May 7, 2004

Three visit the farm

On April 29, 2004, a crowd of people from Maturin, Banco de Acosta, Rio Chiquito and Quebrada Seca gathered at the farm to welcome our visitors, pastors Jorge Groh and Phil Bickel.

Dr. Groh is the new director of missions in Latin America for the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Phil Bickel is missions pastor at St. Michael's Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Minnesota, the church that commissioned me to serve in Venezuela. He came as a representative of the Venezuela Lutheran Mission Partnership, a mission society dedicated to working with the Lutheran Church of Venezuela for the evangelization of Venezuela.

I believe both of them were pleased with the number of people who turned out and with the work that has been done on the farm. Pastor Bickel was under the impression that the farm was farther up in the mountains, but no such luck, I am afraid.

Just a few days before they arrived, there was a big grass fire on the farm. No crops were harmed, but the workers were hard-pressed to keep the blaze under control. In the end, however, the fire cleared away a lot of heavy growth and eliminated the need to mow before tilling the land.

But it seems the dry season here may be ending early. The farm has received much rain this week. On Monday, in fact, work had to be called off for the day because the rain was so heavy.

Luz Maria spent a week in Barinas taking a big step of faith. When we were married, she
received six months of paid leave from her job at a preschool in Barinas. She hoped that there would be the opportunity for her to become involved in the farm project and she indeed has become a vital part of it.

Nearly every day she was gone the workers would ask me when she was coming back and one of them said to me, "Señora Luz is a gift to us from God." As I was waiting for the bus to Maturin one day, an old man that I had never met before came walking by and asked me, "Where is the señora?"

However, she has been greatly concerned about providing for her two youngest daughters, Sarai (15) and Charli (18) without the steady paycheck from Barinas. There are plans to support her work as well as that of Armando Ramos as the farm's pastor with revenue generated by the farm as well as contributions to an evangelism fund.

The farm, however, is still about six months away from being a self-supporting enterprise. The main irrigation pump broke down at a critical time for the papàya crop and much revenue was lost due to the drop in production. Also, repairing the pump was a major expense.

Dale Saville estimates the farm needs to gross one million bolivars every week to be self-supporting. Presently it is grossing about one million bolivars per month.

Despite this shortage of funds, Luz Maria has decided to leave her job in Barinas. In part, this is because I promised her that I would provide the $300 per month that she needs for her daughters regardless of whether she received any support from the farm project.

This increases my need for financial support, of course. Any help in this regard would be appreciated. Also please consider contributing to the farm project itself as more workers are needed and much equipment needs to be repaired. Financial support can be sent to:

Venezuelan Lutheran Mission Partnership
3089 Leyland Trail
Woodbury, MN 55125


St. Michael's Lutheran Church Venezuelan Ministry Fund
9201 Normandale Blvd.
Bloomington, MN 55437

And please continue to pray for us. Although we have material needs, these are not the greatest
challenges that we face. Everyone involved in the project has been or is being tested spiritually
by an enemy that knows our every weakness and shortcoming.

This is a place where the roaring lion does not bother to hide his true nature. I am reminded of the words of Jesus to the church in Pergamum in Revelation chapter 2, verse 13: "I know where you live - where Satan has his throne..." (NIV)

In my final lesson in the Gospel according to Matthew course, my instructor, Amichel Ventura, and I discussed the sovereignty of God as it relates to the prevalence of magic and witchcraft in Venezuela. Amichel told me how his grandmother would regularly visit a brujo (wizard or warlock) and he demonstrated for me part of the brujo's ritual for healing the sick. There are many people in Venezuela who prefer a brujo or bruja (witch) to a doctor of medicine.

Every year brujos and brujas from all over Venezuela gather on a mountain in the state of Yaracuy. Maria Lionza, the fertility goddess whose 15-foot-tall statue can be seen from the Caracas freeway, is supposed to live in this mountain. There is great danger, including physical danger, for anyone who visits this mountain during the brujo convention, Michel said.

But the point of my lesson was that the power of God is greater than that of witches and evil spirits, and that those who follow the path of faith and prayer will prevail with His help.

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