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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Duarte

Venezuela Report Two

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Hello everyone! Thank you for so much positive feedback from my first update. I am in my final stretch now, with two and a half weeks left before I head back to Costa Rica for Christmas and then to Europe in January. The days go by incredibly fast here, consumed by work, church events, social gatherings, and activities. My life here is radically different than the one I led in Canada. I’ve learned how to live a life of sharing: my time, my clothing, my technology, my food – almost everything that I own can be used by others in greater need. I’ve learned what it means to be a part of a church family and I have experienced mission projects from their planning stages to their completion. I’ve also learned how to live without technology and social media, something that consumed more of my time than it should have while living in Canada.

In my previous update, I briefly mentioned the rampant prevalence of emigration from the country. Over six million Venezuelans have fled due to the crisis occurring within the country, a historic event named the “Venezuelan Refugee Crisis” – the largest recorded refugee crisis in the Americas. “There’s just a small group of us left,” Jenny told me one day, referring to the group of young adults gathered in the church. “Every time we have gatherings at the church, we can feel the hole that used to be filled by our friends.” Everyone here has lost most of their loved ones to distance, and quality of life found elsewhere is not always much of an improvement. Ysac and Rebeca (the pastor and his wife)’s daughter Sara, for example, is living in Guatemala under harsh conditions, barely making enough money to afford rent in a room that doesn’t have running water and is located in an extremely dangerous neighborhood. The people around me are burdened with worry and grief for their loved ones, longing to see them once again. It is under such conditions that they gather at church, most of them daily, to become a part of a new and greater family: a family of Christ. Never before have I witnessed and been a part of a church family as strong and as united as this one as for many, it is all the family that they have left. “They’ve adopted you as their sister,” my dad told me one night. “And me, their father.” I thought of all the times I’d watched him take off with over fifteen children for ice cream and realized that as much as it pains me to not be able to help with the separation of families, simply by being part of the family of Christ I am helping alleviate this burden.

Another experience that I have had the privilege to undergo during my time here is to witness my dad’s projects step-by-step, from idea creation to final result. I had previously initiated many personal projects and carried them to completion on my own, however had no idea on how to do the same with large-scale operations involving numerous people, detailed planification, and a huge amount of physical work. I have now sat through numerous meetings where role-assignment, finances, planification and logistics have been discussed. I have personally gone out to fields and missions, participating in the carrying out of manual labor as well as cooking, cleaning, painting, teaching, etc. – whatever is required according to the nature of the mission. I have experienced the resolution of unexpected issues that arise and am now aware of the necessity of creativity and flexibility under such circumstances, especially in a country undergoing a crisis and where humanitarian aid is currently illegal. Despite having no formal training in relief, The Principe de Paz church is efficient in carrying out these missions and projects, simply due to having so much previous experience. In November, my dad gave a week of workshop classes in order to educate the people of the church on relief project management, teaching concepts such as organization, role-assignment, logistics, and more – attended by around 40 highly interested volunteers, including myself. It is incredibly interesting and exciting to participate in such missions and teachings, a sentiment that is shared by all of the other volunteers who are assigned their roles according to their talents, strengths, and expertise. Personally, I have discovered that my strength lies in post-mission reporting and debriefing, as well as in communication and translation.

Two current projects come to mind when speaking of relief missions: the farm we are close to completing in the Ebenezer Bible Institute, and the one in the Centro Penitenciario De Occidente jail that is still in the planification stages. The Ebenezer Bible Institute has required six trips, two for planning and four for labor: clearing the fields, creating an irrigation system, and planting seedlings. Two more trips are left before the farm of 1.5 hectares is completed, a project that will provide food to the 80 students of the institute who will be in charge of maintaining the project. “I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am,” the director of the institute told my dad on our last trip, “We are starving here. Sometimes all we have is rice and yuca [a root vegetable], which we live off of for weeks.” The missionary-in-training students themselves are eager to see the results, on our last trip all 80 of them helping us with clearing the fields and planting seedlings, while at the same time learning the ropes on the creation and maintenance of a self-sustainable source of food.

The farm that is planned for the Centro Penitenciario De Occidente military jail will be carried out in January of next year. So far, my dad, me, and two others have gone on one scouting trip, gathering information such as permissions, documentation required, terrain and dirt type, and location. The first time we tried to enter the prison we were locked out of the gates and ridiculed by the guards for our faith, claiming that we as missionaries were a venom to the country, spreading false teachings and consuming their resources. We walked around the jail to try our luck at the second entrance, where we were met by a corporal. We expressed our desire to create a self-sustainable farm within the prison, showing him our coriander seeds and telling him we belonged to the evangelical church, my dad and I being foreign missionaries. He took a great deal of interest in our project and escorted us by car into the jail, allowing us to take pictures and to examine the land. He introduced us to the director of the prison and the military leader in charge, who both listened with open minds to our proposal. “God opens doors,” one of our companions said, amazed that we were not even checked or identified after having been locked out and ridiculed not even an hour earlier. The corporal even assured us that the coriander seeds that we gave to him would be used to replace a poppy farm that a group of inmates was attempting to grow under the radar. Our next trip to the prison will be on December 14, where we will take two pots of soup to feed hundreds of hungry inmates and military guards, showing them what can be done with the results of having a farm on-site.

Aside from the farm trips, the regular missions from the church have continued. We continue to provide food in the form of dehydrated soups to schools and villages. Shoes are still being fixed and haircuts are still being given (along with cures for lice). The weekly children’s ministry continues and now the Christmas plans have begun, resulting in a flurry of practicing, crafting, music, decorating, and planning every evening in the church. Much to the delight of the cooks, my dad and I, with money from donations, will be gifting a cow to the church for their Christmas ceremony meal. Within the next two weeks there will be a church-wide fast for three days, which will be my first experience in terms of communal fasting. Every day comes with its challenges but also with its lessons and new experiences. Throughout all of it, God is consistent and good.

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