Friends from the state of Monagas in eastern Venezuela came to visit us Thursday, August 26. Felix Zamora and Manuel Aristimuño each came equipped with two young daughters: Felix with Lixfe (switch the syllables around) and Gabriela, Manuel with Alaska and Nicole. They were taking care of their children while their wives, Aymer de Zamora and Nancy de Aristimuño, attended the national meeting of la Sociedad Luterana de las Damas de Venezuela (SOLUDAVE).
SOLUDAVE is the Venezuelan equivalent of the Lutheran WomenÂŽs Missionary League in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Every year they sponsor an event that is part business meeting, but mainly a retreat especially for female members of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela.
This year Corpus Christi Lutheran Church in Barinas hosted the SOLUDAVE meeting at Fuente Real, a Roman Catholic retreat center about 30 minutes outside of the city. Fuente Real consists of a beautiful Catholic chapel (open to the surrounding town of El Real for Mass every Sunday), a dormitory with assembly hall and a cafeteria in a lovely park-like setting. The place is owned and operated by an association of Catholic clergy and laypeople. As I understood the fellow who explained this, the association is a Catholic religious order, although not a monastic one since married couples can become members. The small staff that served the meals was comprised entirely of volunteers from the association.
Anyway, Felix and Manuel accompanied their wives on the long trip from Maturin. But since men really are not invited to the SOLUDAVE retreat, they spent a day with us in La Caramuca. Felix is a deacon at Cristo Rey (Christ the King) Lutheran Church in Maturin and coordinator of the national Lutheran youth organization. Manuel is the principal of Cristo Rey's school.
Cristo Rey is one of the three largest congregations in the Lutheran Church of Venezuela. The other two are Fuente de Vida (Fount of Life) in Puerto Ordaz and La Ascensión (Ascension) in San Felix de Guayana. Each of these congregations has between 150 and 200 members. Cristo Rey will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its elementary school this coming month. The Maturin church also supports a preschool and a guarderia (daycare center/nursery school). Felix's wife, Aymer, is director of the Cristo Rey guarderia.
The two men were full of questions about our project in La Caramuca and offered many helpful suggestions. For the four girls, however, the highlight of the visit was swimming in the river.
As I have mentioned before, Barinas is a hot spot for "eco-tourists" from around the world. The city is a gateway to kayaking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking and backpacking opportunities in the Venezuelan Andes. For that reason, this area has more than its share of restaurants, hotels and posadas (bed-and-breakfasts). Some of them are found right here in La Caramuca since we are right on the main highway to San Cristobal, a picturesque mountain town on the Colombian border.
Nevertheless, we don't really have whitewater close to our house. But we do have a wide river that splashes and gurgles over large rocks, especially after our recent heavy rains. The girls loved it and therefore so did their two papis, although the men both were sunburned.
Saturday we all went out to Fuente Real. Luz Maria was elected to the governing council of SOLUDAVE as secretary. It was a full day although we did not take in the whole SOLUDAVE experience. We had to leave before the talent show, which apparently everyone considered one of the best features of the retreat.
On Sunday everyone returned to Barinas for a very moving worship service at Corpus Christi. It meant a lot to this small congregation out here on Venezuela's "Lutheran frontier" to receive guests from Caracas, Maturin, Puerto Ordaz and other cities where Lutheran churches are larger and more firmly established. Angly Vargas, a member of Corpus Christi, broke down in tears as she was thanking everyone for their support.
Our new preschool facility in La Caramuca is nearly complete and we expect it to have it ready by September 15, when the new school year begins. We are in the middle of summer vacation right now. Summer vacation in this part of the world means entire families pack up and head out to the country to look for farm work, children included. This has had an impact on our Sunday school attendance, but we still have a group of 10 to 15 children who regularly show up a half hour before we are ready to start. We expect attendance to pick up again once school is in session.
The kitchen and bathroom are complete. We have covered the concrete floor with ceramic tile. All of the plumbing and electrical wiring is place. We expect to have the entire facility painted in a week or so. Thanks again to all of the donors who have made this possible!
Our evangelistic visits continue to go well. Soon we hope to invite the families we are visiting to the monthly service that Pastor Edgar Brito leads in La Caramuca. It will be a big step for us to actually form a cell group of adults. Although many adults are seeking some spiritual purpose in life, the risk of family disapproval remains a big challenge for them.
Family is very important to Venezuelans. Instead of the fractured, scattered family units that are typical in North America, most Venezuelans consider themselves part of huge, extended families. The downside to this is that here bad habits and false beliefs are often family traditions. Although most Venezuelans strongly believe in a spirit world, they view it in a completely pagan way as a means of enlisting supernatural aid toward getting what they want in this life. Anyone who takes Christianity seriously is often viewed as nuttier than a fruitcake (although thatÂŽs not a familiar expression here). As a result people who want to live as Christians, or even better their lives in some other way, face great pressure from within their own families not to do so.
Even so, please pray for all of us in Venezuela.