By Colleen Tinker
This week the Adventist News Network reports that a three-week evangelistic campaign in Tanzania resulted in 15,300 baptisms. The deputy minister of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development, the Honorable Doctor Angelina Mabula, applauded the Adventists in Tanzania for “upholding biblical standards and for their commitment to the Church’s mission.”
While thousands of people are becoming Adventists in Tanzania, the Adventists in Brazil have opened a new theme park, Zionland, near Sao Paulo. The concept behind Zionland is to recreate an Eden-like environment and to instill in children “values that society esteems” that they may take with them for a lifetime.
Adventist reporter Loren Vidal explains that “we have always been invited to imagine what heaven will be like…Our eagerness for that moment to arrive drives us to at least imagine how a world without sin would be like.”
Sidionil Biazzi, the president of the Sao Paulo Conference region, says that we have to remember our human origins. “We have been created to live in nature, in a garden, and all of us carry that tiny seed inside.”
Zionland is the Adventists’ attempt to recreate that Edenic state while they wait for God’s eventual recreation. It will “focus on teaching children about sustainable development, healthy foods, and nature preservation.” Consequently, “the park includes an ecological trail, an organic garden, a ‘Fantastic Food Factory,’ a zoo section…and a hands-on kitchen” which will allow children to be “Zion Chefs for a day”.
The Central Brazil Union Conference has 250,000 Seventh-day Adventist members and nearly 1,200 local churches in a population of more than 45 million in the state of Sao Paulo. The Adventist organization expects Zionland will be a magnet for schools and families who will come for a day away from their lives in a polluted concrete jungle.
The Sao Paulo Union Conference president Domingos Sousa comments, “We have the ability to arise (sic) in children’s minds an interest in Creation, telling them they can learn to enjoy nature here, as they prepare to enjoy it for eternity.” South American Division president Erton Kohler concurs: “We can’t destroy what God created here to enjoy then what He will recreate. We need to start to grow here, to care here, to love here. Zionland’s mission is to prepare people for the great hope we have in the new ‘Zionland’ God is preparing for each one of us.”
Both the Tanzania baptisms and the Brazilian heavenly theme park reflect traditional Adventist values. The large number of Tanzanian baptisms represent one more successful evangelistic goal in their current Total Member Involvement, Mission To The Cities campaigns worldwide.
Zionland, on the other hand, is an example of Adventism’s intention to present itself as a public servant, an organization with a humanitarian mission. The current emphasis on ecology and plant-based eating is a perfect backdrop for a public theme park with the missional subtext of teaching Adventist lifestyle to a large metropolitan center.
Creation is a central theme within Adventism. Besides its emphasis on seven days of creation (the seventh day being the day the Sabbath was supposedly created), the idea of God’s “creation diet” is the driving argument behind Adventism’s focus on vegetarian/vegan eating. In addition, Adventism teaches that the new earth will be “Eden restored”. Thus, Adventists have an underlying belief that attempts to recreate Eden, to eat vegan, to get out of the cities, to grow their own food, and to focus on tending the earth will align them more closely with God’s perfect will.
In short, Zionland is not just a theme park. It is part of Adventism’s attempt to win the trust of the community and to offer them the opportunity to learn and to love Adventist practices. It is a way to help the unsuspecting public to become Adventists.