Christ in this country. Please pray for the school to be able to continue the work in 2005-2006.
In Isaiah God asked the question, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" My prayer is that all of us who hear His still small voice will answer the same way Isaiah did-"Here am I; send me." These six volunteers have answered this way. Will you do the same?
Cory McGinn, from Illinois, represents Andrews University.