Sep 29, 2016

Crossing a threshold

Cutting the ribbon.
On Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, we cut the ribbon and opened the doors of our new learning center, where preschool classes will now be held. There were more than 50 people in attendance, including members of the Barrio Las Lomas common council and representatives of SENIFA, the state's child welfare agency. We began by raising the national flag and singing the Venezuelan national anthem outside the building. After the ribbon-cutting, I led an opening service, which was followed by speeches, pŕizes and awards for select people, then food and entertainment for everyone.

The children had a wonderful time, and many adults were visibly moved by the event. Why? We have had the support of the surrounding community for more than a decade. There is no other institution here that offers Christian education, and we have been here long enough for people to see tangilble results of this. The majority of young people in the community drop out of school after sixth grade (the minimum level of attendance required by law) and many drift into lives of low-paying jobs or unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and petty crime. Children who have attended our preschool have done well in elementary school. Some have become the first in their families to finish high school and go on to the local university.

But even more important than their healthy physical and intellectual development is their spiritual journey. Many of the young people who graduated from our preschool have been baptized, confirmed and are now communicant members of our mission. During the last full week of August 2016, we for the first time sent a group of young people to the Lutheran Church of Venezuela's national youth gathering. All but one have been confirmed, yet they gathered for several weeks before the youth gathering for a refresher course on the means of grace, for that was the theme of the event. One example of our group is Gianny Vanesa Roa, who has was involved in both Sunday worship and the preschool since she was a small girl,

El crecimiento de Banesa Roa from David Ernst on Vimeo.

In the opening service, I read Psalm 111:10 and emphasized it as one principle of our educational program.

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have good understanding. His praise endures forever!"

Education is more than the acquisition of knowledge; good judgment depends the formation of character, which in turn depends on the recognition and reverence for God as the source of all our blessings in life. Reverence for the Lord is an outgrowth of faith.

But there is even more to it than that. I also read 1 Corinthians 1:23-25.

"But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

Where is faith and reverence for God to be found? God cannot be comprehended by intellectual speculation. The world, by its own wisdom, could not find the way to the knowledge of God, therefore it pleased God to lead human to Himself beings by a way which is ridiculed by those who consider themselves wise, but are foolish for relying on their own reason and strength. In Christ crucified for the sins of the world. By His sacrifice and the power of the Holy Spirit we receive the power to live as sons and daughters of God, full of hope for this world and the next.

Our mission has demonstrated this. But the people were moved because now we have another step forward in faith through the construction of a new building dedicated to Christian education, prayer and worship. There is a saying that, "A church is not a building, it's people." That is true, but for the people who gather to hear the preaching of God's Word in its purity and receive the sacraments in faith as the Lord instituted them, it is a great blessing to have a building. Especially if it is a building that looks like what people picture in their minds as a house of prayer, rather than an office building or storefront.

Even more than that, in the context of the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela, our construction project has shown our commitment to the future of our community and the country. It is something like the story of Noah's ark, but turned upside-down. The storm already is upon us, while others have fled to higher ground, we have built this refuge in the middle of the tempest in the hope that the rains will cease.

We have been able to do this by God's grace and the prayers and financial support of many caring Christians outside our community. Please continue to pray for us and for Venezuela, and consider donating toward our future today.
Grand opening day.

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