By David Linn
When you hear about Venezuela in the news, what comes to mind? Maybe you think about political protests, petroleum prices, or strife in the streets. Perhaps it’s a professional baseball player or the winner of another Miss Universe pageant. Whatever the case, are you aware of the other side of the nightly news? Do you know what God is doing in the country?
A Spiritual Void
Just 30 years ago Venezuela was recognized as one of the most stable democracies in South America. However, it was also one of the least reached countries in the hemisphere. With an evangelical Christian population of less than 1 percent and only 3 percent frequenting religious activities on weekends, a sizeable spiritual void existed. Seventy-five percent of the country was under the age of 25 years old! And the doors where quietly opening for church planters.
An Opening for the Gospel
Doug Lucas, founder and director of the newly formed mission organization, Team Expansion, had just opened the first field of activity in Uruguay. At nearly the same time, a second group of volunteers was forming. The development of this second team coincided well with the newly opened doors in Venezuela. After several exploratory trips and short-term visits to the country, the first families to live on site began arriving in 1989. Everything was set for a peaceful and smooth beginning.
A Change in Regime
But then a proposed hike on gasoline prices detonated disturbances that swept across the country. Riots left shops and businesses pillaged, streets strewn with litter, hundreds dead, and martial law enforced to restore order. The once proud producer of petroleum and patriarch of democracy had suddenly stumbled. What had happened? The nation would not be the same.
In relatively short time the country managed to scramble to its feet, attempting to move forward. The fledgling team of missionaries, hardly understanding what had happened, stayed strong. They set their first goal of planting 12 churches over the next 20 years, a task that seemed formidable given the current circumstances.
No sooner had life returned to normal than trouble erupted again in 1992. Two coup attempts stunned the country, the first organized by an up-and-coming military officer and paratrooper, Hugo Chavez. Chavez would eventually be arrested and imprisoned.
Challenges in Ministry
Both attempts were rooted in the discontent that had caused nationwide riots several years earlier. Unfortunately for the mission team, there were times when it’s own stability resembled that of the country! But each member toiled onward, often working in isolation. In the meantime, hearts were softening, the good news was bearing fruit, and churches were slowly being planted.
As that first full decade of service came to a close, another surprise was looming. The former paratrooper, imprisoned for his leadership in the first failed coup attempt, was released from prison and was running for president! Not even a decade had passed and he was soon to become the country’s highest leader.
The first major task he would face in office would be the rebuilding of his country following torrential downpours that nearly swept entire populations into the ocean. Thousands died and many more were unaccounted for. That event would be the hinge upon which the door of history would swing into the 21st century. Simultaneous to the distress and devastation, the spiritual landscape was softening. Long-standing barriers were crumbling and the missionary team reconciled, once again functioning like a team.
The Gospel Bears Fruit
As a new decade and century emerged, continued surprises dotted the landscape. In an effort to oust the new president from office, the petroleum industry led a two-month long national strike. The economy had been crippled. Many foreigners fled. But the government emerged as winner and seized control of the oil industry and many other businesses. The missionary team plowed forward and continued to plant churches. One missionary summarized his church planting efforts during those tumultuous years like this: “It took 12 years to plant the first church and see it grow to 200. It took six years to plant the second church and see it do the same. The third plant took only three years to repeat the process. Since that time, that number has doubled, tripled, and quadrupled!
As the second full decade of service came to a close, the number of churches planted was approximating the 20-year-old goal. National leadership had grown, a church camp had been built, and the labor of years was bearing fruit. By God’s grace and providential circumstances, by 2010, 12 churches had been planted and the original goal had been reached. But what ideal would capture the hearts of the believers and propel them forward?
A Greater Vision
As it became increasingly clear that the 20-year-old goal was within reach, God began to plant into the hearts of leaders and followers alike a new vision, a dream or idea that would require even greater faith. What would it be like to add a zero to the initial goal and plant 120 churches? While vast areas of Venezuela still lay untouched with the need for strong Christ-centered, biblical churches, it was also recognized that Venezuelan Christians had the unique opportunity of entering new countries where traditional missionaries cannot enter. Thus the birthing of Venezuela’s Vision 2020, to plant 120 churches inside and out of the country by the year 2020.
Driving the vision is a concerted effort in prayer. From the earliest days, an ever-increasing base of prayer has been building. The ultimate goal is to have 1,200 Venezuelan’s praying daily for the founding of these 120 churches. Four Ps in Spanish give direction to these daily prayers:
• 120 Pioneros (Pioneers)—those who plant the churches.
• 120 Puertas (doors) that God providentially opens.
• Preparativos (Preparations)—the tools and vehicles needed in training.
• Presupuesto (Budget)—the finances necessary to make this happen.
With 1,200 people praying daily, 10 would be praying for each work.
In 2010 we added another component fueling this vision—an annual conference of churches. Bringing together the leadership, ministries, and church bodies yearly helps maintain focus and reminds us that we are all working toward the same goal. The best in worship, dance, drama, and mime are brought together on that day. The preaching and teaching endorses the vision and offers tools for growth. An exhibition hall showcases new works while testimonies from church planters reaffirm God’s faithfulness.
A third factor in pursing the vision is ongoing, on-site training. In 2010 a Bible Institute (SEMIC) was formed. Led by lay leadership at regional sites (using church facilities and keeping costs low), this two-year study equips believers to be biblically based and prepared to serve. Each student attends five hours of class and offers two hours of service weekly to the local church. Further training from groups like DCPI (Dynamic Church Planting International) and Jonathan Training (a study of church planting movements) helps provide tools and structure for future works. It is our dream that from this ongoing training an army of church planters will emerge.
The construction of the Potter’s Inn Camp has also provided impetus for pursuing the vision. Spearheaded by Round Lake Christian Camp (Lakeville, Ohio) over a decade ago, the camp has become a rallying point for the churches, reminding us of our unity. Located just over an hour from the capital city of Caracas, it provides an ideal setting for camps, retreats, meetings, and training of all kinds. On many occasions, summer youth camps have used the 2020 Vision as an integral part of their programing. Students are challenged to consider their role in realizing the vision through prayer, giftedness, finances, or becoming church planters or missionaries themselves. Ministers and leaders have benefited greatly from this facility as well, using it for retreats, conferences, planning, and prayer.
A final driving force toward the vision is mission. Already two national teams sent out from the churches are currently working among an unreached people group of Venezuela, the Warao, through Bible translation and church planting. Venezuelans are also joining the global mission force in North Africa and Europe, targeting the unreached. Five mission interns are currently serving in these fields as well, assisting former missionaries to Venezuela. The Kairos Mission Mobilization Course is being taught in a widening circle of churches, increasing the passion for global evangelism. By faith we believe the number of laborers will increase dramatically in the years ahead.
While the gap that separates present reality from goal completion is still daunting, the God who governs history is still working powerfully behind the scenes. Fourteen churches have been founded, 13 more are underway, and 160 students are enrolled in the Bible institute. In addition, 343 people met Christ in baptism last year alone.
May the God who said, “Though the vision tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3), do the same thing in Venezuela, in his time, and for his glory!
Dave Linn serves as a missionary with Team Expansion, leading and planting churches in Caracas, Venezuela.
Pray for Your Church’s Missionaries
1. Get a list of the people your church supports.
2. Make a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule so you have time to pray for each one listed.
3. List topics you want to address when you pray for each:
• Their family: pray for their marriage, pray for their children by name.
• Health: pray for protection and rest.
• Ministry: find out specific activities they’re involved with or needs they have.
• Their field: pray for the unique challenges of the place where they live and work.
• And more.
4. Send the missionaries a note after you’ve prayed for them.