Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Acts of the Holy Spirit in Venezuela

Report from Venezuela:
Dan, Jane and I arrived in Venezuela on Wednesday night after a pleasant, uneventful flight. We stayed that night at the Guest House in Miquetia.  We left the Guest House at 8:00am and made the drive to Cabudare/Barquisimeto in 4½ hours. Thursday afternoon we visited with David and Carol as she prepared the dinner for the Due West UMC mission team. 

The team arrived about 7:00 after their last day of work on the new church, Valle Dorado United Methodist Church.  They were exhausted and covered with a day of grime after working 10 hours in 100+ degree heat (This is unusual for this area of Venezuela.  The country is experiencing one of its worst heat waves and droughts in history). 

However, in spite of the back-breaking work of digging footings and mixing and pouring concrete, they were filled with joy.  Each person shared how much this trip had meant to them.  Stephen Brumbeloe, Pastor of Missions at Due West, asked me to share briefly how the work had started and a short history and take their questions.  They had a lot of pertinent and enthusiastic questions.  Then after a long day at the end of a long week, they left for their comfortable beds at the Seminary. They returned to Caracas the next day and arrived safely back in the US on Saturday.

On Friday Dan, David and I met with Bishop Juvenal Perez, the first bishop of the United Methodist Church of Venezuela and a graduate of the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela.  He had some questions for us and we discussed at length issues such as ministerial ethics, church planting, Disciplinary fidelity, the 10% mission offering from each church for the work of the Conference, the role of the Seminary, Clergy accountability, statistical reports, planning and communication.  It was a full agenda, but well worth the time since Obispo Perez is such a mature and devoted Christian evangelist and pastor with a teachable spirit and hunger for knowledge. He also serves as the UM pastor in Punto Fijo as well as having planted three other new congregations and assigned lay pastors to them.

Saturday morning we traveled to the Seminary for a United Methodist Pastor’s seminar. At the request of the Bishop I taught and Dan translated for about 4 hours and addressed several issues for the UMC of Venezuela using the Church at Antioch in the Book of Acts as the pattern. It was a wonderful time with many of the UM pastors and spouses.  While we missed some who could not be there, these pastors had gathered from all across the country at significant expense and inconvenience.   

Many pastors shared great testimonies of what God had done and is doing through their churches.  These testimonies sounded like they came right out of the Book of Acts.  A medical doctor and graduate of the seminary told of a recent event witnessed by a number of doctors in which a man was being autopsied and revived. He had been dead so long much of his innards were destroyed and had to be replaced with plastic parts.   But he is alive and praising God for the miracle, giving thanks to the Great Physician.  Another pastor shared the picture of a man who was completely debilitated by a tumor on his brain.  It had cut his brain function to just 30%.  The pastor shared how difficult this was for him and his family.  The church gathered and prayed for him and he was instantaneously healed.  The healing was certified by his doctor. As the pastor showed me a picture of the man he told me he had been cleared by his doctors and was employed driving an 18-wheel truck across the country.  Another pastor told of the new church plant north of the city and had the layman in whose home it is meeting at the seminar.  He will be enrolled in the Seminary on Monday! More stories like these there were shared and we rejoiced.

We also learned that Pastor and Pastora/Dr. Carlos and Maria Perona are both finishing advanced degrees.  Carlos is getting the equivalent of a PhD. in Instructional Theory (one of his undergraduate degrees is in engineering).  He is obtaining this degree so he can provide greater acceptance for the work of the Seminary.  Dr. Maria, a pediatrician, is getting a terminal degree in Human Sexual Behavior to assist in her work with unwed mothers and dysfunctional families.  She will also use her degree to benefit the Seminary. Carlos and Maria have planted 8 churches in 8 years and have several more opportunities they are considering.  What remarkable leaders they are!

After the seminar we gathered with the pastors from the Bolivar State to hopefully give them some encouragement and support.  Their homes and churches are 18-22 hours from the Seminary but that does not keep them from riding all night and half the day just to get to Seminary.  Their isolation makes the connectional system of Methodism very difficult.  However, the Bishop traveled (by bus over 24 hours each way) to visit with them 3 times in the last year and they are doing remarkable work. Pastor Thoby Ramirez, the District Superintendent for the Bolivar state, is leading the pastors of his area in a nation-wide Family Evangelism Camp (in tents) at the river in Puerto Ordaz being hosted there during Holy Week.  The first one was for youth and was so transformational the youth requested this one include the whole family.  This is the old Campmeeting in a new setting and God is doing what God did in the old time Campmeeting.  They are also planning a state-wide (Bolivar State) Evangelistic Crusade in December and issued an invitation to me to come and preach.  We are praying about that possibility.

Sunday we attended worship at Ondas de Paz where pastor Alexander and pastora Amarilys Commache are leading a dynamic church which continues to grow and outgrow the space currently available.  Thanks to the mission team from Tucker UMC, they are gaining more and more space.  However, today there was such a large crowd that many stood outside and shared in the worship through the windows and doors. We learned the church is praying and looking for a larger location to accommodate their growing ministry. This is a church that is known in the community for its ministry with children and families, especially single mothers.  The worship service was filled with enthusiastic praise and worship and the testimony of the transforming grace of Jesus in each of the lives of 6 women who had just returned from a spiritual retreat. Then the Bishop preached and several adults and youth made professions of faith.  Alexander and Amarilys are finishing their university degrees while continuing to take classes at the Seminary.  They are providing extraordinary leadership to this congregation.

After worship we went to the old hotel where we used to stay on each visit. We had lunch, visited with our friends on the restaurant staff and had the best ever cup of CafĂ© con Leche. 

On Monday morning we woke to the wonderful sounds of rain.  This is the first rainfall in several months in Barquisimeto and much of Venezuela.  Pray for more rain.

The Seminary class began Monday at 2:00 with David teaching.  He is teaching the third class called, “Self Confrontation” and is a great class helping these pastors and lay leaders understand and grow in their own personal holiness, building stronger families and better communities. I began teaching at 8:00am on Tuesday morning “The Mission of the Church, I.”  We will deal with mission and vision this week, and in August teach then second half of the course on core values, leadership and strategic planning. 

We are so blessed to see the remarkable growth of the United Methodist Church of Venezuela and the continuing strengthening of the Seminary (over 40 students attending class this week).  We so thankful for this opportunity to get to be a small part of the remarkable things God is doing in Venezuela.

Please keep all of this in your prayers.  Also, please consider a first-time gift or and extra gift for the support of the Seminary. It continues to have remarkable impact on the effectiveness of the church in Venezuela.  You can mail a gift to Venezuela Now, Inc.  PO Box 1655, Duluth, GA  30096.

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