This week we and Corpus Christi Lutheran Church are hosting the first team of volunteers sponsored by the Venezuela Lutheran Mission Partnership to visit the state of Barinas. So far it has been a rewarding experience for everyone. But the joy of having our friends from the United States here has been overshadowed by the fact that Luz Maria's oldest daughter, Yepci, was hospitalized after what could have been a fatal car accident. She is now recovering from major surgery for internal injuries.
Luz Maria and I met the mission team in Caracas and heard the news about Yepci while we were on the way back. Yepci, who is in her late 20s and has three children, was riding in a taxi to the city of Barinas. It is the rainy season here and the torrential rains often reduce visibility make the roads slippery. In fact, this is only one of a number of automobile accidents involving members of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela within the last month. Yepci's cab hit a slick spot, flipped over and caught on fire. Some brave man (we have yet to find out his name) pulled Yepci and the taxi driver from the flames.
Yepci was taken to an emergency room with a fractured arm and bleeding in her stomach. She underwent surgery to discover and stop the source of the internal bleeding. She appears to be in stable condition now, but we do not know when she will be released from the hospital. The taxi driver also experienced serious injuries and was taken to the same emergency room.
We also have heard that Haymer de Zamora, wife of Felix Zamora, a deacon at Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Maturin, Venezuela, also was hospitalized after a similar accident. Just two weeks ago Pastor Edgar Brito was involved in a collision while driving around Barinas with Pastor Adrian Ventura, president of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela. This also happened during one of the tropical downpours.
No one was injured in Pastor Edgar's accident, but is a problem that has resulted from the incident, as he explained to the visiting mission team. He drives a pre-1975, v8-powered tank of a car, built entirely of metal as cars were back then. So it wasn't damaged very much, the other car was a less sturdy model. Pastor Edgar's car is insured (he uses it as part of his day job as a package deliveryman) but the other car was not. The problem is that the other driver is afraid that he will get into trouble for not having insurance if he files a claim with Pastor Edgar's insurance company and wants Edgar to directly pay him a substantial amount (somewhere around $1,000). Members of the other driver's family came to the school where Pastor Edgar is taking night classes in youth counseling and threatened him if he did not do what they wanted.
But Pastor Edgar still refused, telling them that the worst thing they could do would be to kill him, but then they still would not have their money and would be in more serious trouble than they were to begin with.
Luz Maria was visiting Yepci in the hospital when Pastor Edgar told this story, but she later explained to me this type of situation is quite common in Venezuela and that Edgar is handling it in what is probably the best way.
Edgar also told the group how he came to be a pastor. As a boy he was a member of circle of friends that included Armando Ramos (who is now the resident pastor at Tierra de Gracia Lutheran Farm, an agricultural mission project in eastern Venezuela). These boys would meet every night to play football (soccer) on a certain street. As they entered adolescence, the members of this circle were drifting into lives of petty crime. But Edgar Poito, a missionary sent to Barinas by the Lutheran Church of Venezuela, moved into a house on that street. He began playing football with the boys and kept inviting them to attend Corpus Christi Lutheran Church.
Edgar Brito did not respond to the invitations until after Edgar Poito and his family had moved away from Barinas. But once he did, he began attending regularly and eventually became pastor of the church. He felt called by God to bring the Gospel to youths moving down the wrong path as he once was. Edgar remains committed to his calling as a pastor, although he receives no income from his small congregation and must fit his pastoral duties into his work and study schedule. This also is not an unusual situation in Venezuela, and it is common for pastors in these circumstances to feel their sense of commitment fail.
Although Pastor Edgar was willing to fill in for her, Luz Maria was on hand during the mission team's first day in La Caramuca. The team spent the morning at a posada (bed-and-breakfast farm) where they met graduates of the main public preschool in La Caramuca. These chldren will become first-graders when the next school year starts. The team led the children in song and Matt Blackford, a vicar at Woodbury Lutheran Church, Woodbury, Minnesota, presented an excellent summary of the Gospel for them.
At lunchtime, the team was treated to traditional Venezuelan food, music and demonstrations of traditional Venezuelan dance (joropo). The three-man band included Jose Jacinto Ramos, Pastor Armando's younger brother, on the maracas. The other instruments were the harp and cuatro (Venezuelan four-stringed guitar). One of the teachers from the main preschool sang the state song, "Linda Barinas", in true llanera style.
Some of us missed the major portion of this presentation. Luz Maria and I went to the hospital, accompanied by Paul Pfotenhauer, retired pastor of Woodbury Lutheran Church, Matt Blackford, Clint Souligny and Glenis, the owner of the tour bus that we had hired for the team. Pastor Paul said prayers over Yepci and the taxi driver. (Pastor Edgar had visited the emergency room the night before.) Our North American friends also had the opportunity to meet Rosaura de Castillo, one of Luz Maria's sisters, and Charli, another one of Luz Maria's daughters.
Back at our home in La Caramuca that afternoon, we welcomed children from our Sunday school plus a busload of children from Punta Gorda, a neighboring village where we have started Sunday school and adult Bible studies. The children from Punta Gorda were chaperoned by Maira and Tomasa, sister and mother respectively, of Pastor Armando Ramos. The mission team entertained the children with puppet theater, songs and Bible lessons. Vicar Matt gave drawing lessons using the story of King David as inspiration. Rhoda Pfotenhauer, Pastor Paul's wife, and Dorothy Young led adult women in Bible study and crafts. Actually, Rhoda was very surprised that five adult men also participated in the crafts sessions.
Two young women on the mission team, Angela and Hannah, spoke very good Spanish. Working overtime as translators for the members of the team who did not were Clint Souligny and Luz Guerrero. Clint is cross-cultural ministries coordinator for Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod World Missions in Caracas. Luz Guerrero, a native of Colombia, served as a volunteer missionary at Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Maturin before returning to the U:S. and entering the deaconess program at Concordia Seminary, St.Louis, Missouri.
On Wednesday morning, the mission team did more of the same work specifically with children enrolled in our preschool. In the afternoon they worked more with children from the surrounding neighborhood. It was quite moving for me to see the team interacting with Argenis, Vanesa, Noel, Yovanny, Anita, Yexi, Efren, Karelis, Pedrito and others that I have come to know either by name or by face.
Today the mission team has a free day. Most of them went sightseeing (we had scheduled for them a trip high into the Venezuelan Andes, but the recent rains washed that road out). Luz Guerrero stayed behind to have lunch with Luz Maria and me. The three of us then went to visit Yepci in the hospital. Other visitors included Jaime, the man who lost his right hand in a gun accident that I mentioned in a previous newsletter.
Tomorrow and Saturday the mission team will spend time at Corpus Christi church in Barinas.
Of course we would ask you to pray for Yepci and others who are experiencing difficulties in Venezuela. One other thing to pray for: Due to an error that we made in filling out Luz Maria's application for a U.S. tourist visa, she was not able to get an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas Monday. The next available interview date is September 7, so we will have to rethink our plans for visiting the United States. Either I must travel to the U.S. alone in August or we try to schedule a trip in December which is the next time Luz Maria will have free to travel. We ask the Lord to help us in making the best decision.