Venezuela (MNN) — Of the more than 5 million people living in Caracas, Venezuela, only 1% are evangelical believers. Many of the spiritually lost live in the city's barrios (slums), considered some of the most dangerous in the world.
Nearly 4 million people–80% of the city's population–live in lean-to houses that stretch across the mountains on either side of Caracas. The narrow streets are plagued with constant crime, substance abuse, and gang violence.
Ed and Pam Engle, International Mission Board missionaries in Caracas, have worked in the those slums for 12 years. In a place where houses are built nearly on top of each other, there isn't space to hold large evangelistic services or other public events. Instead, the Engles must rely on individual conversations to tackle a God-size task.
"It's about one-on-one contacts," says Ed. "But we've had people come up well after I've given them a tract and tell me that I'd given them one, and they prayed that prayer on the back, but now they don't know what to do. And it happens often enough that we're not discouraged by just handing out tracts."
At the same time, the Engles are building relationships with everyone from elderly drunkards to 17-year-old moms. And as they pour into others spiritually, they emphasize Christ's love as they respond to physical needs.
Working with the Engles in the barrios, volunteer teams from the United States have held eyeglass clinics, provided free blood-pressure testing, and helped with small construction projects. They have also taught sewing and electrical skills. These frequently lead to spiritual discussion.
"We try and help people, but we always tell them we need them to be open to having Bible studies with us," Ed says. "We'll use whatever we can, but in all things we do, we try and meet a need with a spiritual end in mind."
As a result, the Engles have helped to start several Bible studies in different barrios across Caracas, and some of them have grown into potential churches. But whenever a church has begun, some obstacle — such as political turmoil or serious illnesses of believers — has torn it apart.
"There does seem to be a spiritual battle going on here," says Ed. "Bible studies aren't the end goal for us, but the devil gets his foot in the door, and he tears works apart. So the idea is to get churches started, but it hasn't gotten to the point where we can say a church is really going."
The biggest need is prayer. "Pray that the people in the barrios won't just be saved, but that they will be like Paul or Timothy," Ed says. Pray also for believers in the barrios who face persecution. Ultimately, pray for God's Name to be known all through Caracas as people begin to put their trust in Him.