Venezuela (MNN) — In a move that usurped the power of the opposition-led National Assembly, Venezuela’s Supreme Court sparked protests across the nation on March 30th.
Trans World Radio’s International Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, Steve Shantz, put it this way: “They basically stripped the opposition of their legislative powers and annulled the assembly. And, basically, that was viewed [by] the populace as a move towards total dictatorship by Maduro, the president.”
Shantz says even though the decision has since been reversed, the protests continue. Voice of America reports that over the last three weeks, at least eight people have been killed in the uproar.
He explains, “These protests that have turned violent have continued on. And, there are a lot of people who are pro-government, so they have come out on the streets wearing red shirts in support of the government. They have clashed with the supporters of the opposition, and this is just continuing on in Venezuela today.”
And what’s President Maduro’s response? According to the Washington Post, it’s to press down on opponents. Most notably, opposition leader Henrique Capriles has been banned from running for office. Numerous arrests have been made during the protests, and demonstrators have been hit with tear gas, rubber bullets, and more.
But intertwined with the political outcry, Shantz says there is a more immediate problem.
“There’s a tremendous economic crisis in Venezuela right now because of the collapse of the oil prices that the government was depending on to fund the country. And so, without the money to pay for imports, things like food and pharmaceuticals are now in very short supply in Venezuela. In fact, in some cases, people are actually starving.” Much of Venezuela’s economy is nationalized and rests upon oil prices.
Until political peace is found, Shantz explains, little progress will be made to find a solution to the economic troubles. Meanwhile, corruption seems to be bleeding into local forms of government. Earlier this week, GM’s plant was seized by local authorities.
GM says it was an illegal seizure and that they will seek legal restitution. And Shantz explains the military has been tasked with food and medicine distribution, but people are not receiving what they’re supposed to be getting.
The response of the Church
It’s hard to make sense of situations like these where so many people are suffering. The most basic needs are difficult to meet. And when that happens, people become desperate. Sometimes they become criminal. Robberies, kidnappings, murders — it’s all on the rise.
Shantz says, “On the ground, the situation there is very dire. And Venezuela has also seen an increase like never before of violent crime and poverty. Their inflation rate is currently at 679 percent, and they expect that by 2018, if things continue the way they are, that inflation will be up around 2,000 percent.”
So the question is, where does the Church fit in to all of this?
Shantz describes a situation where the Church can act as a hub of grace. Even though there is little to go around, this body has come together to do what they can in their communities. He tells us the story of one of their contacts, a pastor, who visited recently.
“His church, every Sunday afternoon, the congregation brings whatever they have — beans and rice — and they cook it all up and they’re feeding children. They’re feeding about 120 children every Sunday because there’s such a shortage of food in the country.”
Because of the shortage of medication, this same pastor had been cutting his blood pressure pills into quarters. When he visited the United States, his blood pressure was extremely high. Fortunately, he was able to get a year’s supply before heading home. His story shows us that in a national crisis, individual lives are impacted.
What’s to be done?
This insurmountable crisis can only be solved through prayer, Shantz believes. And this is how we can get involved with the situation.
“As believers here in North America, we can pray that somehow the political situation in Venezuela comes to a reconciliation so that the country can start meeting the needs of the people, of the poor. And we could pray that somehow Venezuela will get the currency they need to purchase food and drugs.”
Hopefully, as the political mess gets sorted out, there can be relief in the economy. Our prayers also must go to support the Church as they do what they can to help.
“The Christians in Venezuela are asking us, in North America, to pray for them — to pray for a solution to the situation.”
Encouragement is also a key factor in this situation. We know that no matter what, the hope of the Gospel cannot be put out. That’s why TWR continues to broadcast Christian content into the country. Shantz says they have a faithful group of listeners, and they want to lift them up and assure them they are being prayed for.
Their morning show, Despertar, is especially helpful in this way. He says, “People listen to it when they’re getting ready for work and on their morning drive. And we also insert a lot of devotional-type thoughts into Despertar, into the program. Many of the words we’re speaking are words of encouragement.”
The programming reminds them to hang onto their faith and look to the Lord.
Will you take time to pray for Venezuela, for the Church there, and the leaders? Ask God to make His truth known here, and that there might be peace. Also, Shantz says, let your representatives know you care about Venezuela and want our nation to do something about it.
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