Light in the Darkness

A Letter from Dennis and Maribel Smith, based in Argentina since 2011, serving as regional liaison for South America

March 2019

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Dear friends:

Her social media posts are poignant, tender.

Rev. Zulema García, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela, has begun to use 3-to-4-minute audio devotionals that are distributed by social media to ask for prayer for her church and for her nation.

In the devotionals, Rev. García shares short portions of Scripture followed by prayers for peace with justice, prayers for those suffering from hunger and thirst and lack of medical services. She shares prayers for wisdom and humility for those in leadership, no matter their political affiliation. She concludes by singing well-known gospel choruses, such as: “En tus manos, Señor, siempre estamos (In your hands, Lord, we always remain).”

As I listen, I am deeply moved.

If you’ve been following the news, you know of the recent power outages in Venezuela, attributed by many to cyberattacks by the US and its allies and by others to endemic corruption, emigration of skilled workers and a lack of investment and maintenance of vital infrastructure by the current government. All these reasons may well be true.

Think about how reliant modern societies are on electricity: life-saving medical services, water, communication, refrigeration, cooking, air conditioning — and so much more! Venezuela saw all these basic services disappear during the blackout.

As so often happens, the blackouts led to looting in some towns. The looting exacerbated existing shortages of food and water.

Rev. García and her colleagues have shared with the Venezuela Mission Network how this national emergency has provided unique opportunities for the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela to reach out to their neighbors and live out the love of Christ.

“God does not abandon us,” observes Rev. García. “God helps us transform threats into opportunities and weakness into strength.”

Dr. Loida de Valera, a member of the synod’s executive committee, shared how the residents of her apartment building responded to the crisis by organizing themselves and sharing available resources. They rationed and distributed available water. Those with gas stoves cooked for those with electric. Those with access to Internet and cell phones shared news and assured access to emergency services when needed. Without electricity or TV, people gathered in the evening to play board games, read the news to one another, and practice the ancient art of conversation. This, she said, proved to be an opportunity to build community, even in difficult circumstances.

El Divino Salvador (Divine Savior) Presbyterian Church in Barquisimeto was not affected by the power cuts. They opened their doors to the community and provided access to their stove and refrigerator, as well as a place for families with small children to plug in their electric fans and get a good night’s sleep.

Rev. García, who lives in Maracaibo, shared the testimony of a participant in one of her Bible studies. Because of her work schedule, this woman purchases food and prepares all her meals for the week on a single day. After the lights had been out for hours, she invited her neighbors over and shared the week’s meals with them.

On Feb 6 of this year, prior to the recent blackouts, J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), sent a pastoral letter to our churches encouraging “all Presbyterians to be in prayer for our sisters and brothers in Venezuela.” In the letter he noted that:

“It is enough that the people of Venezuela have been facing disastrous inflation, which has led to shortages of food, medicine and basic services, made worse by widespread corruption; moreover, the society is torn by competing claims of leadership of the national government. This is only made worse by competing threats of intervention by global and regional powers who are backing one party over another. … As we cry out on behalf of our church partner and all the people of Venezuela, we call for vigilance and reason by the international community, so that actions by outside powers do not make worse a regional crisis that already impacts our own nation.”

At the end of February, Presbyterian World Mission held a consultation in Cartagena, Colombia, with 60 partner churches, faith-based organizations and theological seminaries from Latin America and the Caribbean to discern together new mission priorities for the PC(USA). Deeply concerned by events in the region, participants drafted a declaration of solidarity with Venezuela calling on the government of Venezuela, representatives of the opposition, and neighboring countries:

“to develop spaces of encounter and dialogue that lead to a consensus solution to the political tensions and a concrete response, through appropriate international organisms, to the anguished social and economic situation faced by the population, guaranteeing and establishing as the basis for this dialogue the full respect for human rights without bloodshed. … Having been challenged by the call to cooperate in mission that transforms the world, the mission to which Jesus of Nazareth has called us, we offer to the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela our vocation of intercessory prayer and action to guarantee that this process of dialogue and search for a consensus for peace be undertaken in the immediate future.”

When beloved friends — sisters and brothers in Christ — suffer, there are moments when one becomes frustrated by the weightlessness of words. What more can one say but that more violence will resolve nothing?

In his epistle, James reminds us that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (5:16). Can prayer — finally — change things? Our friends in Venezuela believe so. And so do I.

We deeply value your continued, prayerful support for our ministry, and your continued prayers for all seeking the common good in Christ’s name in Venezuela and throughout the region. Thank you.

Under the Mercy,

Dennis Smith

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