Venezuela update

11 Dec

Gene Wilson is the former Latin America area leader for church planting and now how responsibility for all of ReachGlobal’s church planting coaching work. He was recently in Costa Rica for a training event and sends this report on Venezuela:

One of our joys last month was to hear about the church in Venezuela, a country often in the news here in the United States. At our training in Costa Rica last month Abdy P. P., the head of the Church Planting and Missions Department gave us a report.
Backdrop: The Evangelical Free church of Venezuela was started in 1920 by a missionary team led by David Finstrom. It took 30 years to establish the first few churches. One of the men on Finstrom’s team, Arthur Peterson, wanted to work inland on the plains. Finstrom disagreed. The result was a divided work for 25 of those 30 years. When reconciliation took place in 1949, the church advanced and became an autonomous association between 1952 and 1954. From then until 1978 the work expanded to fifty churches. The next 30 years was a coming of age for the Venezuelan Church. However issue of leadership, restructuring and identity took the focus away from church planting and missions . In 2003, during the 50th anniversary of their existence as a church body, they asked God to make the next decade a time of “Relaunching Mission.” Soon afterwards a new Venezuela president was elected and gradually pressure was brought to bear on Evangelical churches. Missionaries were expelled from tribal areas. New laws were passed to control churches. We asked Abdy to share what is happening there..
Here are some highlights from his report:
• There may be up to 80 preaching points and developing churches that are not officially recognized by the government, while between 40 and 60 are recognized.
• Nine pastors have been killed under suspicious circumstances, including a leader of the association of Evangelicals. Restrictions and red tape have increased.
• There were divisions between pro-Chavista and anti-Chavista factions in the churches until they decided to keep all politics out of the church and focus on the kingdom.
• Opposition and restrictions by the government have fostered church renewal. Evangelical leaders have formed an informal network to be able to communicate if rights of association become tighter. Greater unity is emerging.
• The church growth rate among evangelicals in Venezuela has risen from 3% in 1999 to between 7 and 10% in 2009.
• Although travel to indigenous tribes in the Amazon has been restricted, the work has grown. Tribal leaders are coming out for training and returning to equip more church planters. The first church took 20 years to establish. Yet a new church has been planted each of the last 3 years and another one is planned for 2010.
• Venezuelan missionaries are trained waiting to go. Partnerships are being forged to send missionaries to Muslim peoples and to Europe. Additionally a three-tier non-formal training effort mobilizes workers: 1) Lay short-term workers, 2) Church Planters, and 3) Coaches. Coaching Clinics have taken place in 4 areas. The strongest aspect of the non-formal training is lay mobilization.
God is answering the prayers of those leaders during the 50th Anniversary in unusual ways! Praise the Lord!

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