Luz Maria and I traveled to Barquisimeto Saturday, July 9, where Luz Maria began confirmation classes for the youth of Cristo es Amor (Christ is Love) Lutheran Church.
Barquisimeto is a beautiful city, much larger than Barinas, located about three to four hours due north of where we live. It is not located high in the Andes like Merida to the west of Barinas, but the state of Lara is a more mountainous region. Therefore the climate is a lot cooler and less humid, making a trip to Barquisimeto a refreshing getaway.
My last visit to the church in Barquisimeto was in April 2003. At that time Cristo es Amor was one of the more flourishing Lutheran congregations in Venezuela with a large building, lovely sanctuary and Sunday attendance of around 80 people. Sadly, much has changed in two years. The congregation has been forced out of its former place of worship and up until this past Sunday, July 10, was meeting in the home of longtime member Nancy Mora.
We were privileged to attend the congregation's first service in a storefront that it has leased in downtown Barquisimeto. There were about 25 people in attendance. Since Cristo es Amor has lost its fulltime pastor, the service was led by Jesús Franco, an elder of the congregation, who has been authorized to preach and administer the sacraments. There is another diÃ¡cono pastoral, or lay minister, in the congregation, our friend Miguelangel Peréz whom we have spent time with at various locations outside of Barquisimeto over the last two years. This past Sunday Miguelangel had left town to visit his grandmother, who is seriously ill.
As a deaconess in the Lutheran Church of Venezuela, Luz Maria is qualified to teach confirmation classes. She is very gifted in working with children and youth. We will return to Barquisimeto July 23 for her to continue teaching. This is part of our vision for our school in La Caramuca: Providing teachers to assist struggling Lutheran churches in western Venezuela.
Cristo es Amor is now very short on educational materials, so we brought with us copies of Luther's Small Catechism in Spanish, provided to us by Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in Freeburg, Illinois, and distributed them to the young people.
We spent Saturday night in the home of Octavio and Rosario Figueroa. They were more than hospitable. In fact we spent many hours talking with them, Nancy Mora and JesÃºs Franco. Despite their diminished circumstances, all the remaining members of Cristo es Amor are in a very positive state of mind and feel the difficulties they have experience have brought them closer together.
Meanwhile, back in La Caramuca, construction of our preschool facility continues. The area is almost completely enclosed, although we still need to install locks on the doors. There is a working LP gas stove and running water in the kitchen. Plumbing in the bathroom is also nearly complete and we have purchased ceramic tile for the bathroom walls. There is a lot of finishing work to be done on the floor and walls, and also we need too put in wiring for lights.
A neighbor has offered us a very good deal on a used arc-welding unit. This would save us a lot of money on future work because Luz Maria's son, Pedro, can do it himself without having to hire someone who owns a welding torch. To explain why this is important, one of the most commonly used methods of construction in Venezuela involves setting up a metal frame and encasing it in cement, then filling in the spaces with concrete block later to be coated with cement.
The Lord willing, we hope eventually to repair the framework and put a new roof on our covered patio and construct a decent fence around the property. Of course, our long-term goal is to build a completely new schoolhouse.
We are grateful to St. Michael's Lutheran Church of Bloomington, Minnesota, and Venezuela Lutheran Mission Partnership for providing the funds to make all of this possible.
Next Saturday we plan to take some of the Sunday school children on a visit to one of the three families to whom we have been making evangelistic calls. There is a good possibility that we may be able to organize an adult Bible study group at this house. Copies of the Bible, which are in short supply here, would greatly facilitate this activity. We have two preferred translations. One, "Dios Habla Hoy," is distributed by the United Bible Societies and is recognized throughout Venezuela for its clarity and accuracy. The other is the Reina-Valera Bible, the Spanish equivalent of the King James Bible. Like the KJV, its language is old-fashioned, but also like the KJV highly valued for its beauty as well as accuracy.