May 30, 2013

Not a word about the Sears catalog

For the sake of the Gospel, St. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, and often near death. “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:25-27).

In that light, a shortage of toilet paper may not seem like that big a deal. In fact, we regularly buy supplies in bulk, so we have not been hard hit by this problem as yet. Nor am I trying to be flippant about it; rather, I am reminding myself that the Lord was with the Apostle Paul through much worse.

For Venezuelans in general, however, the situation is more serious than it might sound. For a number of years, Venezuelans have had to deal not only with 30 percent inflation, but also flat-out shortages of basic foodstuffs like flour, margarine, cooking oil, sugar, eggs and milk. We have seen for ourselves the empty supermarket shelves, but at least we can afford to shop in supermarkets. The very poor perhaps can obtain these items through government welfare programs, but that means being willing and able to get up and present yourself at the designated distribution center at 3 or 4 a.m. That's no joke if you are a single parent with small children.

Recently the shortages have broadened to include personal hygiene supplies such as toiler paper, soap and toothpaste. At the same time, sanitary measures have become more important than ever with a renewed outbreak of H1N1 influenza in Venezuela. Seventeen people have died and approximately 250 more have been infected, Reuters reported this week.

Also known as “swine flu”, the 2009 pandemic, which began in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, and soon spread throughout Mexico, North America, and parts of South America, was one of the worst flu outbreaks in history. It ultimately killed 18,500 people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The last outbreak in Venezuela was in 2011, with about 100 cases reported. Preventative measures to stop the spread of the disease include frequent washing of hands with warm, thoroughly cleaning surfaces that many people might touch, and using tissue paper to cover the mouth and nose while sneezing.

Ir certainly is heartwarming to hear how Christians in the United States and around the world respond to natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or large-scale crop failures with donations to help those affected. One might wish, however, that more people would understand that in many parts of the world, poverty, homelessness, malnutrition and disease are chronic, long-term problems that have become so commonplace that they do not generate international headlines. Often people are in need not because of some inexplicable “act of God”, but rather because of the predictable consequences of human folly, perhaps their own. That, however, does not negate the biblical mandate to share the material blessings with which we have been blessed with those less fortunate (Proverbs 25:21; Isaiah 58:6-7, 10; Matthew 25:35-36).
Here in La Caramuca, people not only bear the brunt of national and international events, but also are trapped in a cycle of poverty and despair because of family instability, marital infidelity, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and false beliefs that do not satisfy their spiritual hunger. The first priority of our mission is to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ, that in Him one might have a right relationship with God who loves us all and does not desire that anyone be locked in misery and despair.
We also try to demonstrate that one may trust God to provide all things by sharing what we have been given. On our property we have many fruit trees that Luz Maria planted herself back in the 1990s. These produce more than we can consume ourselves: oranges, bananas, avocados, mangos and grapefruit. We also have planted squash and cassava, a tuber similar to the potato which thrives in tropical regions. The abundance of these plants we share with the surrounding community.

Our preschool is supposed to provide two nutritionally balanced meals per day for the children with funds provided by a state program. However, the number of children has grown faster than the program's annual budget, so most months the funds run short. Luz Maria and I have made up the difference. We have worked with others in collecting and distributing clothing and other supplies for needy families.

We have been able to do these things by God's grace and with donations from individual and congregations in the United States. We are grateful to those who have enabled us to do the Lord's work and we pray that more might understand the necessity as Venezuela face political and economic difficulties.
One of our orange trees.

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