May 14, 2007

The Body of Christ in Venezuela

This is a photo from our trip to Venezuela in August of 2006. My son is in the red shirt. We were blessed to participate in a worship service at a new church plant and it was memorable! If you look closely at the photo you will notice a few things. First, this building is still under construction. No windows or doors and still missing a couple of walls and a roof on one end. Next, notice the chair. It was brought by the individual attending worship! Can you imagine bringing your own chair to worship? Typical for many in Venezuela. Also notice the dancing (yes, this is a baptist church!) and the joy on the faces. This was truly a celebration, as is much of the worship that we have experienced over the last few years. I have even witnessed "break-dancing" in worship! Needless to say, not what I am accustomed to in small town, First Baptist in Alabama!

The evangelical church in Venezuela is growing rapidly! I can only speak of the experience I have had with the Baptist churches in eastern Venezuela, but there is a clear movement of God happening there. I spoke with one of our Southern Baptist missionaries working in this region and he shared with me that 9 years ago they could only identify 16 Baptist churches in all of eastern Venezuela. Now they know of at least 55 and while we were there most recently he was becoming aware of additional congregations that had formed or were forming.

Everywhere I have visited in eastern Venezuela God is calling out young men and women to serve as leaders of the churches there. It is a cause for praise. I truly believe God is raising this church up for this particular time in history. When our team visited Venezuela in 2006, president Chavez was visiting the countries of Iran, China, and North Korea. These are nations that would be very difficult for the church in North America to have any impact but it is evident God is raising the church in Venezuela (and other Latin American countries) for this purpose.

My first encounter with my pastor friend in Venezuela has left a lasting impression on my life. The day I was to return to the United States he took me to his small office and rolled out a map of the world on his desk. He pointed to the Middle East and Central Asia and said to me, "You cannot go here because your skin is white and your passport says United States of America. However, I can go here because my skin is brown and my passport says Venezuela." He is right. I thank God for the opportunity to work alongside my brothers and sisters in Venezuela. It is a great privilege to encourage and strengthen them for the work that God is calling them to in this world.

We must continue to extend the gospel to all the world. "There still remain 6,525 people groups - as many as 3.4 billion people - who are less than 2% evangelized...By what criteria should any people be deprived of hearing the gospel?" (Jerry Rankin, President of the International Mission Board, SBC). Be aware of the world that God may be bringing to your door but also be obedient to His call to GO.

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