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Nourishing hope in Venezuela

 

Presbyterians asked to pray that challenges become opportunities

by Dennis Smith | Mission Crossroads

First Presbyterian Church in Maracaibo, Venezuela provides a hot meal for neighborhood families. (Photo by Dennis Smith)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Venezuelan emigration has become a major issue in South America and the Caribbean.

According to U.N. data, more than 10% of the population of Venezuela — between 3.5 million and 4 million people — have emigrated, a trend that shows no sign of abating.

The Presbyterian Church of Venezuela (IPV) has had to adjust to this new reality. Those who leave are often young professionals who have important leadership roles in the church. Most IPV congregations are small, so to continue to lose key leaders to emigration creates challenges.

The IPV has worked with the Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Latin America (AIPRAL) to ensure that emigrating church members can connect with Presbyterian and Reformed congregations in their new homes.

On a recent trip to Chile, I contacted Yoharlys Cribeiro and her family. We had last met in Venezuela, where all family members were active IPV leaders. When they first moved to Chile, they attended a church that excluded women from leadership. AIPRAL connected them with Unión Cristiana, a congregation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Chile in Santiago, where the Rev. Eduardo Vidal gives thanks to God for their contribution to this faith community.

World Mission staff members Dennis Smith and Valdir França meet with Yoharlys Cribeiro and her family in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Eliud Miranda)

Back in Venezuela, the IPV seeks to respond to local needs by offering pastoral accompaniment in a time of deep polarization, including food to children and older adults and quality education through their church-related schools. Through the Venezuela Mission Network, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations have been vital partners in these efforts. For example, the Rev. Nick Marlatt of Ohio United Presbyterian Church in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania reports that his congregation’s children and youth collected more than $1,100 at their Vacation Bible School to use for scholarships at IPV schools. Other PC(USA) congregations have provided funds used by IPV congregations for food baskets and weekly hot meals.

Sadly, humanitarian aid is a charged political issue in Venezuela, more so now that the U.S. has imposed an economic blockade. The IPV has been hesitant to get involved in this maelstrom, unless they are clear that aid distribution will not cast them as partisans in a bitter ideological struggle. They have heard that conservative religious groups from the U.S. have set up projects in Colombia, offering aid to evangelical churches in Venezuela that oppose the government.

One hopeful move is that the Venezuelan government is now negotiating with the International Red Cross to permit nonpartisan aid, including food and medicines, to be distributed in the country. While visiting First Presbyterian Church in Maracaibo recently, the Rev. Obed Vizcaino received a call from municipal officials inviting his church to become a part of this aid distribution network

Please join the IPV in praying that Venezuela’s deep divisions may soon be healed, that many far-flung family members may return home and that respect of the nation’s sovereignty will be restored.

Dennis Smith is World Mission’s regional liaison for South America. Based in Buenos Aires, he works with 16 mission partners from Colombia to Argentina. Consider supporting the work of Dennis and his wife, Maribel, in South America: pcusa.org/donate/E200481

Give to the Peace & Global Witness Offering to support the peace and reconciliation work of church partners through World Mission.


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