PARNELL, Iowa (Mennonite Mission Network) – With economic and political conditions in Venezuela deteriorating, Mennonite leaders are asking for prayers for peace for their nation as their churches continue to sow seeds of peace in their communities.
"The news confuses us," said Erwin Mirabal, president of the Red de Misiones Menonita de Venezuela (Venezuelan Mennonite Network of Missions.) "The insults among people who represent the country lead to a loss of respect for the institutions. The threats of death, prison, kidnapping, invasion and war ... discourage us and make us think that there are no exits, that the only path we have is to escape from all this conflict."
As many Venezuelans leave their homes and emigrate in desperation, the Venezuelan Mennonite churches prepare and serve nutritious food in their local communities, and maintain a presence in schools through a ministry that teaches peace through cooperative games with children and their families. The congregations also have developed a regular practice of sharing a meal after worship, and they continue to disciple people through theological training, which was the spark that originally ignited and spread these fellowships and ministries.
"We work hard to present an Anabaptist vision so that, in addition to proclaiming the gospel, our communities are a refuge where people can experience a different life, where we can express ourselves freely without being offended and run over, where we can eat together and enjoy communion and the creation of the Lord, where life is shared even in the midst of all this unfortunate situation, confident that our Lord Jesus Christ takes care of us," Mirabel wrote.
Along with economic distress, tensions within society are severe. Euclides Bauza, Mennonite pastor and teacher on Isla Margarita, commented, "It is very sad to see Venezuelans destroying and mistreating Venezuelans. Who is my neighbor, if those of my house are my enemies? Is not it better to work together for a better and free Venezuela?"
Bauza sees the hypocrisy of both the ruling party and the opposition party, who say they do not accept foreign intervention, yet each seeks support in other countries. "In reality, the other countries want to put their hands on our resources," Bauza said. "This provokes an internal struggle. In the end, we will need [the other countries] to help us rebuild what we destroyed, and we will pay with our resources."
Mirabal, who is based in Caracas, shares Bauza's sentiments. "Our prayer in Caracas is to remain faithful to our commitment to follow Jesus amid this situation that presents violence as a way to solve the Venezuelan crisis. There are real temptations that invite us to hate, exclude, speak against, destroy, use obscene words, and eliminate the other. Ask the Lord Jesus to enable us through his Spirit to learn to bless, do good, and greet those who attack us, as we trust deeply in his justice," Mirabel said.
As in North American churches, people in Venezuelan churches hold perspectives across the political spectrum, observed Mennonite Mission Network's director for Latin America. Linda Shelly noted that the Mennonite ministries "give hope to the people of the churches as they are able to serve their neighbors, which, of course, also gives hope, then, to their neighbors!"
How can Christians around the world uphold Venezuelans in prayer? "I asked brothers and sisters for their prayer requests and how they felt," Mirabel replied. "They feel impotence, sadness, worry. They want us to pray for peace in Venezuela. …Yes, pray for us and this whole difficult situation, above all that it not explode into civil war."
(All quotes have been translated from Spanish.)