Though COVID-19 forced the Evangelistic Resource Center (ERC) to postpone its 2020 mission trips, students discovered other ways to serve during the spring and summer months.
In April, ERC sponsored Vespers over Zoom that attracted between 20 and 30 students each Friday night, according to ERC’s World Missions Associate Director Raul Rivero. From May 11 to 15, ERC organized a week of prayer titled “Called.” About 40 Southern Adventist University students attended each day on Zoom to watch student-led worships, participate in raffles and pray.
According to Rivero, a parent of one of the attending students was so impressed by “Called” that he asked ERC to conduct a similar program in collaboration with the Marion Oaks three-church district in the Florida Conference. From June 15 to 19, 25 students shared music, testimonies and inspirational messages via Facebook Live with the Marion Oaks district, with more than 2,000 people viewing the program daily.
“In July, our focus was on evangelism,” Rivero said. “Evangelism is different because the sermons are different. You make appeals for people to be baptized.”
ERC held its first digital evangelistic series with the Southeastern Dominican Seventh-day Adventist Conference. A new sermon series, titled “A New Beginning,” was created specifically for the event. Seven Southern students preached eight sermons over Zoom and Facebook Live between July 18 and 25. ERC trained the students to preach and coached them in developing religious appeals. Participants met with the Southeast Dominican Conference’s leaders and pastors.
“We did everything that we normally do during our mission trips,” Rivero said.
Forty churches in seven districts participated in the event. Forty-three people chose to join the Adventist Church through baptism, and many more requested Bible studies, according to Rivero.
Junior nursing major Evelyn Martinez-Alvarado participated in both the Florida week of prayer and the digital evangelistic series.
“[Doing programs on Zoom] made spiritual programs very interactive,” Martinez-Alvarado said. “We could read people’s thoughts in the comments in real time, and we could easily address our comments back to them. It was definitely a great tool.”
Junior theology major Fernando Portillo was also involved with ERC over the summer. Not only was he one of six students who preached for “Called,” but after being spotted by a friend on a flyer advertising the week of prayer, Portillo was also asked to preach a virtual evangelistic series to a church in Colombia. He accepted the call. Afterward, he preached for the evangelistic series in the Dominican Republic as part of ERC.
Portillo described the beginning of his virtual preaching experience as “rough.” However, he also acknowledged positive aspects of the situation.
“Whenever you’re preaching to a camera, you don’t know if the people are listening,” Portillo said. “I felt like it was a good opportunity to not get energy from the outside in, but to find that energy from the inside out. I feel like the Holy Spirit was the one that gave me that passion, that energy to preach to the camera.”
Both Portillo and Martinez-Alvarado plan to continue working with ERC, specifically by going on a 2021 mission trip to Kenya.
In addition to the mission trips planned by ERC, the organization is also planning to conduct another digital evangelistic series in November, according to Rivero. The location has not yet been determined. He said ERC is hoping to send about 20 students on each of the 2021 mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Kenya, Peru and New Jersey. He added that 70 students have already signed up, and both the Argentina and Peru trips are now full.
According to Rivero, the trips would only be canceled if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a specific area or if Southern’s administration believes travel to a location is unsafe due to violence or the outbreak of another disease. ERC plans to keep students informed regarding any alterations to the trips and is willing to change venues if needed, Rivero further explained.
“You always learn what things can work and what things can’t work,” Rivero said regarding ERC’s virtual summer events and present planning. “The more you do, the more you learn.”