March 2, 2019

In Venezuela, One Member Dies as Church Keeps Operating Amid Challenges

Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Venezuela is saddened by the loss of one of its members in La Gran Sabana, in the southeastern part of the country that shares borders with Brazil and Guyana. Zoraida Rodríguez, an active member of her local church in Kumarakapay, was killed on February 22, 2019, during a confrontation between the military and members of nearby border communities. Her husband, two other church members, and 13 other civilians were injured and are currently being treated in a hospital across the border in Brazil, church leaders said.

“We continue to pray for our church members in Venezuela, especially the family of Zoraida Rodríguez,” said Inter-American Division president Elie Henry. “We all need to remember them in our prayers every day, and for God’s intervention in the country.”

East Venezuela Region

“There are many Adventist churches near the border, mostly made up of indigenous people, who are at this moment assisting the wounded, taking food and offering spiritual support through local pastors and laypersons in the area,” said Jorge Atalido, Adventist Church president in East Venezuela, one of two major church regions in the South American country. In addition, a small group of church members are providing water and refreshments to the many who have been displaced along the border communities in the region, he added.

Atalido, who oversees a membership of nearly 180,000 across 856 churches and congregations in Caracas and eastern states of the country, said that many members have been severely affected by the crisis the country is facing. Yet amid the political and economic challenges, the membership is more and more committed to the mission of the church, he added.

"Our churches remain open every week, and our faithful members continue to enjoy freedom of worship," said Atalido. It is only on occasions when there are public manifestations that members meet in small groups, he added. For the most part in the east Venezuela region, or union territory, the church continues its regular evangelistic and community outreach programs except several major events which were suspended because of rising costs and safety issues, explained Atalido.

The 13 church-operated schools across the region continue to run even though there is high turnover among teaching staff, said Atalido. For the most part, schools continue to have active student enrollment.

The church continues to impact the community with health expos, healthy food festivals, evangelistic initiatives, and more, church leaders said.

“We want our church family to keep their trust in God in this time of apprehensiveness and uncertainty,” said Atalido.  “That the One who called us has not abandoned us, as we are faithful in our commitment to Him and His mission.

West Venezuela Region

In the West Venezuela region, which borders Colombia, there are no reported casualties among members, church leaders said.

“This past weekend, our members who attend churches near the border met in small groups for worship services,” said Orlando Ramirez, executive secretary of the church in West Venezuela on February 25. The rest of the territory met as usual early in the mornings for worship on Sabbath, he added.

“It has been surprising that, in the most difficult time of our 109-year history as a church in Venezuela, this has brought more unity, fervor, passion, trust, and benevolence,” said Ramirez. He said that for over two years now there have been dozens of community service projects that continue to increase, many geared toward the homeless and children who live in the streets.

Many of the church activities include a bag of food to those in need, giving out soup and warm meals, sometimes even twice a week, said Ramirez.

"There's a church in Barquisimeto that holds a missionary supper every Wednesday before mid-week prayer meeting, and then visitors are invited to stay to pray and worship the Lord," said Ramirez. Many of these community outreach activities are done thanks to the generosity of many Venezuelans who left the country and keep sending special donations to assist those families in the church and their neighbors, he added.

Ramirez also told of a group of Adventist small business owners in Barquisimeto who donate the eggs their hens lay on Sabbaths to be distributed in the church’s institutions in the city.

The 22 church-operated schools, including Venezuela’s Adventist University, are continuing their regular class schedules without any issues, church leaders said.

Julio Palacio, president of the church in West Venezuela, said that there is no crisis in Venezuela because for God crisis does not exist and God is with His church. The church in West Venezuela oversees a membership of nearly 169,000 in more than 915 churches and congregations.

“We thank our God for His care and blessings toward us,” said Palacio. “God has provided for us in these difficult times, has sustained and will sustain us. The church in Venezuela lives in peace and safety, trusting in the hand of God.”

Inter-American Division Support in Venezuela

“I am struck by the faithfulness and resilience of our church members in Venezuela and how they share the little resources they have to help one another,” said Henry.

Henry said that although many pews have been left empty because of emigrating church members, the remaining membership has endeavored to work harder at sharing the gospel and pointing to Christ and His soon coming.

Meeting the spiritual needs of church membership has required additional funds to pay ministers and church employees who oversee the nearly 349,000-member church in Venezuela, said Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer of the church in Inter-America.

Fifty-five active laypersons have been enrolled in a six-month theology training program at the church’s Adventist university in Nirgua to be better equipped to lead the churches and congregations who need pastoral care.

In addition, Sabbath school quarterlies are being funded by the IAD, added Verduzco.

It’s undeniable that church members in Venezuela are very faithful, said Verduzco. “In the local currency you can tell that the church member has continued to be generous toward the mission of the church,” Verduzco said.

Orlando Ramírez and Abdiel Uzcátegui contributed to this report.

The original story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.