Venezuela, with the oil wealth of Saudi Aribia, today looks more like Syria, noted a journalist. With the country in free fall, it is hard to imagine how it can last much longer. In daily updates, we listen to multiplying horror stories of no food, empty medicine shelves, stunning numbers of kidnappings, and the hemorrhaging of ten percent of its population in a matter of months.
This incredibly beautiful and rich-in-resource Latin American country is the paradigm of ideological delusion, bureaucratic dissonance, governmental piracy, police intimidation, and outright robbing of the public pursue.
Keep in mind what we are talking about. With 30 million in population, about the size of Canada, it is harbored on the northeast coast of South America. Colonized by the Spanish in the 1500s, it became independent in 1881. Long the bastion of caudillos or military “strongmen,” in the 1950s and following, a series of elected governments ruled, ending in 1993 with Hugo Chávez becoming president. He died in 2013.
During his rule, Venezuela, with more natural oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, came unglued. Mirroring Cuba, its economic management drove it to financial ruin, with shortages in almost everything and millions fleeing the country for survival.
Its current president, Maduro, a former bus driver, has turned his failing country into a kind of police state, merging dire economic realities with religious intimidation, social fiascos and an unending litany of debilitating stories of starvation, needless deaths from lack of medicine, and a citizenry fatigued by dishonesty and failed governance.
Responding to resistance with authoritarianism and repression, day to day its precarious status teeters on the edge of utter disaster, about to collapse into a valley of ruin with its short-term prospects hanging on attempts, by its opposition leader Juan Guaidó, to arrest national leadership.
Transparency International reports that they are not able to measure the level of corruption in Venezuela. As they note, “Layer upon layer, violence and corruption, handmaidens of the powerful, rule. While these factors exist in various degrees in many countries, here corruption has become statecraft.”
Within this cauldron of boiling issues are people of faith, living with resolution and determination. Here, the Evangelical Council of Venezuela is seeking a new way of societal accord, peace, and reconciliation.
Pastor Samuel Olson, President of the Council, called on people to pray “together as a family, asking God that through His Holy Spirit cares, directs and blesses our nation in this critical hour of its history.”
My last visit illustrated how evangelicals operate in a place of repression and social disintegration. As part of a worldwide network of National Alliances in 130 countries, this alliance, led by Venezuelan-born pastor Samuel Olson, is the voice of the evangelical community, a Christian grouping close to a quarter of its entire population.
Bold in their public engagement, I sat with leaders of the Alliance and members of National Assembly to address the importance of allowing people to create a country in which religious freedom rules.
A deputy (an elected member of the National Assembly) told me that as a Pentecostal, she found socialism to be aligned with the gospel. Others with a Christian affiliation challenged the government’s handling of social and economic policies. We then met with the Roman Catholic bishop, and after prayer we reflected on the nature of Christian interfacing with societal issues and political conflicts.
We spent the next morning with the Jewish community, a friendship nurtured by the Evangelical Alliance. They, too, were feeling the pressure of the government’s policies and wondered as to their future in this land of their ancestry.
That evening, in the heart of Caracas, I joined the president of the Alliance and pastors with some 1,200 who had come to the midweek 6 PM prayer service. As their world was collapsing around them, central to their habit was praying together.
As the scenario of this country works its way into resolution, people find their strength in these times and places of prayer and spiritual solidarity.
Russia has just sent a hundred soldiers into Caracas. And although the government has blocked roads, preventing supplies and food to arrive in the country, they have made an exception with the Red Cross.
The political scenery is increasingly complicated, freighted with a series of possibilities, not the least of which is the setting up of a renewed cold war, with Venezuela the place where a proxy battle of the East and West is fought.
What can we do? While getting money and goods into the country is almost impossible, keep on the lookout for ministries which find ways to do that. The ground is constantly changing, and political and economic pressure will alter the landscape. Also remember that prayer is never the final resort. It continues to be front and center to our arsenal of spiritual engagement.
Here is a short list to use in your daily prayer, as we watch and pray for peaceful resolution to the political stand-off, looking for leadership able to counter their social, economic, and medical needs.
A prayer guide:
Brian C. Stiller
World Evangelical Alliance