The west is still wild in Venezuela. Luz Maria was robbed at gunpoint while traveling back to Barinas to deal with some personal business.
She assured me when she left that she would be okay traveling by herself because she has in the past traveled alone across the country many times. However, this time somewhere on the highway between Caracas and Barinas robbers stopped the bus and took everyone's valuables. They struck some people with the stocks of their guns, but not Luz Maria. She also did not lose all of her possessions because she hid her shoulderbag under the seat and the robbers did not find it. They took her watch and 10,000 bolivares (about $5) that she was carrying in her pocket.
She was so shaken by the experience that when she arrived in Barinas, a doctor prescribed some sedatives to help calm her down.
The issue that I have to face now is that she probably would have been in more danger if I had been with her. As a North American I am more of a target for thieves because the general perception is that North Americans have a lot more money and other valuables than Venezuelans. This attitude, of course, has much justification. In fact I have been carrying a laptop computer and digital camera with me everywhere I go and, aside from the issue of personal safety, I could not easily afford to replace this equipment.
Luz Maria has asked me to travel by airplane rather than by bus the next time I go to Barinas. This would be one solution to the security problem although it is, of course, much more costly to travel by air and you don't get to see as much of the country. I now have to decide whether the advantages of traveling by bus are worth the risks, especially going west from Caracas.
It seems there is more danger in western Venezuela than here in the east, although I couldn't tell you exactly why. One theory is because of longstanding conflicts between Venezuela and Colombia, lawlessness increases the closer you get to the western border.
Last week, before this incident, we took a pleasant trip together on the bus to San Antonio de Maturin, a lovely town up in the mountains north of Maturin, with houses and streets in the Spanish colonial style. The members of la Iglesia Luterana El Redentor (Redeemer Lutheran Church) in San Antonio had heard of the success of the vacation Bible schools in Quebrada Seca and Rio Chiquito, and decided they wanted organize their own vacation Bible school. So Luz Maria took some of the educational materials left by the volunteers from Minnesota who helped with VBS last month and gave them to one of the women in San Antonio.
On September 3, Miguelangel Pérez, a deacon from Cristo es Amor Lutheran Church in Barquisimeto traveled with Luz Maria and I to Quebrada Seca. He enjoyed himself a great deal, both from sharing the Gospel with the people there and being able to talk with us about a lot of things on his mind.
The church in Barquisimeto is a focal point for the current leadership crisis in the Lutheran Church of Venezuela. Miguelangel confirmed what I had already heard: Sunday morning attendance at Cristo es Amor has slid from about 80 people per week to about 15. He also told the rural missions in Carora and El Onzo that I visited in April 2003 have been closed because the Barquisimeto church is no longer able to support them. The reason for all of this is the current pastor has taken sosme controversial positions and actions that many people in the church do not agree with.