Update on Venezuela Urgent plea to support the Christians of Venezuela

The difficult situation of Venezuelan Christians is complex: A missionary perspective

Twenty years ago there were an estimated 2 million evangelical Christians in Venezuela when Hugo Chavez took power. He made alliances with prosperity gospel preachers who had megachurches and TV programs (some were Colombians) and began a left wing socialist pastors´ association attempting to capture the evangelical vote of which it is estimated that he won 80 percent or so. Chavez campaigned vigorously to huge crowds where he typically waved a Bible along with a new constitution for Venezuela that he claimed was along the lines of Simon Bolivar (the Latin equivalent of George Washington).

Chavez made the rounds of the evangelical churches and had pictures taken with the pastors on a red background and these pastors became part of his Bolivarian Evangelical Pastor's Association. As he consolidated his power, he nationalized most everything including church buildings and later even the children (declaring the state, instead of the parents, responsible for their education). Earlier, according to some of our Cuban contacts, Fidel Castro had advised Chavez to not make the mistake (that he had made in Cuba) of alienating the evangelicals. Fidel told Chavez he needed to win the support of the evangelicals and eventually control them and that their votes would be the key to obtaining and maintaining power.

Chavez then carefully designed tactics to control and manipulate evangelicals (and obtain their votes which were essential to his rise) without creating the backlash that happened in Cuba (and in Colombia through the FARC guerrillas who were Cuban proxies). Therefore then made sure that no pastors were assassinated, no church buildings were burned down and that none of the things happened that would put them on the black list of watchdog organizations such as Open Doors or VOM or even basic human rights organizations.

So, as time went on, and by now socialist government agents had infiltrated most churches, if a pastor began to see through their schemes (and by now the economy was tanking due to reduced oil production and hyper inflation), and if the pastor began to speak out against the regime, all they had to do was have their internal agents oust him (or her) and since the church building belonged to the state, the pastor had to leave and the replacement would already be there inside to take his place. If the church school or radio station or whatever continued to follow the curriculum and orientation of the state all would be well but if not the state would change things from within. So, they did a leftist socialist takeover of much of the Venezuelan church without bloodshed, without burning down any church buildings, and without creating any of the negative statistics that could have been used to give them a bad reputation internationally.

However, in some of the 23 or so Venezuelan states, governors were elected that were (and still are) in opposition to the national government. This created an atmosphere where pastors and evangelical leader could speak out against the abuses of the Chavez government. Chavez continued his atheistic rants against the US and began to speak out against Israel. This led to the expropriation of virtually all property, including large financial holdings, land, and corporations owned by Jews. In some cases Christian friends of ours provided tickets for previously wealthy Jews, who had been stripped of everything by Chavez, in order for them to be able to get on a flight to Israel. When confronted about these serious violations Chavez publicly ranted that we was cursing Israel ¨from the depths of his bowels.¨ Chavez promptly came down with colon cancer and eventually died from it. Chavez also repeatedly went on record denying the holocaust.

After the death of Chavez, Nicolas Maduro took his place. Chavez was a socialist populist. Maduro is a Marxist Stalinist who proceeded to develop close friendship with the Colombian Marxist guerrillas of which there were two types (FARC who were Stalinist and ELN who are Liberation Theology).

Toward the end of the Chavez government another very interesting thing took place: Chavez thought the Catholic Church and particularly the Jesuits were attempting to oust him so he curtailed most of their powers including their dominance as chaplains to the Venezuelan Armed Forces. Chavez replaced the Catholic chaplains with Evangelical chaplains.

Meanwhile the economic conditions in Venezuela continued to tank and inflation went over one million percent. As the hard times set in and got worse and worse (starvation becoming a very real possibility for many) a genuine revival began as people desperately began to seek the Lord with all their heart (even in the government dominated churches that had been dedicated to a warped social gospel as the prosperity gospel preachers were discredited and began exiting the country in droves leaving the sheep to starve). The revival then spread to the military. By now the goofy chaplains that Chavez had appointed were mostly gone and the corruption among some of the military hierarchy was rampant. However, there remained some retired generals and colonels who are Christians and became active chaplains and began to recruit excellent evangelical chaplains to take the place of the pastors who had fled the country.

As this all developed we can fast forward to the recent developments in Bolivia where Maduros friend and associate, Evo was ousted by a combination of the military and the evangelical Christians. This caused Maduro to order a census in Venezuela to find out how many evangelical Christians there are in Venezuela. Maduro, is very astute and does not want to come to the same fate as Evo who vigorously opposed the Bible and Christianity. To his amazement, and ours, the census came back as 9,350,000 or so Christians attending churches in Venezuela (not counting the Christians in the Armed Forces). This, and the fact that many pictures and videos of Chavez have him waving a big Bible have caused Maduro to not oppose the distribution of Bibles in Venezuela. On the other hand, like Chavez, he has done nothing to actually fund or produce Bibles. In the numbers of this census are true (and we have no way of actually verifying them) then about one third of Venezuela now attends some type of "evangelical" church. We are, however, convinced that the number of real Christians in Venezuela is rapidly increasing, particularly in the military. It is also our opinion, based on observation, that even though many Christians are silent about politics (even while being vocal for the Gospel), that at the present time at least 80 percent of the Christians will vote against the Maduro government.

Now let us step back and consider that Chavez and now Maduro have armed civilian militias with more than 2 million AK-47s and hand guns. They are highly organized into groups called "collectivos." They ride around on motorcycles and intimidate anyone who speaks out against the Maduro regime. If the person does not shut up the collectives are prone to shoot them in the knees or legs. If they still do not shut up they shoot them in the head and the body is disappeared. Between this and the dire economic situation millions of people have left and are leaving Venezuela. The ones who are leaving tend to be age 15 to 40 or so and they leave the small children and the elderly behind. For those pastors who have remained faithful to the Lord in Venezuela it takes about 90 percent of their time and energy just to make sure that the weaker members of their flock do not die of starvation. Also, those who flee, when they are able to find work have been sending money back to their families inside Venezuela similar to what the Cubans who have fled to the US do for their relatives back in Cuba.

Due to the collectivos most pastors in Venezuela do not speak out against the government, unless they happen to live in a state where the state government is in opposition to the national government, and even then they need to be extremely careful. One of our main concerns is that there are so many Christians in Venezuela without Bibles. The Bibles from twenty years ago are in tatters. We are finding entire congregations without a single Bible, not even the pastor. When they get a Bible, the pastor begins to write verses out on a large blackboard and the congregations copies and memorizes the verses. What are the possibilities for such a massive revival involving millions of people to stay on track spiritually with so few Bibles?

After the communists have devised and implemented such a diabolical plot to manipulate, dominate, and enslave evangelical Christians without generating the normal red flags that would get them internationally black listed, surely we should do everything in our power to stop them from getting away with this and to end their extreme oppression of our Venezuelan brothers and sisters in Christ.

To help, contact International Christian Response.

Email: mw86@telus.net

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