Against a background of growing inflation and shortages, Seventh-day Adventists in Venezuela remain steadfast in their faith and their numbers are expanding rapidly, a senior church leader said.
Israel Leito, president of the Adventist Church’s Inter-American Division, whose territory includes Venezuela, said he witnessed God’s blessings during a six-day trip to the South American country for the inauguration of three new missions.
“The church in Venezuela is so faithful,” Leito said. “Finances are stable, and the membership is very supportive of the church, and we are grateful because the environment in the country has not hampered church growth.”
The new missions, located in the states of Yaracuy, Merida, and Falcon, were established within the West Venezuela Union during special meetings last month.
The Adventist Church has seen rapid growth in Venezuela over the past decade. In 2004, the Venezuela Antilles Union with two conferences and six missions had 134,302 members worshiping in 579 churches. By 2010, the figure had grown to 233,293 members and 834 churches.
A surge in membership caused the union to split into two in 2014: one in the east with the capital, Caracas, and five conference offices, and the other in the west, with five conferences and three missions. Today the East Venezuela Union has 143,879 members worshiping in 539 churches and 275 companies, while the West Venezuela Union has 142,451 members and 560 churches and 257 companies.
Leito said he saw how pharmacies and supermarkets are struggling to supply basic needs during his visit.
“The problem is not that they can’t purchase what they need. It is that there aren’t supplies available most of the time,” he said. “On the other hand, you can fill up your car with less than $1 U.S. dollar.”
At the moment, a pastor’s monthly salary is equivalent to less than $50 in Venezuela.
“They are able to stretch their salary in the local currency, but it is not easy to find what they need,” Leito said.
Many pastors have left whenever they find an opportunity outside of the country, posing some challenges for the church.
“It has affected the church because good leaders are moving away, but we have not seen an exodus of any sort,” Leito said.
Tithe-giving continues to be constant, but the Bolivar currency has devaluated so much that the amount of contributions that can be submitted to the Inter-American Division and the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist world church, is much smaller than previously, he said.
Amid the challenges, an increasing number of people are seeking Jesus as they look for answers, he said.
“The message of Jesus is still bringing hope in Venezuela, and we are seeing that many people are more responsive to the gospel, so we continue praying for our leaders and members there that they may continue being faithful and led by the Holy Spirit,” he said.