EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of articles to be released in advance of this year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions, Nov. 30-Dec. 7. Missionaries who serve in South America as well as churches partnering with them are the week’s focus, exemplifying the global outreach supported by Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The 2008 theme is “Go Tell the Story of Jesus.”
CANAGUÁ, Venezuela (BP)–For the past 27 years, Reinaldo Meza has driven the same yellow Land Cruiser over the dirt roads of the Venezuelan Andes.
Before heading to his farm, Meza stops at a roadside market in Canaguá to buy a few loaves of bread for himself and International Mission Board missionaries Forrest and Becky Bohlen.
After a 45-minute drive from the market into the surrounding mountains, Meza pulls the truck off the road. He and the Bohlens will hike 30 minutes on narrow trails before they reach Meza’s farm, but he’s used to the hike.
After six years of working in rural areas of the Venezuelan Andes, the Bohlens also have grown accustomed to the landscape. Although the Bohlens live in Mérida, they spend about two weeks each month in Canaguá, a mountain town in the region of Pueblos del Sur (Towns of the South). They travel mountain roads and hike beaten paths to build relationships with Andean agriculturists like Meza.
“The Gospel is not being preached up here. It’s not even being heard,” Forrest says. The Iowa native previously was a pastor in Texas. “Our goal is to take that Gospel to wherever it’s not being preached.”
Many of the people there have heard the name of Jesus but few of them know who He is or have a personal relationship with Him, says Becky, whose home state is Arizona.
While the agriculturists around them plant seeds in the mountainside, the Bohlens are planting seeds of the Gospel.
“Here in this country, there’s a phrase they use — ‘Palanca.’ It’s who you know,” Becky says. “If you know them, you’re in, but if you don’t know them in a relationship, you’re out.
“Relationships are the bottom line,” she says. “It’s the bridge to be able to share Christ with them.”
In the agricultural communities of Pueblos del Sur, coffee is the precursor to those relationships.
After checking his livestock in the fields, Meza returns to the farm cottage where Forrest prepares coffee over an open fire. As they pass around a loaf of bread and sip traditional Venezuelan coffee, Forrest and Becky talk and laugh with Meza.
“It’s just a cultural thing to offer someone something when they come into your home … and normally it’s coffee,” Forrest says. “If we came in talking about the Bible or Jesus first thing, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot because they would put up their wall, and they would not want us to cross that wall.”
Over cups of coffee, friendships build.
“I actually think most of the time, we’re not even sowing seeds, we’re breaking ground,” Forrest says. “We have to go in and break that hard, crusty, spiritual soil before we can even plant a seed — and that’s the relationships.”
‘WAITING FOR SOMEONE TO TELL ME’
The Bohlens served 10 years among the urban poor in San Cristóbal, where they noticed that people in the city were selling agricultural products and studying agriculture and veterinary medicine.
So Becky and Forrest, who grew up on a dairy farm, created the Sower Agricultural Foundation — Fundacion Agropecuaria El Sembrador or FUNDASEM — to offer local farming classes with the help of volunteers from the States.
When the Bohlens toured an agricultural school in Mucuchachí, a town near Canaguá, professor Lilimar Rivas invited them and a few teachers to lunch at her home.
By the end of the day, Rivas and fellow teacher Zulay Guillén prayed to receive Christ.
“I cried because I was just waiting for someone to tell me [about Christ],” says Guillén, who now hosts home Bible studies.
“From the very beginning of our missionary career, we’ve seen this as a heavy ‘oughtness,'” Forrest says. “It’s really not that we feel talented or that we feel we’re professionals in this. It’s just something that ought to be done, that needs to be done.”
Despite facing some challenges because of her faith, Rivas remembers the emptiness she felt without Christ and has no intention of turning back.
“Christ fills that emptiness,” she says.
The Bohlens also are discipling a family in Canaguá who has come to faith in Christ. But more help is needed to train new believers and to reach more people with the Gospel.
“We believe what it’s going to take to win this area for Christ is to train nationals — Venezuelan nationals — who are willing to come up here and live here,” Forrest says. “Or even better is to raise up and grow our own disciples, grow our own agriculturists to reach their own people.”
Kristen Hiller is a writer-photographer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. To learn more about missions opportunities in South America, go to samregion.org. E-mail [email protected] to find out how you can help the Bohlens with their agriculture classes in Venezuela. Gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering provide vital support to the International Mission Board’s more than 5,300 missionaries worldwide, including the Bohlens. The national goal for this year’s offering is $170 million. To give to the offering year-round, go to imb.org/main/give. Watch a video related to this story:
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