"Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." James 1:12
We lit the first candle of the Advent wreath on Sunday, November 29, 2020. The wreath (in Spanish they call it a corona or crown) is set up in the chapel, and so is the manger scene. Following Venezuelan custom, we have not placed the Christ Child in the manger yet, because we are anticipating and preparing for the celebration of His birth.
In past years, for many people, “Christmas” meant the beginning of a long vacation period, usually starting December 15 and lasting until January 6 (Epiphany). It was a time for getaways to Venezuela’s towering mountains or hundreds of miles of Caribbean shoreline, or perhaps just staying at home to eat and drink with family and friends. This year is different, although COVID-19 travel restrictions may be lifted this month. Still, because of the hyperinflationary economy, there are many families who cannot afford the traditional Christmas meal of hallaca, pan de jamón and chicken salad. To a gringo, the hallaca looks much like a tamale, but whatever you do, do not call it a tamale. Pan de jamón is holiday bread filled with ham and olives. The chicken salad is chicken salad, although there is a history behind it as a Christmas treat. Even during the best years, however, for those who had forgotten the reason for the season, the good times and good feelings were only a short respite from days of toil and trouble without hope. Now they may not have even that. But for those of us for whom the light of Christ shines throughout the year, this season is both a time to remember why we have the sure promise of eternal life and to look forward to the fulfillment of that promise despite the trials and troubles of this life.
Still no COVID-19 in La Caramuca
Speaking of trials, we give thanks be to God that it has been nearly eight months and no COVID-19 cases have been recorded in La Caramuca. I was reflecting on that after being reminded that at this time in 2014, everyone in La Caramuca, including Luz Maria and myself, had come down with chikungunya at least once and sometimes twice. Chikungunya is a tropical disease that first appeared in India and islands in the Indian Ocean in 2005/2006 and spread to the Caribbean basin by 2013. It caused quite a few deaths throughout Latin America and there still is no vaccine or cure for it. There also are no vaccines or cures for dengue fever or the zika virus, both of which still are present in Venezuela, too. Dengue, zika and chikungunya all are spread by the same species of tropical mosquito, which does not survive and reproduce any place frostier than Florida. I am at a loss to explain why COVID-19 has had so little direct impact on us, except to say the Lord has had mercy on us. Although the “national quarantine” has severely restricted travel even in and around Barinas, we nevertheless are not completely isolated from the rest of the country or the world.
Online courses continue
Together with Pastor Eliezer Mendoza of Barquisimeto, who is director of the Juan de Frias Theological Institute, Luz Maria is reviewing and evaluating the final coursework in the first stage of online training of deaconesses in Venezuela. The program began September 25, 2020, with 41 women enrolled. Weekly online sessions were conducted via Zoom software with presentations by Deaconess Danelle Putnam, coordinator of deaconess education for Concordia El Reformador Seminary in the Dominican Republic, and Dr. Roberto Bustamente, theological educator at the Dominican seminary. Also in November, the Lutheran Church of Venezuela conducted its first online national assembly via Zoom videoconferencing. Our preschool students, as well as students in the elementary schools have continued coursework online for the first trimester of the 2020/2021 school year. All of this despite continued power outages and lapses in Internet service.
Because of advances in and widespread adoption of videoconferencing technology, we feel confident in inviting congregations, societies and groups that support our work in La Caramuca, or would just like to know more about us to arrange a Zoom conference at the most convenient date. Please let us know!
Medicine for Venezuela Project completes third year of operation
According to James and Lisa Tino of Global Lutheran Outreach, “Thousands of people have benefited from this incredible project of mercy over the last three years. Currently we are packing and preparing to send about 60,000 pills which will be distributed to people in desperate need via our 21 sister congregations throughout Venezuela.” Here we look forward to receiving more of this necessary assistance. The Tinos have more to say about how Global Lutheran Outreach helps Venezuelan immigrants in Chile.
Pray for Venezuela and the world
Let us remember in prayer:
The victims of Hurricane Eta in Central America and of storms and earthquakes throughout the world.
Families affected by heavy rains and floods throughout northwestern Venezuela.
Lo! the hosts of evil round us
Scorn the Christ, assail His ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.
Text: God of Grace and God of Glory
Author: Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1878-1969
Tune: CWM RHONDDA
Arranger: Henry V. Gerike, b. 1848
Composer: John Hughes, 1873-1932