Life in Venezuela is not easy. Even before the rumors of impending war against Guyana began, poverty has been a pervasive reality for many years. Thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country, finding refuge in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Europe, Asia, and the United States. There have been reports of people eating zoo animals to fend off starvation. This country was once among the wealthiest in South America. Their government’s destruction of wealth, however, has laid them very low indeed.
In this afflicted country, close to the border with Brazil, there exists an independent Reformed church: Iglesia Bíblica Vida Abundante (Abundant Life Bible Church). As you can probably tell from the name, it did not start out as a Reformed church, but rather was Baptist. Over the years, they became Calvinistic, and then Reformed. They adopted the Three Forms of Unity, teach new believers and children from the Heidelberg Catechism, and have come to understand that being independent is not ideal for a Reformed church.
Pastor Alessandro Guillén Rondón has been earnestly caring for this flock through their transformation. His life also is not easy. There have been many times when he has had to spend over 24 hours waiting in line to get gasoline for his car. His wife and daughter, as well as other church members, have had medical problems. In Venezuela, if you need surgery you need to provide all the materials for the surgeon, from medicines to gloves, because otherwise the doctor won’t have what is needed for the operation. A fishing trip some time ago yielded a few stingrays which brought much-needed protein for the family. Although he’s gotten used to skipping meals for himself, it remains agonizing to have no milk for their youngest child, as was the case last month.
All the same, he continues to abound in the work of the Lord. On the Lord’s Day they are at church from about 8 AM to 4 PM. In addition there are catechism classes, Bible studies, and prayer meetings several days of the week. Open-air preaching and literature distribution takes place routinely, sometimes with a couple of folks, sometimes with most of the congregation helping out. He has trained up some other men to assist in the work of the ministry. The congregation currently numbers about 70, and there are 10 more people in membership classes. In October he was able to give a series of conference talks about the Reformation.
There used to be a very popular radio program, and an extension work at an indigenous village some hours away. Those had to be given up for lack of the necessary resources to carry them on. The church would probably be larger than it is, but in light of the difficulties of keeping body and soul together, nearly everyone leaves for another country if they get a chance. Farewell services where church members say goodbye to loved ones, knowing they may never be together again, are frequent.
Beyond the ordinary work of the church in worship, discipleship, and evangelism, there is an open door of ministry that is quite unique. Every week Pastor Alessandro and his associates have the opportunity to preach the Gospel and teach ethics from an explicitly Christian perspective to government officials! Cadets from the national police force, agents of the anti-extortion unit, and a variety of other departments of law enforcement, are told about the way of salvation in Christ, and instructed that all authority comes from God and they are accountable to the Lord for how they use their office and uphold the laws. Spread out across several training sessions, an average of about 500 people per week hear these messages. We certainly don’t seem to get opportunities like that in California!
Although life is desperately hard, there is abundant life in this little church in a remote portion of Venezuela. The treasure of God’s word is used and shared. They have next to nothing of this world’s goods, but they share what they have today with others in need, in the hope of surviving until tomorrow. For them, the prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” is an urgent reality.
As we look around at the relative abundance we enjoy, let’s take a moment to remember Abundant Life Bible Church in Venezuela. Give thanks for them! What a joy it is that in such sparse conditions God has raised up servants who preach His word to the people at the bus stop, the police cadets in training, and their own children.
And pray for them. Life in such conditions is difficult, dangerous, and discouraging. But Christ came so that they could have life, and have it more abundantly. Pray for God’s provision, protection, guidance, and deliverance. And pray too that the overflowing abundance of their life in Christ would enable them to continue with the mission of the church, even in such daunting circumstances.
Ebenezer Reformed Church, Shafter, CA