Venezuela – a forgotten land of Christian persecution

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Images and stories of Christian persecution have dominated our newsfeeds and televisions the past year with the rise of ISIS and radical Islam in the Middle East. Open Doors is a ministry that does an excellent job of monitoring Christian persecution around the world and they have reported that 2014 was the worst year for Christians around the world in the modern era.

In the United States we tend to talk about the shifting of the culture in terms of “persecution.” And certainly there are legitimate concerns regarding religious liberty today. But what we currently experience in this country does not compare to life as a Christian in so many other places.

There is one country where life as a Christian is growing more difficult all the time, approaching and crossing over at times into what would be categorized as legitimate Christian persecution. A country that does not get much exposure in the news and is thus easily forgotten.

Venezuela.

Chances are, when you think of Venezuela, you think of cheap oil and the now deceased communist dictator, Hugo Chavez. But there is so much more to Venezuela than these two alone.

I had the opportunity to travel to Venezuela 18 months ago for the first time. It is a quick four-hour flight from Miami and life there runs only a half hour ahead of Central Standard Time. Basically, you can eat breakfast in Atlanta and lunch in Caracas. This is not some place that is half way around the world.

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I’ve had the good fortune to travel quite a bit through South America: Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil. South America is a beautiful continent and all of these countries are spectacular in their own way. But I will tell you that Venezuela captured me in a way these other countries have not.

The people are so very lovely and hospitable. I was there leading a mission trip and working with a Baptist Church in a town located in the central part of the nation.

I am choosing to keep places and names anonymous for reasons that will become obvious as you continue to read.

I can tell you that in all my travels around the world, I have never been more embraced, loved, and well taken care of anywhere like I was in Venezuela. We were fed, showered with gifts, and truly blessed by the warm people of this fine country.

The land of Venezuela is beautiful beyond compare. We took one day to drive the mountains of the Venezuelan Andes and my, on my, what views. I will never ever forget the splendor of God’s creation in Venezuela.

 ***

And now the tragedy of Venezuela.

The government is in shambles. It is oppressive and the people suffer. I could see it when I was there 18 months ago. Poverty abounds and the communist government asserts more and more control on people’s lives all the time. Yes, gasoline is cheap. When I say cheap, I mean almost FREE. One day we stopped to fill the bus we were riding in and it took less than $1 to do it. That’s right, you can fill up a BUS using only pocket change. Cheap gas is the ONE carrot the government throws at the people to keep them in order. Everything else is falling apart. When we were in country, the government had just announced price controls on all electronics sold in stores. This meant the government was going to set the price on televisions, cell phones, etc. They do this in order to LOWER prices so people can afford these items. BUT the downside is that the local store owner does not make a profit and very quickly goes out of business.

 ***

Our time in Venezuela was spent working with and helping the local Baptist church I mentioned. This is a great church with a great pastor who is now my dear and close friend. This is no small church either. They have around 600 members who all show up on Sunday and their worship services are HIGH octane! It is awesome to worship with these people!

I was told during our visit that popular unrest was growing and that the people were demanding change. One college student in the church told me, “Change is coming,” with a glean in his eye.

 ***

Two months after arriving home from the mission trip, riots broke out in Caracas. Maybe you saw this on the news, maybe not. It didn’t get a whole lot of attention. For some reason, not much of anything going on in Venezuela, only four short hours from our shore, gets much attention.

The decline is now accelerating. Two weeks ago the government announced the nationalization of food distribution. And just last week they announced rationing of electricity. The country is literally falling apart. And I grieve for them.

 ***

I reached out to my pastor friend and received some of the most heart breaking news from him regarding the government’s turning on the churches of Venezuela.

This is an excerpt from my brother pastor translated from Spanish,

We have serious problems of insecurity, police can not control any crime. The government has waged a war against everything private. As you know, our church has a school … But the government does not allow us to charge enough to cover costs. We are thinking of closing the doors of our school, but very afraid because the government has threatened to seize all private property that does not open it’s doors. It’s very complicated.

Now, all the churches in Venezuela must pay taxes to the government. We even have information that the community of unbelievers who live around our churches will have access to money management, and use of churches for community expenses is possible.

Our church currently meets about 600 people each week. Pastors of churches like ours, we are watched by the secret police who work for the government. I was recently informed that my phones are tapped. But I do not fear for me, I’m clean before the Lord. But my friend, I fear for my family, my two young daughters. Afraid I cannot provide a better future in our own country.

Earlier this year, a Baptist pastor friend in our state, was taken prisoner by the government to be investigated by the police because his church is growing a lot and has shown not to be in favor of the government.”

 ***

I cried when I read this last weekend upon receiving it. As I said, I grieve for this pastor and my friend. I grieve for this wonderful church. And I grieve for the nation of Venezuela as a whole.

Please join me today in saying a prayer for Venezuela.

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