From Russell & Marina Stendal in Bogota, Colombia
Marina and I just returned from a very interesting trip to the Venezuela border. We took a load of Bibles that will be smuggled to pastors and persons of interest. It is not necessarily the official policy of either Colombia or Venezuela to prohibit the Bible, but rather officials on both sides of the border are extremely corrupt and tend to demand large bribes in order to allow any substantial amount of Bibles to cross the border and of course, our policy is not to pay bribes. There has not been any major supply or printing of Bibles that we know about in Venezuela for the past twenty years.
Economic conditions continue to deteriorate and while we were there the exchange rate went from one million Bolivars per US Dollar to over two million. The legal minimum wage is 3.5 million Bolivars per month so their wages have plummeted to the US equivalent of $1.75 a month and currently a kilo of beef costs 4 million Bolivars. A one hundred thousand Bolivar bill (their largest) is now worth less than a nickel. Normally, the limited supply of currency would eventually bring everything to a complete halt under such hyperinflation. However, the government is paying their citizens in electronic funds, which also benefits the government by controlling the flow of money through every bank account. This has led to a situation in which cash is worth three times as much as its equivalent in electronic currency. So truckloads of cash are moved around the country and negotiated in every plaza. We were told of the two thousand or so ruling generals who most have apparently bought private aircraft so as to not be lynched by starving peasants when they travel around carrying huge loads of cash.
We are amazed at how many Venezuelans are exiting the country into Colombia, which is now flooded with over 8 million displaced persons, making this the greatest humanitarian crises on the planet. All of the towns and cities of Colombia are saturated with Venezuelan workers and refugees who are flowing into Ecuador, Peru, and all the way down to Chile. We witnessed thousands of people per day crossing the bridge at Cúcuta. Most of them have been starving for months and are strewn out all along the highways with virtually no food or shelter. These people are fairly strong, but lean individuals in their teens, twenties, thirties, and forties who likely used to be fervent supporters of the socialist agenda. We can only imagine the fate of weak children and elderly remaining in Venezuela.
Until now, we have concentrated our effort on supplying Bibles and literature to those resolute pastors and leaders who have chosen to remain with their sheep in the midst of such severe tribulation. Now, however, we are considering what we can do to minister to the refugees. It might be possible for us to rent or buy a warehouse at the border in which we could show our movie, La Montaña followed by a Gospel invitation, and offer soup or hot chocolate to the weary hikers along with some Christian literature for them to read on their journey. As far as we could tell, there appears to be no evangelical Christian outreach at the border or along the thronged highways or byways. It looks like we could minister to thousands of people per day under very ideal circumstances if we have the resources. Those who are down and out and uprooted are very prone to respond favorably and receive the Lord Jesus, if we represent Him well.
Inside Venezuela it is hard to get a handle on everything that is going on. The country appears to be run by the military, however most are corrupt, although there are still a few Christians in places of influence. Many pastors who foolishly joined the Bolivarian Pastor´s Association started by Hugo Chavez twenty years ago, have now abandoned their sheep and fled the country. Eighty percent of the visible church appears to be aligned with the socialist government of Maduro causing concern there will be a huge backlash against these Christians or maybe even against Christians in general, if or when the Maduro government falls. There are also underground Christians and it is hard for us at this time to know how extensive the underground church might be.
Our plan is to have a safe place on the Colombian side of the border where trustworthy believers can come and pick up ten or twelve Bibles at a time to carry back across the treacherous border. After considering all the factors,we have decided to provide the best quality Bibles we can reasonably procure. Working together with ICR and ANEKO Press, we have developed a beautiful imitation leather study Bible with large print that only costs $5 (US Dollars) plus shipping and distribution costs if we import them by the container load of 9,600 Bibles at a time. To put this in perspective, if the minimum wage is under $2 (USD) per month and if under normal conditions a Bible like what we are providing would cost $25 (USD), then the Bibles we are giving out free gratis are worth at least a year´s salary to an average Venezuelan believer. Imagine how they will be encouraged by such a princely gift!
Please join us in praying for God to provide the resources as we step out in faith in reaching many along the Colombian and Venezuelan border.
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