Ministry spreads amid unrest in Venezuelacomment (0)
March 20, 2014
As tensions escalate amid anti-government protests across Venezuela, Southern Baptist representatives and their Venezuelan Baptist partners are ministering to Venezuelans on both sides of the conflict.
One Venezuelan Baptist pastor goes to the front lines of the protests, praying with demonstrators and their opponents at barricades protesters have erected in Caracas, the capital city. He also visits Venezuela’s National Guard and police stations to pray for their forces, even though some of them have been accused of alleged human rights violations against protestors.
At a barricade where he went to pray with demonstrators, the pastor “put the skids on an attack on protesters,” reported Matthew Starr, a Southern Baptist representative serving in Caracas.
Residents of a nearby barrio (slum) approached, carrying sticks and stones, ready to attack demonstrators. The barrios of Caracas — stretching up the mountains surrounding the city — are considered bastions of support for the socialist government.
“He went across to the attackers and said he was a Baptist pastor and was praying with folks from both sides, sharing their need for God to take control of the situation,” Starr recounted. “This diffused the [conflict] and they didn’t carry out the attack.”
“Pray for this pastor as he’s making this his ministry during this crisis,” Starr added. “He’s also asking other pastors to get involved.”
Another front-line ministry is happening through a Baptist church located near the main protest area in Caracas. Every morning some church members prayerwalk the area before protests begin in the afternoon.
Although church leaders cancelled prayer meetings at their building for security reasons, they asked members to pray together in homes and invite their neighbors to join them.
One family shared that five non-Christian neighbors showed up for a prayer meeting in their home.
“Many unsaved Venezuelans are realizing they just don’t have the spiritual resources to face the crisis,” Starr observed.
The latest crisis erupted in early February when students in western Venezuela staged demonstrations after a female university student allegedly was raped. Protesters demanded the government address Venezuela’s crime issues; the country has the fifth highest murder rate in the world, according to news reports. They also complained about Venezuela’s 56 percent inflation rate — the world’s highest — and a shortage of basic goods like milk, cooking oil and toilet paper.
After police detained some students, anti-government demonstrations spread to Caracas and other cities.
Venezuela has been deeply divided politically for nearly 15 years, a rift that began as the late President Hugo Chavez ushered in socialism during his 14-year presidency. That rift widened after the March 2013 death of Chavez and the bitterly contested election in April 2013 of his hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro.
“There’s been a lot of discontent in the country, even before the protests broke out,” Starr noted. “[The unrest] has just been building.”
“A fuse has been lit, but we just don’t know how long the fuse is,” a Venezuelan pastor told Starr six months ago.
So far at least 20 people have been killed in violence surrounding the protests, according to news reports’.
After the first of those deaths, the National Baptist Convention of Venezuela issued a statement condemning the violence and urging democratic solutions. The statement also asked Christians around the world to pray for Venezuela, calling for “heartfelt and ongoing prayer to God, imploring Him to shine His face over us, to heal our nation and to help us to face and transform the present circumstances for the good of all Venezuelans.”