Few Latin American people have demonstrated such responsiveness to evangelism as have the Venezuelan people. Beginning in the 1980s, the tireless evangelistic endeavors of BIMI missionaries have borne much fruit
among Venezuela's 32.7 million residents. Many churches have been established in numerous cities, towns and villages. BIMI has seen a notable reduction in recent years of missionary personnel remaining in Venezuela, as have almost all international missions agencies.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to "discover" the land we now call Venezuela. The year was 1498 and Columbus, so impressed by his findings, promptly wrote a moving letter to Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella reporting to them of the unmatched beauty and grandeur of this new land. So great was Columbus' amazement, he told the King and Queen that he believed he had found "el paraíso" or paradise! Spain subsequently established its first permanent settlement in South America in the year 1522 in the place that is the present-day Venezuelan coastal city of Cumaná.
Ancient artifacts and other evidences indicate that Venezuela may have been the home of some of the first pre-Columbian indigenous people ever to occupy the South American continent. In the northern part of the country, Venezuela serves as the gateway to the Andes Mountains. Located in the southern extremes of Venezuela are the northern fringes of the Amazon Basin. The country is home to the majestic Angel Falls, which has a free falling drop of 3,212 feet and known as the world's tallest waterfalls. More than 1,700 miles of Venezuelan coastline touch both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
Venezuela gained full independence in 1830. As an underdeveloped, predominately agricultural country, Venezuela's economy struggled until the early 20th century when the discovery of oil changed everything. Prosperity escalated and rapid growth ensued until the 1980s when the world market for oil experienced an unprecedented surplus. This led to the near collapse of Venezuela's heavily indebted economy, producing a staggering 100% inflation rate. The difficult economic condition and a host of political tribulations gave rise in 1998 to the election of a left-wing political figure, Hugo Chávez, as president. Mr. Chávez dominated Venezuelan politics for more than a decade. Since his death in 2013, the economic conditions have grown increasing worse and opposition to the socialistic government continues to be widespread.
Venezuela is one of the most urbanized countries in all of Latin America. An estimated 93% of Venezuelans live in the northern sector of the country, with 73% residing in cities that are less than 60 miles from the country's extensive coastline. The capital city, Caracas, has a population in excess of 3 million inhabitants. Other large cities include Maracaibo, Maracay, Barquisimeto, and Valencia.
The Lord continues to bless the ministry of our missionaries in Venezuela. A well established and very successful Bible institute in Barquisimeto has helped to train scores of national pastors and Christian workers. A beautiful tract of land was purchased in the 1990s where a thriving camp ministry operates many weeks each year with youth and children's camps, men's camps, women's camps, as well as spiritual retreats and other activities. Because of the tenuous nature of continuing missionary presence in the country, a great emphasis has been put on training and preparing national leadership, especially over the past decade. We are confident that these dedicated Venezuelan brethren will be able to carry on in the absence of traditional missionary personnel, should that occur.
Tribal ministry in Venezuela is no longer possible because of government regulations, but because the national leadership was already in place, our missionaries who worked in jungle areas are confident that the ministry will continue under their stable and qualified guidance. Many thrilling testimonies of what the grace of God has done, and is doing, in the lives of the Indians in the jungle and believers in the city churches stand as tributes to the grace of God and the labor of faithful missionaries.
While there are questions about the future of missionary work in Venezuela, we are convinced that the Lord will never cease to mightily bless His church and His people. At this time, perhaps the greatest responsibility for us is to PRAY for Venezuela! Will you PRAY for those few missionaries who are still able to stay in Venezuela? Will you PRAY for the Venezuelan believers? Will you PRAY for the national pastors and church leaders who carry on the work started by many missionaries who, in the past, have served faithfully in the country?