These words from the Gospel appointed for All Saints Day proved particularly significant for us on November 6, the Sunday after All Saints Day. We knew that our building project would attract attention, perhaps not all of it welcome. Many people wondered where the money for the construction came from, and we explained to all that we had received donations from individuals, congregations and societies interested in the growth of our mission. Nevertheless, we knew there was the risk of a robbery attempt as there would be those who would not understand that the funds for the building did not come from a stash of cash under our mattress. But we were not prepared for the brutality and malevolence of what occurred.
Before sunrise, five men armed with pistols and knives forced their way into our home. First they threw poisoned chicken over the wall to kill our dogs (our remaining cat ate of the poisoned meat and died, too). I felt worse about this later when we learned they poisoned all the dogs on our block to eliminate any alarms. It soon became clear that we were not the random target of desperate people seeking money. Several times they threatened to torture me (by cutting off my fingers and toes) and kill me. Ostensibly they wanted to know where I kept my stash of U.S. dollars (which does not exist). But underlying that motive was a desire to intimidate and humiliate me on a personal level. After they had gathered all the money and items of value that we had in the house, they bound, gagged and blindfolded me. Before they left, at least one of them urinated on my alb. Based on these actions and many of their remarks, I have to say that this was not simply a robbery, but an expression of hatred and contempt for our mission and what it represents.
Where does this hatred and contempt come from? One could talk about the current political and economic situation: the shortages of food and medicine, the skyrocketing inflation, and the rising level of street crime. You could seek to explain the proximate causes of these things. But something more underlies this opposition to our efforts to help people and offer them the hope of eternal life in Christ.
Our Lord warns His discipĺes thus in John 15:18-22, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin."
St. Paul exorcised a slave girl possessed by an unclean spirit, and that angered her owners because they profited from her as a medium or "channeler" (Acts 16). The silversmiths of Athens staged a riot against St. Paul, because he preached that it was no use praying to silver figurines and that threatened their business (Acts 19). Here in Venezuela there are those who profit from the growing social disorder and the spiritual darkness. We tell young people that there is a better future for them than lives of drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and petty crime. There are those who would rather see them enslaved by those things.
Thanks be to God that, although we lost some material possessions, we now are safe and sound (although now we are taking additional measures to secure our home). When I first arrived in La Caramuca, there was no fence enclosing the property. Now we are talking about installing a security camera system and an electrical fence around the perimeter of the property. We are concerned not only for our own safety, but also the safety of those who seek shelter with us.
The Gospel reading above offers Christians comfort in the face of persecution, "for your reward is great in heaven." Later that afternoon we observed All Saints Day in the Divine Service. I had a gun pointed to my head and was asked, “Are you prepared to die?” By the grace of God I was able to answer, “Yes”. For that reason, our epistle lesson, Revelation 7:2-17, also resonated with me. “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sits on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”.