Venezuela Report Three
Hello again! I am thrilled to hear that so many read and enjoyed my previous letters. I left Venezuela just before Christmas, having stayed in the country for three months as a short-term missionary. My dad continues to support the project even in these difficult times where travelling is restricted and finances are limited. When I am asked what part of my trip left the biggest impact, I often have trouble with responding. Certainly the radical changes in culture and temporarily living in a country on the edge of civil war left an impression. Also, experiencing God and seeing Him working in incredible ways has strengthened my faith in a way I never imagined. However, when I look back now at my time spent in Venezuela, the first thing that always enters my mind is the people. I came across thousands of people during my trip, including prisoners, refugees, military workers, and even slaves.
One of the testimonies that comes to mind is that of Nelson, a church member and volunteer. His incredible eagerness to serve has made him the leader of the agricultural project and greenhouse that lies behind the Principe de Paz church. He arrives at dawn, before anyone else is awake, to check on the plants and to start a full day’s worth of work. He often stays until late at night, alternating between ministries such as cleaning, preaching (to the youth), making and serving food portions to the community, all while tending to the project. He lives alone and is not much older than I am. Since all of the work he does for the church was volunteer-based, I asked him what he does for a living. N is an artisan who creates trucks, cars and motorcycles out of tin cans whenever he has free time. He then takes the three-hour bus ride to Cucuta, Colombia to sell them to the hordes of Venezuelans who cross the border to shop for supplies. Each tin creation takes him four to five hours to complete. He receives one to two dollars per sculpture, depending on the haggle beforehand. “Venezuelans love to haggle, even for a few cents,” he told me. “I’m not good at it, so I get much less than I should - especially towards the end of the day when I’m tired and I haven’t made enough.” Towards the end of my stay I was relieved to hear that N’s struggle to support himself was put to an end. Through donations he was able to be given a monthly salary, thus allowing him to dedicate himself full-time to the church.
The Principe de Paz church’s goal is to worship God through service in a country where opportunities to help are limitless. Like Nelson, no matter who arrives at the church and from what background, there is a place for them to serve the Lord according to their talents and abilities. “We can always find a ministry to put people in,” Rebecca told me. “And if we don’t, we’ll create a new one.” The church has given a comprehensive name to all of these ministries: Misericordia, or “Mercy.” Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” It was incredible to see how everyone fit uniquely into Misericordia, finding their own places and roles within it. One of the biggest ministries of the church is the Children’s ministry, which most volunteers participate in. The church reaches out to six sectors, the farthest one being a few hours a way (a difficult walk when there is no transport). Almost every day of the week volunteers are sent out to these sectors and over 600 children in total are taught about Christianity - something that most of them have never even heard of. That is the goal of Misericordia: to show God’s mercy through acts of service, displaying His love through helping and preaching to those in need.
Another branch of ministry from the church is the missionary ministry, where trips are planned to areas further away who have perhaps not yet been touched by the Bible at all. I mentioned my experience with some of these trips in my previous messages: our trips to the Bari and the Yucpa tribes back in November. I also mentioned the scouting trip we did at the Centro Penitenciario De Occidente military jail, where we were originally turned away and ridiculed for our faith. When we arrived the second time, we were welcomed with open arms. The warden had heard of what had happened and had changed the guards in anticipation of our arrival. We were let in with a simple identification check, carrying all of our supplies to make 300 portions of soup for the inmates. We spent the morning and afternoon socializing with them and hearing their stories, all while preaching and testifying the Gospel. Pastor Isaac planned and carried out a small church service, with music and preaching. The stories and testimonies I heard from the inmates were incredibly sad - never have I felt more compelled to share the hope and restoration that is given to us through Christ. One of the men, a 25-year old, was serving eight years in prison for defying the current Venezuelan government. “I had had enough,” he said to me, “they were stealing from my village. And when they didn’t get what they wanted, they murdered innocent people.” Recently I have been updated on the ongoing ministry within the jail: the church has sent more soup and begun an agricultural project within its walls, all while ministering to and supporting the inmates. They have never again been turned away from the doors as we were the first time we arrived, due to the mercy of God and the power of prayer.
Leaving Venezuela was an experience in itself. I woke up at three AM to catch a bus to the border, hoping to arrive before the masses of people crowded immigration. Jenny, the administrator of the church, came along with me to help me find the contact at the border and to pick up money for the church in Colombia. Since I was there during Christmas time, I was still met with a horde of people. One small bridge unites the border between Colombia and Venezuela, where thousands upon thousands of people cross each day. I was shoulder-to-shoulder with the crossers, struggling my way across the border - a struggle Jenny is familiar with as she crosses the border almost every week to buy food. In order to get my passport stamped we needed to meet a contact at the other side of the bridge, someone who used to attend our church and now became an immigration officer. It was all very unconventional but I was not worried for a second. I had seen God work miracles throughout my entire trip and had no doubt he was beside me now. I accompanied Jenny on her trip to pick up money, and we ended up spending over seven hours in the line to wait for Western Union - a line that extended for three blocks with hundreds of people trying to receive much-needed money from distant relatives. The next morning I took a plane to Bogota, and then a flight to Costa Rica where I spent Christmas.
If you have read all of my letters - or even just one of them - it is my hope that I have encouraged you to find a way to worship God through service. Perhaps for you this means going out on a missionary trip like I did, or perhaps it means finding something close to where you live. I have lived in four countries and have always found a source of need no matter how wealthy or poor my surroundings are, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual.