by Julie Z. Lee

On Sabbath morning, September 21, Don Noble stood before a crowd of more than 2, 000 people in Sacramento, California, welcoming them to the 50th anniversary celebration of Maranatha Volunteers International. Behind him, a massive globe spun on a screen, showcasing the thousands of locations where Maranatha has completed a project. In total, Maranatha has built 11, 229 structures and more than 1, 000 water wells in 88 countries. The numbers are impressive, but they weren’t the focus of the weekend.

“The story of Maranatha is a fascinating story,” said Noble, president of Maranatha. “Each one of you probably has your own. It’s a fascinating story of people; it’s a story of miracles.”

These stories were at the heart of this year’s annual convention, which focused on Maranatha’s five decades of service. Established by a small group of friends in 1969, Maranatha has grown to be an international organization that has mobilized more than 85, 000 volunteers on short-term mission trips to build churches, schools, and other urgently needed structures around the world. Many of these volunteers have returned with powerful stories of transformation, and several were highlighted during the three-day event, held September 19-21.

Among the stories was the testimony of Laurelie Hillebert, a mother from Redding, California. Hillbert lost her daughter to illness but found new meaning in the tragedy while on a family mission trip to Zambia. Dominique Garcia, a college student from Houston, Texas, shared her challenge with an eating disorder and talked about how mission trips have helped to bring healing. Jack and Neoma Wisdom, from Paradise, California, told of their narrow escape from last year’s Camp Fire, where they lost everything but found grace and gratitude in God’s mercy.

The program also featured Adventist church leaders from countries around the world, including Cuba, Kenya, Peru, and India. They shared how Maranatha’s involvement changed the landscape of the Adventist church in their countries, including an increase in membership.

“Sin and the fall have brought a lot of inequalities in the economic life, social life, political life, and even the spiritual life [of Kenyans], and Maranatha came in to fill the gaps, and we are very grateful for that,” said Samuel Makori, president of the Adventist church in eastern Kenya. “God has seen the work in Kenya change tremendously ever since Maranatha came in 2016.… We want to say, may the name of God be praised.”

Other events during the weekend included free seminars related to missions, a special anniversary dinner, and a Maranatha History Museum, which highlighted memorabilia and key moments in the organization’s history. Leading up to the convention, Maranatha also organized major renovation projects in August and September at three institutions in the Pacific Union: Pacific Union College, Rio Lindo Academy, and Leoni Meadows Christian Camp and Retreat Center. There are 24, 000 Maranatha volunteers and supporters in the Pacific Union alone—more than half of Maranatha’s current membership.

During the weekend program, Marc Woodson, Northern California Conference president, acknowledged the work Maranatha has done in the Pacific Union and around the world to further the gospel commission.

“Thank you. We are very proud of the fact that you are not only celebrating 50 years of ministry but 30 years with your home base in the Northern California Conference,” said Woodson, who has been on multiple Maranatha projects. “May God continue to bless this ministry. We recognize that’s it not really about building buildings. You all have been building lives.”

 

Main photo: More than 2, 000 people attended Maranatha Volunteers International’s annual convention, in Sacramento, California. This year, the program celebrated Maranatha’s 50th anniversary and focused on God’s leading in the mission organization.

 

Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference, welcomed the congregation on Sabbath morning. Graham, who has been on a couple of Maranatha mission trips, said, “I congratulate Maranatha Volunteers International, and we ask God’s richest blessings as you continue to reach the world until Jesus comes.”

 

Sixteen-year-old Shanti Slater, from Forbestown, California, spoke of her experience in Kenya on the Ultimate Workout, Maranatha’s project for teenagers. Shanti says she found God on the mission trip and was baptized. “One of the main things I learned about God is that He wants to come into everyone’s life.”

All photos by Thomas Lloyd