Venezuela Today


Winter 2014
Written by T S Ashley Milne - Venezuela
info@horizonsmissionarymagazine.com

 

At the beginning of October, 2014, the Lord gave me the opportunity once more to visit my brethren in the Yaracuy State of Venezuela, a place that is very dear to my heart, where I grew up, where the Lord saved me and my parents served the Lord for fifty years.

The political and economical situation in the country is in very bad shape with 65% inflation, incredible shortages and people having to line up to get some of the basic necessities of life, something unheard of before. Capitalism is frowned on. The result has been that a large number of companies have been forced out of business. This allows the government to import what is needed in order to make the people fully dependent on them. They have been following the same charter that is applied in Cuba, for the most part, except when dealing with criminals.

Yet in spite of all, the Christians do enjoy full liberty to gather, not only for the meetings of the 176 or more assemblies in the country but also fifteen regional conferences throughout the year and three national conferences that host several thousand believers at Easter and at the beginning of the year.

October 2014 Conference in San Felipe

The timing of my visit was such that I arrived in San Felipe just as they were preparing for their 94th annual conference. An estimated 650 believers, from 17 different assemblies, were present this year. I was told that numbers were down from last year due to a virus sweeping through the country, called Chikungunya. The symptoms are a high fever, swelling of joints, along with muscular pains and weakness which some call a mutation of dengue fever. Many have been affected by it. A number of bus-loads intending to be at the conference, from different assemblies, had to be cancelled because of it. At the same conference last year there were around 800 believers in attendance. This number was arrived at by counting the meals served for lunch and supper on Friday and Saturday.

Samuel Rojas & Alirio Guerrero during Conference

Believers Robbed on Their Way to Conference

This year a mini-bus in which eight sisters and a young brother were travelling to the conference, was boarded by two gunmen who robbed them of their money, cell phones and ID cards. They man-aged to arrive but were shaken by the ordeal. At the end of the conference it was lovely to see the believers rally together to replenish their loss and provide them with bus fares home.

In the town of San Pablo, half-an-hour from San Felipe, when the brethren went in with the Gospel some months ago, an interesting and unexpected development took place. The meetings were to be held in a corner house with a large front room which led out to the street. It belonged to Sandy, a sister from the assembly in San Felipe. As they went out with invitations they quickly discovered something that Sandy had not told them. Just across the street from the house was the gathering centre of the so-called "malandros," a drug gang. They gathered there on their motor bikes to plan their next target, clean and make ready their guns and so on. The town people said, "We will take your tract but not your invitation to that corner!" Undeterred the brethren went ahead. The first night, before the meeting, the Christians served a meal and one of the sisters went over to where the gang members had gathered and invited them to come over and have something to eat. Many of them did. Some came in and heard the Gospel while others stood at the door; others listened from outside. They were fed every night and never disturbed the meetings nor interfered with anyone who came. More than twenty came every night for a month. Some professed to be saved. During the meetings the girl who lived next door was invited often to come in to hear the Gospel, but never did come. One night, following the meeting, she was over talking to some of the gang members. As one of them was cleaning and working with his gun, it discharged, shooting the girl in the head and kill-ing her instantly.

It was indeed a delight to be with the dear believers and hear their concerns, stories, reflections of former days and other things.

One of the Venezuelan workers, brother Alirio Guerrero, was in San Felipe for meetings before the conference. He and I shared in ministry together, before, during, and after conference. One of the many stories he told was of a man who was father to fifty-two children but never married until after his salvation. He married the woman he was living with. Four of the other women he lived with, in his unsaved days, also were saved, along with many of the children. They are all together in fellow-ship today in the same assembly. It amazes one what God has done in their lives!

One dear sister from Acarigua came to the conference with her fifteen-year-old little girl in a wheel chair, crippled from contracting meningitis when she was very young. We drove her to the bus sta-tion to get the bus home, a journey of an hour-and-a-half from San Felipe. One is touched by the love and devotion these dear souls have for the things of the Lord.

Venezuela has become one of the most lawless countries on earth. Holdups along the freeway have become all too frequent. Spiked pipes, belts or large stones are placed on the road so that when the vehicles go over them, the tires burst. Then the gunmen come out of the bushes and rob the people - highwaymen in the true sense of the word. When they find nothing, often they smack the person over the head with a gun handle.

During one such hold-up, a young man who had attended the Bible class, was shot by the police, along with his three friends when attempting such a robbery on a lonely stretch of road. Because of this we were unable to visit certain assemblies on this occasion

One Saturday we visited the Alpargaton assembly for a regional ministry meeting. The hall was packed with believers from the six assemblies in the area and other places. Brother Palacios, a local man who has just returned from Peru where some Venezuelan brethren have been busy in the Gos-pel, gave a great word. This was followed by another local brother and myself. An estimated 300 meal boxes were handed out at the close of the meeting which started at 3:00 p.m. and ended at 5:15 p.m. Following this, a number were baptized and, according to Acts 2:41, were received into the fel-lowship the following morning. This place is not far from a section of freeway called Trincheras, where a Venezuelan beauty queen, visiting from the U.S., was shot dead, along with her husband, because the malandros could not open the car doors as the couple had locked them from the inside. Their little girl, sleeping in the back seat, was spared.

Brother from San Felipe Shot Through the Cheek

A brother in the assembly in San Felipe was shot through the cheek when the malandros attempted to steal his motor bike. This is a common occurrence in these parts. The shot missed his temple by two inches, penetrated through his cheek on one side and came out on the other side, shattering some of his upper teeth. Many of these dear believers suffer so much, yet they love the Lord and are so happy and faithful in their support of the assembly.

Driver Luis Durat and Hector Carruido on our Nightly Visits to Yaracuy Assemblies

During the second week of my visit, the believers accompanied me in visiting a number of assem-blies in the state of Yaracuy. A dear brother in the San Felipe assembly, who owned a sixty-passenger bus, made it available. We met at the hall and visited a different assembly each night, for six nights. We started with fifteen minutes prayer and the Lord truly helped to minister the word. They sang hymns all the way there and back. This proved to be a great encouragement to these other assemblies, in spite of the dangers, including highway robberies at night. There is much appetite for the word of God and fellowship, among the believers.

We visited another assembly in the state of Yaracuy, established back in 1929. It has had its share of trials over the years, but mostly from within. In recent times, due to a newcomer given responsibil-ity as an elder but, sadly, with the character of Diotrophes who likes to have the preeminence, it later came out that he hid past sin in his life, which was never dealt with as it should have been. The re-sult is, as is often the case, he has caused division, resulting in seventeen or more having to sit at the back! This includes a brother who has been an elder in that assembly for many years, before this carnal man appeared on the scene. As a brother once remarked to me, "You cannot win when deal-ing with a carnal man." "One must leave such with the Lord." Romans 2: 1 - 3

The area around this town is known throughout Venezuela for the occult and spiritism. A stronghold of Satan, I did not know of these serious ongoing problems in the assembly until driving home, fo-llowing the meeting. It so happened that the Lord guided in the ministry given, which was from Romans. 16:17.

On Saturday, October 28th, accompanied by three brethren from San Felipe, we went to the regional ministry meeting in San Estevan, a town near Pto. Cabello. In recent years the growth has been such as to require the brethren to extend the hall by twenty metres. It was packed to capacity and reported later that around 400 meals were served between the afternoon meeting and the Gospel meeting, after which four believers were baptized. Three of us took part in the ministry from 3:00 p.m. till 5:30 p.m., which included half-an-hour of prayer. It is amazing to witness the thirst for God's word.

On my last day in San Felipe the assembly, following the Bible study, held a fellowship supper in the afternoon from 3:00 p.m. until Gospel meeting time at 7:00 p.m. Many expressed appreciation for my visit with them, others told how they were saved, and stories from the past. Ever so many told me how that my father had baptized them or married them. While we were enjoying fellowship together, word arrived that an unsaved son of sister Sandy, in whose house the meetings were held in San Pablo (above), had been killed at the same corner across from where the meetings were held. He was one of the malandros and in a heated exchange another gang member pulled a gun and shot him three times. He died on the spot!

From San Felipe we went to Nirgua, a much cooler place in the Yaracuy mountains, where an assembly has continued since 1925, the 7th to be established in Venezuela. We had a ministry meeting on Monday evening, followed by a Bible reading on Tuesday evening and had planned to visit an assembly further up in the hills around Nirgua, called San Mateo. However, due to so many gang hold-ups after dark, we decided against taking the chance.

One young man who was greatly feared in the area for having shot forty people when they would not give up their possessions, met a gruesome end by being shot himself. He lay on the ground, his body and face riddled with forty bullets, a bullet for every person he had killed. As is often done in these countries, a picture of his bullet-riddled corpse appeared in the local paper. The authorities are unable to do much for fear of reprisals.

The first week-end of November, the annual elders conference was held in Salom, not far from Nirgua. Around 300 elders, from 87 assem-blies, came together, along with 23 full-time workers. Bible studies were held for two days, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m., with ministry at night. The subject was John 13 through 16, with excellent participation. With the availability of good books that have been translated from English to Spanish, the Venezuelan brethren have acquired a remarkable understanding of the Scriptures. They truly have applied themselves, and are certainly apt to teach.

Following the conference, I returned to Palo Negro with brother Uel Ussher. He and I were asked to take the meeting Sunday evening. The following afternoon, being as it was my last day before returning home, I accompanied Samuel and Sharon Ussher to Juaniquero, an assembly in a very remote place, high in the mountains, where an assembly was formed in June, 2005. A brother had died and, as is the custom, Gospel meetings were being held every night on the patio alongside the house where he lived. We set off from Samuel and Rachel's home in Palo Negro, at 3:30 in the afternoon and arrived about 6:00 p.m. On our travels there were many gravel roads, bends and potholes. We crossed about three rivers, which are not passable when it rains. The meeting was held from 6:30 till 7:30 p.m. A good crowd gathered and sat on the benches while a similar crowd stood and listened in the darkness, with just the light of the moon on the road in front of the house. A number of snakes were killed in past nights where the meetings were held. At least six dogs wandered through, during the meeting.

Earlier this year a malandro belonging to one of the gangs was saved and his life changed. It so happened that a rival gang heard that he had been seen attending a certain assembly. They stormed the Gospel meeting one Lord's day evening with guns drawn, looking and asking for him. When they saw that he was not there that night, they took up positions in the audience with guns in hand, waiting for him to show up.

You can imagine the fear and consternation. All the sisters had their heads down, praying. The brother on the platform had stopped preaching, not knowing what to do, when suddenly the leader of the malandros stood up and pointed his gun at him and told him to "keep on preaching,” which he did. Can just imagine how the brother must have felt? The malandros sat through the meeting until it ended. The former gang member that they were looking for, did not come to the meeting that night so the incident ended peacefully. Ironically these malandros call each other "brother" also. This is the new Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela today. Your prayers are much needed for the saints protection.

 

Winter 2014
Written by T S Ashley Milne - Venezuela
info@horizonsmissionarymagazine.com