Luz Maria and I just returned from the annual convention of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela. She was elected national coordinator of Christian education programs, based on our presentation of the work here in La Caramuca.
Luís Coronado, pastor of Fuente de Vida (Fountain of Life) Lutheran Church in Puerto Ordaz, was elected vice president of the national church. Edith de Gonzalez of Fuente de Vida and Luís Moya of Ascension Lutheran Church in San Felix de Guayana replaced Alcides Franco and Francisco Cabarcas as members of the national church's administrative council. Carmen Fermin of Fuente de Vida was reelected national coordinator of evangelism and Jonathan Franco, son of Alcides Franco, was reelected coordinator of the national youth committee.
Two mission congregations were accepted as full-fledged members of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela. One was El Paraiso (Paradise) Lutheran Church. This church is named for the suburb of Barquisimeto where it is located. The other was Reformation Lutheran Church of Vista del Sol, a barrio within San Felix de Guayana. Jonathan Franco was installed as vicar of Reformation Lutheran Church on November 6, 2006.
As always, it was uplifting to be among the new generation of church leaders, such as Jonathan, Armando Ramos, Alfonso Prada and Miguelangel Pérez. Armando is continuing as resident pastor of Tierra de Gracia Lutheran Farm in Monagas. On Reformation Sunday he participated in the 50th anniversary celebration at El Redentor (Redeemer) Lutheran Church of San Antonio de Capayacuar, during which 15 people were confirmed from the rural congregations of Quebrada Seca, Río Chiquito and Tierra de Gracia. Alfonso serves as diácono pastoral of El Salvador Lutheran Church, Caracas. This means he is authorized to effectively serve as the church's pastor, although he still has a few courses to complete before full ordination. Miguelangel is completing hts term as vicar at Core 8, a mission project of Fuente de Vida, and will soon return to his hometown of Barquisimeto for a time. If I had the power, I would clone all of these guys several times over.
The convention took place at La Pradera, a private retreat center in the countryside near Puerto Ordaz. We were on a hilltop surrounded by groves of citrus trees and grazing cattle and horses. One afternoon after a gentle rain, there was a full-arc rainbow with "shadow" rainbows on its ends.
Dairy products other than cheese were not on the daily menu, so with the owner's permission, Francisco Cabarcas milked one of the cows by hand until he had himself a glass of milk. The great thing was that while doing so he wore a light-blue shirt and white slacks, which of course remained completely spotless afterward. I first met Francisco Cabarcas when he was pastor of the very urban congregation of La Paz Lutheran Church, Petare, which is part of Caracas. Later I was surprised to learn that he grew up in rural Colombia where he got a lot of practice in milking cows and other chores.
Early one morning Pastor Francisco talked with some people about the critical presidential election scheduled for December 3. There is a lot of apprehension here as many still have vivid memories of an attempted military coup in April 2002 and an economically crippling national labor strike that lasted through the winter of 2002-2003. All hope that no matter who wins the election, there will be continued political and economic stability within Venezuela and improved relations between this country and the United States.
Pastor Francisco reminded everyone that everything is in the Lord's hands and that even in parts of the world where the government sanctions persecution of Christians, the church not only survives but flourishes. He recalled the words of "A Mighty Fortress" that we had sung the night before:
"The Word they still shall let remain nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; The Kingdom ours remaineth."
Actually what we sang was this:
"Sin destruirla dejarán, aun mal de su grado,
Esta Palabra del Señor, Él lucha a nuestro lado.
Que lleven con furor los bienes, vida, honor,
Los hijos, la mujer...todo ha perecer:
De Dios el reino queda."
The guitar accompaniment by Sorsiree de Barreto of Reformation Lutheran Church was beautiful, but it was so different that at first I did not recognize the familiar hymn.
Pastor Edgar Brito on Sunday, November 12, addressed this concern with a special prayer for peace in Venezuela and throughout the world. People here The appointed Gospel reading was, appropriately enough, Matthew 22: 15-21.
"Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do you care about anyone, for you do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, "Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money." So they brought him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
In his sermon, Pastor Edgar also cited 1 Peter 2: 12-17.
"Therefore submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men -- as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king."
We praise God that, unlike Christian missionaries in many other corners of the world, we have been able to continue our work without interference from the duly constituted government, and indeed with the approval of local authorities.