Some Seventh-day Adventist believers in Venezuela are struggling to eat because of Sabbath or financial limitations, and pastors’ salaries have been hit hard by the unsteady economy.
But church members remain cheerful and faithful to God — and the church is growing rapidly, church leaders said.
Ricardo Marin, a church leader in the nearby countries of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, said he was astounded after witnessing first-hand how church members rely on God even when they don’t have any food.
Marin, who joined 51 pastors from throughout the church’s Inter-American Division to lead out in evangelistic meetings in Venezuela last week, met a church member who had not been able to buy any food for more than a week because her designated day to purchase food was on Sabbath.
“She decided to trust God rather than to go buy on Sabbath, and had to go without,” said Marin, executive secretary of Adventist Church’s South Central American Union. He met the woman while preaching at the Adventist church in Alto del Aguila, on the outskirts of Caracas.
“I’ve been amazed to see all our members filled with love and dedicated to sharing God’s love with what little they have or don’t have,” Marin said. “They don’t care if they are hungry. They believe and trust in God.”
Marin, who travels widely throughout Central America and the Caribbean to lead evangelistic meetings, said the experience had been life-changing for him.
“I came to bless the people in the church with God’s Word, but I’ve been transformed and blessed with the outpouring of love and generosity,” he said.
Marin’s sentiments about the faithfulness of church members in the South American country were echoed by other church leaders.
“God has done great things in Venezuela, and we are thankful that there is religious freedom here,” said Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American Division, whose territory covers Venezuela, several other northern countries in South America, and the countries of Central America and the Caribbean.
“We truly admire the spirit of our members in Venezuela,” Leito said. “They remain faithful and are always cheerful in the midst of their challenges.”
Leito said members were giving — and giving generously — their tithe and offerings. However, the value of tithe and offerings against the U.S. dollar has shrunk drastically amid difficult economic conditions. A pastor’s salary was the equivalent of $1,400 several years ago but today has dropped to about $25 because of the devaluation of the national currency.
“Many pastors have left the country, so we began a special training for head elders across the union two years ago,” Rodriguez said.
The elders have been specially trained to lead the growing congregations on their own while being overseen by pastors, who are responsible for an average of seven congregations in the East Venezuela Union.
The East Venezuela Union alone has 112 pastors leading 814 congregations. The Adventist Church is growing in the region. The union has nearly 158,000 church members after 4,012 people were baptized last Sabbath.
Josney Rodriguez, president of the East Venezuela Union, said he also had seen the faithfulness of members. A female member told his Sabbath School class in Caracas on April 9 that she was praising God because even though she had not been able to buy any food, she had found two plantains in her house, enough for a meal.
“Her strength is the same as our members all across our union territory,” Rodriguez said. “God has blessed us immensely and continues to do so even with the challenges we are facing.”