Angel Luis Rivera Agosto, Executive for Latin America and the Caribbean, traveled to Venezuela to visit Global Ministries partner, the Evangelical Pentecostal Church of Venezuela (UEPV). The purpose of the trip was to affirm Global Ministries’ long-standing relationships with our partners and to witness first-hand the projects they are doing and plan to do in the future. Our partners expressed appreciation for the trip, seeing it as a gesture of solidarity with the people and church in Venezuela in the midst of present crises.
In Barquisimeto, a meeting was held with the UEPV Council of Bishops where they shared an overview of the state of the church and the country and how they are ministering in the midst of socioeconomic crises. In Venezuela, the Church is embedded in the society. Worship and social concerns are often combined, focusing on both praising God and loving their neighbor. Latin American Pentecostal independent churches tend to be close to the challenges of society and work in a balance of accountability to God and accountability to their neighbor.
The churches are focusing on the poorest and most oppressed, and this has influenced the political and social arena. Churches have worked on capacity building, especially among women and children, emphasizing what is most needed in the community. Venezuela is experiencing both an economic crisis and alienation from the rest of South America, but the church’s commitment has become stronger as the needs have grown. UEPV is responding to the crisis in various ways. UEPV Bishops have been developing a microfinancing system, where producers of goods get soft loans or loans with minimum to no interest, so they can start socially-based enterprises, interconnected in every aspect of the economy: from production to distribution and consumption within the community. Families are already using those loans to raise cattle, pigs and chickens, to grow corn and to open community stores to sell what is produced in the rural areas.
During the time spent in Maracaibo, the Area Executive traveled to churches and projects in the Wayuu indigenous community where there was an exciting dialogue about Wayuu culture and Christian faith. The Wayuu shared their theology and their understanding of their intimate relationship with nature, creating a symbiotic blending of Christian faith and Wayuu culture. The way the Wayuu relate to the Pentecostal church of Venezuela has influenced health issues, Christian education initiatives, and ways of organizing leadership and church structure within this community.
Also in Maracaibo, the UEPV organized a forum on faith, economy, and society with students of the Venezuelan Center for Theological Studies (CEVET). Students acknowledged and discussed how theological education in the UEPV is integrated into society and is applied to societal realities.
In Caracas, the Area Executive held a meeting with representatives from the ecumenical community in Caracas. Churches and ecumenical organizations were present, including Anglicans, Presbyterians, Catholics, and other Pentecostal independent churches similar to UEPV. The agenda of the meeting centered on discussion and analysis of Venezuelan scoiety and the ministries of churches within that context. Some of the challenges expressed by the churches and the ecumenical organizations during that meeting were the affirmation of democracy in Venezuelan society, the opening of trials against the “guarimbas” or violent groups during the recent uprising in the eastern part of the capital city, and the discussion of the new constitutional framework through the National Constitutional Assembly, particularly the hopes for the inclusion of religious equality and the affirmation of Venezuela as a lay country.
Rev. Rivera-Agosto noted appreciation for the long-standing relationships between the UEPV and Global Ministries. Through this relationship, Global Ministries has learned from UEPV and UEPV has learned from Global Ministries. On this visit, partners expressed appreciation for how our mutual respect includes not trying to change each other but working to learn from and respect each other. “We now need to commit ourselves, as churches in the U.S. and Canada, to be much more embedded in the context in which we live,” he said.