With fears of violence rising as Venezuela’s long-running economic crisis intensifies, Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR) is partnering with churches there and in neighboring Colombia as they seek to offer hope and help to people desperate for food and medical care.
Recent major power outages across the country are reported to have led to deaths among hospital patients and others who were chronically sick, while malnutrition is said to be widespread after many months of food shortages.
“The situation has gone way beyond simple inconvenience,” says Chad Isenhart, FDR international response director, of the deteriorating conditions in Venezuela, whose economy has collapsed in the past few years and provoked escalating social unrest. “It’s now a major humanitarian crisis.”
An indicator of people’s spiritual hunger in the midst of the emergency, the number of Foursquare churches in Venezuela has doubled in the past decade to around 150. But their ability to help is taxed by hyperinflation and extreme shortages of basics.
“Some churches have had to change how they function because people cannot come to meetings,” explains Paul Otremba, Foursquare Missions International area missionary to Central and South America. “They don’t have money to take a bus, or the buses just aren’t available. People then have to walk two to four hours to go to church, but they are too weak; without food, most people have lost weight.”
The financial hardship also means many members have been unable to tithe, so “pastors are having a hard time to survive,” Paul adds. “Some of them are now training people and releasing them to have house churches as a way of ministering to people.”
Meanwhile, with FDR support, Foursquare churches in Colombia are reaching out to some of the estimated 3 million-plus Venezuelans who have fled their homeland in the past few years. Foursquare members in Maicao, in the Guajira region, have been distributing food and medicines to arriving Venezuelans. “Sometimes they have been helping them with finances to help them buy a bus ticket to go to other cities in Colombia,” says Paul.
“We need people to pray that God would open doors, so that we can help our brothers and sisters who are in need there, and support them in reaching out.”
—Chad Isenhart, FDR international response director
Congregations in Cúcuta, a border city, and the capital, Bogotá, have also been offering assistance. “With so many Venezuelans in the country, it is sometimes very difficult to find the right way to help,” states Paul. “This is not a situation that is solved with one simple act of help.”
Much general news coverage of the Venezuelan crisis has focused on its political and economic roots, with government subsidies hit by falling oil prices, but “whatever the cause, people are suffering,” says Chad. “At a time when people are looking for answers and hope, we love to be able to come alongside and help the church be the compassionate hands and feet of Jesus to others.”
Runaway inflation means that sending money into Venezuela is not the best way to help, but aid shipments to the country have been blocked by the beleaguered government. “We need people to pray that God would open doors, so that we can help our brothers and sisters who are in need there, and support them in reaching out,” states Chad.
Echoing that, Paul also urges Foursquare members around the world to pray for all churches in Venezuela, that they may have “a true prophetic voice.” He requests: “Let’s pray that in these times of such national and political social crisis, the church will not lose hope, but preach clearly the message of salvation, and that it may be an instrument of reconciliation.”
Foursquare’s history in Venezuela dates back to 1952, when a Colombian convert went to work in San Cristóbal and started a church in his home. In 2016, Foursquare Venezuela reported nearly 68,000 members in 254 churches and meeting places. There were almost 28,000 decisions for Christ and 6,000 water baptisms.
For more information about how you can help support FDR’s response to the crisis in Venezuela, and to make a donation, visit the FDR website.