An interesting account of new work in a country that has been characterized by faithful labor and divine blessing.
The Venezuela of today is very different from what the first pioneers knew at the beginning of the last century. But we thank God for the exercise still manifested by commended workers and many brethren to take the Good Tidings to new areas. Many of these places have already been damaged for the gospel by the bad testimony of Pentecostal groups, but when the people commence to see the difference in our meetings, their attitude changes.
In some places there is a quick response to the gospel, souls are saved, and they grow quickly in their knowledge and obedience of the Word. In other places, many long years of labor produce very few results. The Lord is the same, the Word is the same, the methods are the same, but the soil is different. Examples from two extremes of the country will be given to illustrate this difference.
The southernmost State of Amazonas occupies almost 20% of the territory but has only 0.3% of the population of Venezuela. The majority are natives representing 15 different ethnic groups, but they all try to learn a little Spanish, otherwise it would be very difficult to get the gospel to them. Three-quarters of the people live in the capital and the small communities nearby. Apart from roads for one hour to the north and to the south of the capital, the rest of the state can only be reached by boat on the Orinoco River and its tributaries.
Even though Catholics and sectarians arrived many years ago by taking advantage of the rivers, the first visit to the area by assembly brethren was made in 1991 by Mr. J. Walmsley and N. Sequera, a Venezuelan worker. In the same year another local worker, Jos Hereira and his wife, having been praying for this part of the country, began to make visits, and later felt exercised to move there with their little family to establish a work. Not having seen too much to encourage in Puerto Ayacucho, the capital, they made contact in 1994, with a believer in the community of Puerto Lucera, about an hour away. The first time the gospel was preached, almost the whole community was present. The interest kept up in later visits. One man told them that the first time they had preached he had made his decision right where he was standing; he is now one of the elders in the assembly. Notwithstanding opposition by Catholic nuns, several professed faith. Bible readings were held to teach New Testament principles. Encouraged by the perseverance of the new believers, the workers decided to build a hall. Three years after the first visit, a small group of believers sat down to break bread for the first time. It was moving to see foreign workers, national brethren, and natives sitting down together to remember the Lord. There are now around 20 in fellowship, and the Sunday School has more then 50 of the 60 children who live in the community.
Near the end of 1999, Jos Hereira and two other local workers made a journey inland of over 1000 km. by river to visit other communities. They gave out Testaments and tracts, preached in the open air and to individuals. Encouraged by the response, Jos returned last year with Samuel Ussher Jr. and two other brethren, and preached for two weeks in the biggest community in the interior of the state. It’s not easy to convey the message to natives with a limited knowledge of Spanish, and gospel terms are not in their vocabulary, but a “Two Roads” chart can be a great help.
The response to the gospel has been very different in the northeastern island of Margarita, which was first visited in 1970 by Mr. J. Walmsley and a local worker. Not knowing anyone on the island, they rented a house and preached for two weeks. They met opposition from Catholics who are notoriously fanatical in this area. In 1982 Mr. Noel McKeown accompanied a new believer to visit his family. This new believer saw his mother saved. Both are now in fellowship. Noel continued to make periodic visits, visiting from house to house, giving out tracts in entire towns, and preaching, without seeing much to encourage. In 1993, Mr. Walmsley spent several months on the island with his late wife Sadie, preaching the gospel and building a hall. On that visit one man, the husband of a believer, was saved.
Very few will refuse a tract, but it’s very difficult to get them to come to the Gospel Hall to hear the preaching of the gospel. Thirty years have passed since the first effort, and for almost twenty years the island has been worked periodically, but there still isn’t an assembly. To get to the island represents quite a costly trip of five hours on ferry, so that those who go usually spend several weeks quite isolated from any assemblies. Two years ago Julio Figuera, a national worker, felt exercised to move to Margarita with his family. There are now about a dozen baptized believers on the island, longing for the day when an assembly can be established.
Amazonas and Margarita are only two of the “uttermost” parts of the country where the gospel has been taken. Last year an assembly was planted in Guiria, one of the eastern extremities, not far from Trinidad. That same year a work was also started away down south on the border with Brazil. For many years Venezuelan and foreign workers have been taking the gospel over into Colombia on the western frontier, and assemblies have been established in that land.
But pioneer work doesn’t only involve taking the gospel to the farthest villages and towns. Thousands of souls living in big cities have never heard the true gospel, and are often much harder to reach than country folk. In a small town, meetings can be well attended, whereas in the middle of a big city, surrounded by thousands on every side, poor attendance can leave the worker discouraged. Foreign and national workers in Venezuela spend much time in “outreach” work, sowing the seed in places where the gospel has never been preached. Many assemblies also have a real exercise to take the gospel to surrounding areas. If they were to wait for the visit of a commended worker, they would seldom do anything. Such efforts rarely appear in the magazines, but have resulted in the growth of assemblies and the establishment of a work for God in many new areas.