Apr 4, 2008

Fence-building again

mango tree downWe finally have resumed construction of the gated wall around our property. There still are periodic shortages of cement, to the pointwhere the federal government has ordered the nationalization of the cement industry. There continue to be food shortages as well. One local newpaper, De Frente, said the purchase of chicken, beef and milk has become like a lottery:
You just have to be in the right store at the right time because there is no guarantee as to when and how much of these items will be stocked.

Nevertheless, we were able to buy some cement. Luz María's son, Pedro, this week began clearing part of the property for laying the foundation of the wall facing the street. Specifically, he and another fellow cut down the mango tree with large branches that would have been in the way. There were other problems with the tree. In Venezuela, mangos grow in nearly everyone's backyard, so if the tree produces more than your family and friends can consume, there is not really a market for the excess fruit. Keeping the yard clear of rotting mangos is really a chore. The tree also was a magnet for local boys who threw stones to knock down the fruit hanging high in the tree. Recently one boy threw a stone hard enough and far enough to shatter the glass in our bedroom window. So, all things considered, it was time for the mango tree to go.

Señora Graciela and the flowers of ParadiseMiguelángel at the altarJim Tino in el ParaisoUrban mission workshopThe last week of March, Eduardo and I traveled to Barquisimeto for a seminar on urban missions at El Paraiso Lutheran Church. The seminar was taught by Jim Tino, a former Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod missionary to Venezuela. El Paraiso actually is located in Cabudare, a suburb of Barquisimeto. The church compound is like a little garden of Eden with many rare plants.

There were perhaps 40 to 50 people in the seminar and even more showed up that weekend for the ordination of Miguelángel Perez. As a national missionary, Miguelángel will serve as pastor to the two Lutheran Church of Venezuela member-congregations in Barquisimeto, El Paraiso and Cristo es Amor (Christ is Love). Eduardo stayed for the ordination, but returned to Barinas Saturday to lead the Sunday service at Corpus Christi Lutheran Church.

I left the seminar with these thoughts about our mission in La Caramuca:

In the Lutheran Church of Venezuela's eastern zone you may find the largest and most stable congregations in the national church, such as Cristo Rey (Christ the King) in Maturin. These are the legacy of Heinrich Zeuch, a Lutheran deacon who came to Venezuela to start a new life after his family's home in Germany was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II. Zeuch worked at a variety jobs in the agricultural sector in the eastern state of Monagas, all the while starting Bible study and prayer groups. When LCMS missionaries in Caracas heard of what Zeuch was doing in the early 1950s, they quickly contacted him and saw to it that he was ordained as a missionary pastor. The Zeuch family eventually moved to Brazil, but the rural congregations planted by Heinrich Zeuch continued to thrive and serve as seedbeds for congregations in the more highly populated areas of eastern Venezuela.

As in the United States and much of the rest of the world, the tremendous increases in agricultural productivity over the last 100 years in Venezuela greatly reduced the need for unskilled farm labor and spurred emigration to urban industrial areas. Venezuela, which perhaps experienced the most rapid urbanization of any Latin American country, has been ill-equipped to deal with the growth of urban masses, many of whom found the promise of better-paying jobs in the city to be an illusion.

But thanks to a generally high birth rate, rural populations in Venezuela have not declined that much, despite emigration to the cities. Rural Venezuelans face many of the same problems as urban Venezuelans: poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, family instability, lack of any sense of a higher purpose in life. But because economic and human resources have been shifted to urban areas to deal with the high concentrations of people there, rural communities in this most "urbanized" South American nation are more isolated than ever.

For a time families from the rural churches of Monagas served as nuclei for new urban churches. But then a decision was made to move North American missionaries, upon whom the Lutheran Church of Venezuela still was highly dependent, completely out of rural ministries into the cities because "that is where the people are." But this decision to "follow the numbers" proved to be a mistake.

The rural churches were not prepared to deal with this shift and fell into decline. With the seedbeds in disrepair, a generation of leadership was lost. Now, with the withdrawal of nearly all LCMS missionaries from Venezuela (and, in fact, from nearly all of Latin America), the Lutheran Church of Venezuela is in crisis. With a total membership of only about a 1,000 in a nation of 26 million people, there still are not enough pastors to serve all of the exisiting congregations, much less do evangelistic outreach. In Caracas, Venezuela's largest city, the Lutheran Church of Venezuela has only three member-congregations and only one of those is served by a full-time pastor.

Tierra de Gracia agricultural mission, where I served as a lay volunteer when I came to Venezuela, was set up in Monagas to help revive the rural churches there.

Its objectives include:

  • Help farm laborers improve their skills and opportunities for employment.

  • Evangelize those who work on the farm and their surrounding communities.

  • Support evangelization in rural areas and pastoral care in the existing rural churches.

Here in western Venezuela we do not have the historic base that the churches in Monagas have. But we think the development of Christian education in our rural zone can solve this problem. With the availability of quality Christian education, many would not have to leave the area to improve their skills and prospects in life. At the same time, those that did move to the city would be prepared to serve as lay leaders and full-time church workers there. Actually, it is easier for a person from the country to adapt to city life than a city person to adapt to the country.

We have historical examples of how this could work. For example, in the 19th Century Wilhelm Loehe trained and sent Lutheran missionaries to North America, Australia, New Guinea, Brazil, and the Ukraine from Neuendettelsau, a small town in Bavaria.

Luz Maria in front of the log-cabin seminaryLikewise, what would become Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, began as a one-room school 100 miles south of St. Louis in rural Perry County, Missouri. Today the seminary has more than 800 students from around the world.

Concordia University of Seward, Nebraska (population 6,500), since 1894 has trained teachers and candidates for the seminary among the cornfields of eastern Nebraska.

From 1893 until 1986, St. John's College of Winfield, Kansas, did the same amid the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma.

That is why at La Caramuca Lutheran Mission we have these goals;

  • To provide Christian education for children from preschool through sixth grade.

  • To establish a Lutheran congregation to support the school and serve the surrounding community.

  • To establish an educational center for the training of pastors,
    teachers and evangelists for the Andes and Venezuelan Plains regions.

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