By Monica Starr
VENEZUELA (BP) – Beatriz paused in her struggle to lug a bucket of water up seven flights without sloshing any out. She rubbed her aching arms, then grabbed the bucket and continued up the fire escape to her sister’s apartment — one step at a time.
If her husband Leo, a Venezuelan pastor, could find parts to repair their ailing car, if he could secure gasoline, if he didn’t find too many roadblocks, he would join Beatriz there in the capital, bringing two large containers of water from his mother’s home in the country.
Regardless of a torn rotator cuff, Leo would need to hoist the containers to his shoulders and carry them up all seven flights. This isn’t how Beatriz and Leo had pictured life a few short years from retirement.
This is the sixth day of no electricity in some regions – the fourth day for 21 of 24 states in Venezuela – days without water, with food spoiled, without much public transportation, with work called off, without functioning hospitals, with school called off.
It’s the nation’s second round without electricity, less than a month after the first round lasted nearly seven days in most regions.
Life right now for the vast majority of Venezuelans is strictly about survival. “People are walking around like zombies,” Paula (only first names are used in this story) reports from her city in eastern Venezuela, “not knowing what to do, or even why they are walking around.”
For believers as well as non-believers, most of the day is spent “resolviendo” – or “figuring out”– where and how to get enough water to cook, flush toilets, take kitty baths; where and how to get food each day since there is no means of preserving food in a tropical land; how to pay for the food when no cash is available nationwide and, now without electricity, debit cards are useless; how to prepare a meal when the electric stove is useless. Even if one has a gas stove and a ration of water, matches are hard to come by and gas “bombonas,” or tanks, are not being delivered.
Venezuela is in darkness in every possible way. Believers often feel helpless because, although they see – and live– the need, and have a great desire to help, they are enormously impeded by the electrical outages, their own critical situation, and lack of resources.
‘We need to move forward’
Felipe shares with distress that it is “breaking our hearts to see people go into eternity without Christ.” Yet even in their own daily struggles, Venezuela Baptists are looking for and finding ways to share the light of Jesus Christ as they minister to those around them.
“We are in the most critical time in Venezuela, and it is the best opportunity for sharing Christ,” declares Francisco, a pastor in central Venezuela. Leo, a pastor for over a quarter century, now mentoring young pastors, agreed: “It isn’t easy living in this situation that has come upon us. Nevertheless, we have learned to be content whatever our situation. That doesn’t imply resignation. No. We need to move forward, trusting and hoping in God, but doing what each one, working from the trenches, should do to generate change.”
That is what Venezuelan Baptists are seeking to do at every level, with work going forward in 23 of the nation’s 24 states. At an associational/regional level, programs have been in place since last year to help pastoral families with basic pantry items once a month through The RaVenz Project, while also providing food for church feeding centers directed to the most vulnerable in the community such as children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and the elderly.
Among the various creative ways Venezuelan Baptist churches and individuals are serving during the crisis are two self-sustaining farm projects, one in central Venezuela and another in eastern Venezuela also with a fishery; medical clinics for the Christian community as well as the community at large; ophthalmology and dental clinics for children; classes and mentoring for disadvantaged parents; providing water for the community from tanks on church property; and hospital visits which include prayer and food for the sick.
The International Mission Board is actively working alongside Venezuelan Baptists to help mitigate the suffering. Several of the current ministries are partially-to-completely funded by the IMB Special Gifts Fund for Venezuela and/or Baptist Global Response. The RaVenz Project, named after the ravens that fed the prophet Elijah during a crisis in his life, partners with the Venezuelan convention and Baptist associations to provide food for major events in Baptist life such as pastors’ camps and annual convention, WMU and youth meetings. The RaVenz Project also helps monthly with church feeding centers that were providing 300,000 meals per month at the end of 2018.
Venezuelan Baptist leaders are particularly grateful and thankful for two key training events, one by BGR, the other by the IMB. In September 2017, Baptist relief ministry partners spent a week along the Venezuelan/Colombian border, training 51 Venezuelan Baptist leaders and several Colombian Baptist leaders in community development.
That training, through the creativity and hard work of Venezuelan believers, has multiplied across Venezuela in such forms as sports clinics, various cottage industries, and new feeding programs. A year later, in September 2018, the IMB facilitated a Trauma Healing Institute training on “healing heart wounds,” again along the border, and again encompassing Venezuela Baptist leaders. Pastor Felipe references both these trainings as crucial for these dark times in Venezuela recognizing that, “The BGR and THI trainings helped tremendously to prepare us for what is happening in our nation.”
Meanwhile, while climbing stairs at the apartment, Beatriz met an elderly woman whose husband is in bed dying of cancer. As Beatriz began to visit with the her, the woman burst into tears and threw herself into Beatriz’ arms, saying she was overcome by depression at the situation. Beatriz spoke to her of the Lord, and she and Leo have prayed for her.
“It is really difficult seeing the lack of hope in people,” Leo said. “Last night a trickle of water came in at street level and neighbors stood in line, in the dark, all night, to fill pots and pans and bottles. All night. This morning the tail of the line had not yet reached the water faucet.”
Monica Starr writes for the International Mission Board.