Venezuela Report One
I have been in Venezuela for two months now. I arrived here by van, travelling on road from Canada with my dad – an expedition that lasted one full month. The van itself was donated to the church I am staying in. The voyage was tiring but nourishing, allowing me plenty of fulfilling one-on-one time with my dad as well as time for myself to spend in prayer. Right now I am living above a church with a pastoral family in the town of El Piñal, Tachira, Venezuela, which is quite a busy lifestyle in itself as people are constantly visiting and there are always events or projects to be done. Learning to live in a country undergoing a crisis has not been easy. Experiencing the lack of comfort and commodities that I am used to is challenging, but seeing the sufferings and hearing the testimonies from those around me is even more difficult. Venezuela is a country built on modern development and globalization – it is a nation dependent on internet, electricity, gasoline, etc. When those things became no longer available it was like the floor had been pulled out from under an entire culture, and I am here witnessing the collapse.
It was easy to adjust to bucket baths and having only a few hours of electricity every day. It’s kind of like camping, I thought. One night the electricity went out while I was reading. As I was reaching for my flashlight, I heard Rebeca’s cry of stress from the living room. She had once again been cut off from talking to her daughter in Guatemala over WhatsApp. Communication is difficult and often impossible here, and this has greatly impacted many families as displacement and emigration are rampant. Everyone has loved ones living very far away, and the lack of ability to communicate is just one of the many stressors that electricity shortages bring to the population. Another time I was visiting the hospital, looking for someone there. There was no electricity and nobody to help us. We walked through the pitch-black hallways of the institution, opening doorways and calling out for them. We eventually came to a single generator-powered room which everyone was bundled into regardless of their ailment, receiving treatments from the few nurses and doctors on duty. Institutions simply are not able to function without electricity, costing people their treatments and sometimes even their lives. Sometimes I walk down the roads in town and see workers standing outside of their businesses, waiting for the electricity to come back so that they can start working again. For these people, this lifestyle is not like camping. Losing electricity is means losing their communications, their institutions, and their livelihoods.
Transportation and gasoline have also been a challenge. Wherever you go, there is no reliability in regards to when you will come back. Cars are constantly breaking down due to a lack of maintenance to both the roads and the cars themselves. The only way potholes are fixed are by shovel-wielding children filling them with gravel, holding out their cups out for payments in the form of tips from drivers passing by. Our mission trip to feed soup to the Yucpa tribe left us stranded next to the jungle without gasoline, our saving grace a group of starved military soldiers who had accepted bowls of soup from us earlier. In their thankfulness, they provided us with enough gasoline to get back home. Gasoline itself is almost impossible to come by – the majority of people opting to hitchhike their daily commutes instead of driving or taking unreliable public transportation. Our church’s little pick-up truck is never empty while on the road, sometimes even carrying up to 15 people huddled together. You know when a gas station is coming a couple of miles before you can actually see it due to the enormous line of cars waiting off of the side of the road. It is common to wait for up to three days for a simple tank of gas, limited to forty liters per car. Many times, however, these places run dry – abandoned gas stations are as common as abandoned houses and businesses. Black market gasoline, smuggled in illegally from other countries, is a thriving business. We often have a few Coca Cola bottles filled with gas sitting in our church, waiting to be used in the next emergency.
The first week I arrived here, there was a commotion in the church because the sister of one of the church members had died at the young age of 35. She had arthritis and suddenly stopped her medication due to not being able to buy it in Venezuela, and this cost her life. This is a common story here; lack of resources has led to great discomfort and even death. Middle- and upper-class Venezuelans visit Colombia (the only country that still allows them passage) to shop for their supplies: medicine, food, clothing, and more. There simply is no medicine in Venezuela anymore, any medical supplies that are used in hospitals are from Cuba, if there is any at all. Lower-class Venezuelans have been left vulnerable, and the church that I am staying at has been doing what it can to help in this aspect. The members who are doctors or nurses give free medical consolations to those who need them. More than once have I helped with sorting through their collection of medicine, provided to them from donations from other countries. Sometimes the medicine is donated directly as-is, and sometimes money for medicine is donated, a group of church members then driving to Colombia with it in order to purchase the necessary medication there. This is also a wonderful opportunity for prayer, and we do not hesitate to pray for those who are sick or disabled. Through this I have seen and experienced the incredible power of prayer, and am constantly reminded that God not only plays a spiritual role in our lives but a physical one too.
A couple hours before I started writing this, a girl of no more than seven years old visited the church with a single empty soda bottle the size of her hand, asking for canola oil so that her mother could finish preparing breakfast for her family of six. Such food requests to the church are constant as not even doctors, teachers, and engineers are able to make enough money to feed themselves – never mind families with numerous young children or with sick members. The church itself never turns a request down, if there’s something to give, it will be given. Never before in my life have I experienced such a plenitude of graciousness and sharing, God shining through every single item of food that is given away. Food itself is provided to the church through various sources. Donations that come from foreign countries are used to buy food in Colombia, which is then brought to the church by its members. Dehydrated food is also donated in the form of soups and apples. Every week, three or four times a week, we are gathered in the kitchen preparing enormous pots of soup and then loading them on to the truck to be served to the suffering communities nearby. It breaks my heart to see stick-thin children holding their empty pots up, waiting for them to be filled with soup – for some of them it is their first full meal in days, even weeks. My father’s agriculture project has had an enormous role in all of this. Previously I had mentioned how the floor had been pulled out from under Venezuela – now we are contributing to the building of a new one for many families learning how to support themselves by not only providing them with fresh fruits and vegetables but also teaching them how to grow them. Zuleima, a member of the church, often comes over to help cook us lunch and constantly tells me about her garden. “I never thought it would work!” She said one day, excitedly. “But yesterday we ate cucumber and tomato salad for lunch!”
Jesus often in his lessons both taught and showed people His Biblical truths, not just using words but also through demonstrating and applying to real life. The first week I was here, Pastor Ysac gave a teaching on the body of Christ – a common lesson I have heard many times over and knew almost by heart. However, this is the first time that He has truly demonstrated it to me in real life: a living, functioning, and breathing body of Christ. The church I am working with is composed of many volunteers, everybody contributing their specific gifts and knowledge which alone would not be sufficient but together create an incredibly effective mechanism. Medics, engineers, agriculture experts, foreign donors, government workers, electricians, cooks, teachers, and more all function together in harmony, united by a common goal of serving the Lord through serving others. Personally, I have found my own place in teaching English and in assisting where assistance is needed – more than once have I found myself repairing shoes in schools for children who can no longer afford new ones, clearing fields and preparing them for a greenhouse that will both teach and provide to those living nearby, or cutting vegetables from the agriculture project to be added to the dehydrated soups for more nutritional value.
Life here is not without its challenges – and trust me, there are many. But God has taught me incredible lessons and has changed my heart along the way, transforming me into His vessel. My heart is delighted to serve Him.