In western Venezuela, there’s a little town called Carrillo. In some ways, it’s a typical small town where everyone knows everyone else. But in Venezuela, the "typical" small town can sometimes be a very dangerous place, with people involved in deadly crime. In this case, Carrillo is basically controlled by drug mafia.
All too many kids in Venezuela grow up with the kind of anger and resentment that fuels a life of crime. Our InnerCHANGE team uses art and creative methods to help kids express their emotions as a preventative effort. We’ve traveled to Carrillo a few times to work with the children, parents, and teachers at a local school, because our Venezuelan mission partners, FunVin, have close ties there. In a lot of ways, this is a story about FunVin and the way God is at work in believers in Venezuela. But first, I need to tell you about what happened in Carrillo.
During our last workshop in Carrillo, we did an art project where children got to share the dreams they had. Some of the boys wouldn’t participate. When they were pulled aside for a one-to-one conversation, they shared, “I can’t put up there that I’m going to become a mafioso. And that’s who I’m going to be.” It was eye-opening to learn that this was how they saw their future, their destiny. We were glad these boys were given a chance to voice what was actually inside of them. After the workshop, our InnerCHANGE team left the city, but our partners with FunVin stayed. Through the follow-up they did with those school kids, some of them came to Christ and experienced dramatic transformation.
I would call each member of FunVin a miracle from God. You need to know that this kind of ministry—loving action outside of a church service or in a non-religious context—is truly radical in Venezuela. The evangelical church here faces a stronghold—a strong belief and way of thinking that’s centuries old (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)—that blocks them from sharing Jesus with non-believers in significant ways. For example, one of the largest denominations has a written rule that under no circumstances are you permitted to have friendships with unbelievers. It’s been challenging to know how to partner in ministry with churches here because of that way of thinking. The FunVin team members have left that mentality behind and are now in a position to be change agents in local churches, advocating for a form of mission that engages meaningfully with the unsaved, in less religious ways, and on non-religious turf. God has freed these Venezuelan friends from the stronghold of avoiding non-believers and given them vision to reach out in new ways. It’s because of this perspective that those kids in Carrillo found Jesus through a public school art workshop. This kind of change is truly miraculous.
There’s more to the story of the kids in Carrillo. FunVin has a coaching relationship with the pastor of a very traditional church in the community, and earlier this year that church had a four-day evangelistic outreach. At the end of the four days, this church of 20 members had 80 new people consistently coming to their services, including a bunch of mafia members. (Remember, this is a small town where everyone knows everyone, and it’s controlled by the mafia.) One of the people who started coming to the church was a mafia leader. Shortly after the outreach, he turned in his weapon. As he handed it over, he said, “I’m a new man. I don’t need this anymore.” What happened next speaks to what a tough environment exists in this town, and the deep need for Jesus to bring transformation. Less than a month after he turned in his weapon, some people broke into his home in the middle of the night and shot both him and his son.
I suspect that in eternity, when we see the big picture of how things happened, we will learn that there was a connection between those art classes and what happened with this church. With the eyes of faith, I believe that connection might be God’s compassionate heart for those young boys who saw no future for themselves other than becoming mafiosos. Perhaps God’s response was to say, “I want them to be able to look to some of the male role models in the community as men of integrity who follow me.” So out of his compassion for the children, God pursued all these men who could model a different way of life, even a mafia leader who died as a result of his courageous commitment to follow Jesus.
We’ve now got a small but growing number of Venezuelans working with us in our emotional-education workshops, using Bible stories and art activities for people to express themselves and get in touch with Jesus in a new way. We’re seeing it have a deep impact on people’s hearts and beliefs, and more Venezuelans are beginning to engage in ministry that’s beyond the traditional approach. The love and compassion they’re learning to have for people is new—something they didn’t have before. And that’s a big deal! It’s really exciting, and it’s gaining traction because we have Venezuelans who’ve seen the fruit of the work in those kids in Carrillo!
2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says,“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” When we come against beliefs that aren’t allowing the fullness of God’s purposes in a place, they’re not going to be dislodged with logical arguments. It has to be the Holy Spirit exercising divine authority to break the power of that stronghold. There has to be a greater authority than the stronghold, so it has to be God! That’s why I say it feels like each one of our Venezuelan partners is a miracle from God. The stronghold is beginning to break down, and even though we only see a trickle at this point, we trust that what God is doing is going to be big. So we persevere despite hardship. And we thank God for each miracle we see.
John Shorack and his wife, Birgit, live in Caracas, Venezuela. They have served with InnerCHANGE since 1993. This story was written with the help of John by Megan Beehler, part of CRM’s Communications Team.