What is a pastor – or a church body – to do as their country falls apart? It’s a very real question for Rev. Miguelángel Pérez, president of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela (LCV) and for Rev. David Ernst, an LCMS pastor called to serve the LCV.
Once a prosperous country, Venezuela today is in turmoil, its citizens suffering through food shortages, lack of government services and most recently, the collapse of Venezuela’s electrical grid.
“Our members are in the same condition as 80 percent of the population…they have only enough to afford food, since the minimum wage of $7 per month does not cover medicine, clothes or other essentials. There are no medicines for chronic diseases (such as hypertension, diabetes, etc.), and no vaccines,” said Rev. Pérez.
Rev. Ernst, who serves Epiphany Lutheran Church in the village of La Caramuca, witnesses the same things.
“The situation is just getting more and more chaotic,” he recounted. “Everything is in short supply. In the shops that are still open, there’s nothing in their inventory. The shelves are bare. There’s a neighborhood bakery where people go to buy fresh bread every day, but now they’re saying that Venezuela is the only country where, when you come to the bakery, you need to ask, ‘Is there bread today?’ because there may not be.
“We’ve had no trash pick-up for two years, and many people around us haven’t had running water for two years, either.”
Under such difficult circumstances, more than 4 million people – mostly skilled and educated people – have fled Venezuela. Many would understand if Rev. Ernst and his wife, Luz Maria, were to follow, but they are committed to staying and serving.
“It’s our work; it’s our calling,” explained Rev. Ernst. “Martin Luther refused to leave [Wittenburg] when there was a plague, because he was called to minister to the people there. What would the people here do if we left? What hope would they have? Who would minister to them? And so we don’t see ourselves leaving.”
A MESSAGE OF HOPE
This message of hope – of a heavenly Father who loves His dear children and is faithful to them through all earthly troubles and strife – is being delivered through LHF books like the Spanish Bible with Small Catechism and children’s Bible storybook, A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. More than 8,000 books have been sent to the LCV, and they’re being delivered to the LCV’s 19 congregations as circumstances allow.
“Facing our challenges, we try to emphasize through preaching and teaching that there’s a hope other than the things of this world,” said Rev. Ernst. “Sometimes it’s a challenge for us to convince people that God is still here. But on the other hand, more people are looking for some hope beyond what they see here. They have nothing else.”
“[LHF’s] books have helped simplify the process of evangelizing new visitors to our churches, because they are given Bibles and are familiarized with the catechism as the most practical way to respond to their questions about the faith we profess,” added Rev. Perez. “Pastors use the children’s book in Bible schools, held inside and outside the church. Families with this book have one more resource for talking to little ones about faith in Christ.”
Rev. Ernst said his congregation presents the Bibles to new confirmands. His wife uses the Spanish A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories to teach religion to her 25 students in their church preschool and to the 15-20 children enrolled in after-school tutoring.
“A lot of children in the after-school programs are in advanced grades, but they really can’t read that well,” Rev. Ernst said. “So we’re killing two birds with one stone: we’re teaching them the Christian faith, but we’re also teaching them to read.
“We’re grateful to LHF, who has been a great help to us from the beginning [of my ministry here],” he concluded. “Everything passes in this world, but we have eternal life in Jesus. This is the basis for hope and joy, even in difficult circumstances.”