Aug 3, 2020

Coronavirus crowns health care crisis

A blessing for our mission.
During the last week in July, we received and distributed another shipment of medications from Global Lutheran Outreach and the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile.

 The medicine is purchased in Chile with the cooperation of a local pharmacy and packaged by volunteers (many of them expatriate Venezuelans) at the Lutheran mission congregation in Providencia, Santiago, Chile. Requests for medicine are coordinated through Lutheran congregations in Venezuela. Recipients can choose from a list of 25 common medications (up to three medications per patient). Each of those 25 medicines are available in Chile without a prescription.

 As of Sunday, August 2, 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in Venezuela had surpassed 20,000, with Caracas replacing the western city of Maracaibo as the epicenter of infection. But even before the COVID-19 crisis, Venezuela was in the middle of a health care crisis. Hospitals have closed or are operating at a fraction of their capacity, many without regular access to electricity or water. The public health infrastructure is so weak that in 2019, Venezuela had the world’s steepest rise in malaria cases. Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria had already returned long before the epidemic hit. The health crisis began in 2012, two years after the economic crisis began in 2010. But it took a drastic turn for the worse in 2017. Cases of measles and diphtheria, which were rare or nonexistent before the economic crisis, have surged to 9,300 and 2,500 respectively. The Ministry of Health report from 2017 showed that maternal mortality had shot up by 65 percent in one year — from 456 women who died in 2015 to 756 women in 2016. At the same time, infant mortality rose by 30 percent — from 8,812 children under age 1 dying in 2015 to 11,466 children the following year. Shortages in medications, health supplies, interruptions of basic utilities at health-care facilities, and the emigration of health-care workers have led to a progressive decline in the operational capacity of health care. Venezuela is ranked among the least prepared countries to respond to a pandemic, as it lacks basic supplies needed to prevent infection and treat illness.

 Food and medicine both are in short supply. But even when both are available, hyperinflation (more than 50% per month) and rising unemployment mean Venezuelans often have to choose between the two. Thanks be to God, the coronavirus has not reached La Caramuca yet, and we still are in the least restricted zone for COVID-19. However, members of our mission and our community suffer from such infirmities as schizophrenia; bipolar disorder; osteoarthritis; lupus; severe generalized arthrosis; toxoplasmosis; and epilepsy. Thanks to our partnership wih Global Lutheran Outreach, they have been able to receive the medications that they need.

 Pray for victims of the coronavirus

No COVID-19 cases have been reported in our immediate vicinity. But the coronavirus has struck close to home in that Luz Maria’s daughter, Yepci Santana, who moved to Peru two years ago, has tested positive. She has been confined to her apartment and unable to work, so we have helped her to purchase the medication that she needs until the 14 days of quarantine have passed. Yepci and her children, Oriana and Elias, are members of the LCMS mission in Los Olivos, Lima, Peru.

A delayed diploma

In July 2020, I, David, marked 17 years since my arrival in Venezuela for three years of service as a long-term volunteer for Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) World Missions. I had hoped to celebrate this milestone by traveling to the Dominican Republic to receive my Specific Ministry Program (SMP) certificate from Concordia The Reformer Seminary, but, of course, that trip was cancelled.

Since 2015 I have taken online courses offered through the Dominican seminary in cooperation with Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the Lutheran Church of Venezuela’s Juan de Frias Theological Institute. The curriculum, Formación Pastoral Hispanoamérica, was developed by the Fort Wayne Seminary as part of the Specific Ministry Program for training bilingual pastors in the United States has been adapted for use in Latin American nations. I have completed the requirements of the four-year program as part of my commitment to continuing education as a pastor. Someday I hope to have that document to hang on my wall.

So, who was Juan de Frias?

It might surprise some people to know there was a Spanish Reformation. In fact, there was, and one of the lasting results was the Reina-Valera Bible, still the most widely distributed and used Spanish Bible in Latin America today. It was largely the work of Casiodoro de Reina, a former monk who became a Lutheran pastor.



However, like de Reina, many Lutherans fled Spain to escape the ruthless persecution of the Spanish Inquisition. Some found their way to Spanish colonies in the New World, only to find that the Inquisition has set up shop there, too. From what we know of his background, Juan Francisco de la Barreda, also known as Juan de Frias, was born in Caracas. It is not certain how this priest and Augustinian friar was introduced to the writings of Martin Luther. Perhaps it was through contact with refugess from Spain, or maybe through written materials smuggled into Venezuela by pirates of the Caribbean, some of whom were of Lutheran background.

At any rate, in 1671, Juan de Frias was charged by the Inquisition with teaching “the Lutheran heresy”. The following year he was imprisoned at the Inquisition’s regional headquarters in Cartagena, Colombia. For 16 years he refused to recant and on May 30, 1688, was burned at stake. The Juan de Frias Theological Institute was founded in 1970 and named in his honor.

Recently I learned the address of the Inquisition’s office in Caracas: La Esquina de Cruz Verde, Avda. Sur 1, Caracas 1012, Distrito Capital.