Mar 28, 2006

Diversity in Venezuela

There is a fad sweeping Venezuela: T-shirts with some variation of "Se habla..." written across the front. Some examples include: "Se habla caraqueƱo" "Se habla guaro" "Se habla oriente". These reference dialects spoken in different regions of Venezuela. The backs of the T-shirts list words and phrases typical of the dialect the wearer identifies with. If there were an equivalent fad in the United States, the T-shirts would read "I speak Southern" or "Californian spoken here".

The differences in the language and folkways of these regions are such the Venezuelans may have
trouble understanding each other. When we were living in Monagas, Luz Maria sometimes had difficulty because Monagans use more native Indian words in their speech than people do in other parts of the country. Venezuela has approximately the same land area as Texas and Oklahoma combined. Its geography is remarkably diverse. Venezuela boasts the largest lake in South America (Lake Maracaibo), the second-longest river in South America (the Orinoco) and the highest waterfall in the world (Salto Angel or Angel Falls). Peaks of the Andes, deserts, rainforests, prairies, Caribbean coastline and islands - all are found within its borders.

The population of Venezuela is also diverse. About 60 to 65 percent are mestizos, or the standard
Latin-American mix of Spanish and Indian blood. The remaining 35 to 40 percent is quite a potpourri.

Compared to other Latin American countries like Guatemala or Bolivia, Venezuela has a low
percentage of full-blooded Indians, about 3 percent. The largest tribes are the Warao in eastern
Venezuela and the Wayuu in the west. A note of movie trivia: In the 1999 movie, "The Mummy,"
actress Patricia Velasquez portrays the evil Egyptian queen. She is not only Venezuelan, but
also part-Wayuu. Most of the Warao follow their traditional way of life on fishing boats in the
vast Orinoco River delta, but some have moved elsewhere. There are Christians among the Warao, but shamanism survives.

There are many Venezuelans of Italian background due to mid-20th Century immigration during the World Wars. There was some German immigration in the late 19th century with the largest enclave of German-Venezuelans still to be found in Colonia Tovar in the mountains north of Caracas. The Spaniards imported African slaves to work their plantations in the colonial period, so there are some African Venezuelans.

There are also many Chinese Venezuelans. Most speak their own language as well as Spanish. How they got here I do not know, but is so common to find them running supermarkets/general stores
that these type of establishments are referred to as "chinos." Usually somewhere in the store is
a statue of Buddha with candles in front of it, but one highly capitalistic enterprise that I know of displays a poster of Chairman Mao instead!

So even within this relatively small nation there are many kinds of people with different ways of
speaking and living. Yet the majority know God only as an angry Judge, not as a Savior. They know a world of injustice, corruption and discord, not hope and peace. How shall we speak to them of God's love and mercy? Ideally, of course, in their own way of speaking, in terms they can
understand. But who is prepared to do this? As Christians, we may thank God for many opportunities to share our faith with people who speak our language and customs.

But cross-cultural ministry is difficult; it takes much time and effort to learn how to reach people who talk and act differently. Like North American Christians, Venezuelan Christians have many strangers in their midst. That is why our long-term vision for our school in La Caramuca includes the training of teachers, pastors and evangelists for this entire southwest corner of Venezuela. Oh, yes, one little detail. We have named our school, Cristo Rey, or Christ the King Lutheran School. This was done in honor and with the permission of Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Maturin, capital of the state of Monagas. With Armando Ramos, a western Venezuelan, serving as pastor of Tierra de Gracia Lutheran Farm in the east, we hope establishing "Cristo Rey West" will help bridge the cultural divide between the two sides of the country, a divide which affects the Lutheran Church of Venezuela.

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