Old bread isn’t hard. Not having bread is hard. That’s an observation Pastor María Elena Rodríguez forwarded to the Venezuelan Mennonite WhatsApp group recently.
Providing fellowship through this online group and serving the hungry are two of the ways Venezuelan Mennonites are sharing food for body and soul during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As conditions worsen, Venezuelan Mennonite leaders are trusting God and caring for each other, their neighbors and the people who are most vulnerable.
Erwin Mirabal, president of the Mennonite Church in Venezuela, recorded testimonies and sent a report that exemplifies how the church is sharing God’s abundance in a time of lack.
“Venezuela is undergoing a political and economic crisis like never in its recent history,” said Mirabal, noting that some experts consider Venezuela’s inflation rate the highest in the world.
“Day-to-day living has become increasingly complicated,” he said. “The lack of basic services such as water, electricity, internet services and gas for cooking, combined with the lack of cash, makes the situation desperate.”
In Caracas, Mirabal said, “I have seen entire families in garbage dumps seeking to satisfy hunger. I have watched with sadness as the elderly are sent back from hospitals because there is no possibility to care for them nor medicines to meet their needs.”
Word was received on Aug. 5 that Mirabel died after being diagnosed with COVID-19 on July 20. On Aug. 2 his wife, Haydee Vegas, had reported his condition was stable. Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network director for Latin America, requested prayer for his family and the churches as they mourn the loss of a man who influenced many people in their walk with Christ.
On Margarita Island, Rodriguez, pastor of Comunidad Menonita de Camino, supports the community while also meeting some of her own needs by bartering what she produces in her yard — lemons, papayas, bananas.
“We have passed through very difficult times, but we have also experienced many blessings that the Lord has given us, like when we don’t have electricity or gas for cooking or water or food,” Rodríguez reported.
“Some people think God isn’t real and that we do all this with our own strength. That isn’t so. All this has been a time of learning to depend on our God.”
Acts of generosity
Two Mennonite congregations on Margarita Island and one in Caracas shared testimonies of generosity amid scarcity.
— Prayer, worship services and Bible studies take place mainly in small groups in homes, which broadens leadership and results in more people willing to hear the Word of God.
— Church members grind coffee and bake bread to share with people in need. Many say it is all they consumed that day.
— People bring what they have, especially on Sundays. Together, everyone enjoys the soup they create from what they share.
— Because water service in some areas has become more complicated due to the pandemic, church members are delivering water in 40-liter containers.
— Travelers from Colombia prior to the pandemic brought medicines that are shared to treat flu, fever, pain, asthma and other ailments.
— A Caracas program continues to help with children’s education, though due to COVID-19 precautions the number of participants is reduced. Mirabal wrote, “We have also needed to attend to some behavior situations with children and parents as a result of confinement.”
— Because many isolated elderly people don’t have cellphones, church members visit and help them connect with family members, many of whom have left the country due to the economic situation. They help clean their homes or bathe, cut hair and share medicines.
“In the midst of a dire situation, their focus is not on making sure ‘I have enough’ but on serving others,” said Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network director for Latin America. “Pastor Euclides Bauza testified, ‘With what we receive, we help the community where we are, the church community and people who don’t attend but who have needs.’ ”
MMN, Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia and Central Plains Mennonite Conference partner to support the Venezuelan churches.