CARACAS, Venezuela (BP) — As Venezuela continues to reel from the death of President Hugo Chavez, evangelicals there are seeking ways to show God’s love in the midst of a national upheaval.
After a 14-year presidency, Chavez, 58, lost his battle with cancer March 5, marking the start of a period of political, social and economic uncertainty within the nation he led. With a new presidential election set for April 14, Venezuelan believers are looking to God for answers for their country’s future.
“Even before the president’s death, there had been a time of uncertainty,” said a Christian worker in Venezuela. “Now, with the upcoming elections and all, it’s a culmination of that time of uncertainty.”
In the midst of this uncertainty, evangelicals in Venezuela urge believers worldwide to pray for the country’s April 14 presidential election.
“The most pressing thing is to pray that the election will be held in a peaceful manner, that it would be clean, that there wouldn’t be any illegal manipulation,” the Christian worker said. “The most important thing is just for God’s will to be done here, no matter what.”
The political arena in Venezuela is heavily divided, and the president’s death has only widened the rift between the two parties, the Christian worker explained. It’s a conflict he hopes is temporary.
“It’s a matter of praying that God would just keep His hand on Venezuela,” the worker said, “and that this would all be done peacefully and that both factions of Venezuela can begin to come together after 15 years of being polarized.”
In the midst of the political tension, evangelicals across Venezuela — including Venezuelan Baptists — are striving to seek God’s will for their nation.
“We [Venezuelan believers] are learning a lot in the midst of this situation,” said Alexander Montero, general director of the National Baptist Convention of Venezuela.
“[We are learning] to draw near to God and to look for His guidance, to be aware of the political, social and economic changes that are happening in the country, but, on the other hand, to not ‘faint’ or become discouraged for any reason but just the opposite — to strengthen our efforts on the national and the international levels,” Montero said.
Prayer has formed the cornerstone of evangelicals’ response during the past few weeks. Soon after Chavez’s death, the Consejo Evangélico de Venezuela (The Evangelical Council of Venezuela), a Venezuelan organization of evangelicals including the National Baptist Convention of Venezuela, issued a statement offering condolences to the president’s family and all Venezuelans and calling for Christians to pray for peace and unity in their nation.
Venezuelan Baptists also issued their own statement in response to the event.
“The National Baptist Convention of Venezuela offers their words of condolence and comfort for the family members, friends, and followers of the president in this time of grief,” the statement said. “The Lord is in control of our nation, and we call for continued prayer for our nation in these times, and that we might be light and that we may demonstrate the love of God.”
That call — from Venezuelan Baptists and other evangelicals — has not diminished in the weeks since.
“There’s definitely been a call for prayer,” the Christian worker said. “The [Evangelical Council of Venezuela] has hosted two or three times of praying and fasting. So there is a call to pray, and especially for the Gospel to be preached and for churches to be planted during this time.”
Montero said, “What we asked was that in each service that the [Venezuelan Baptist] churches have [that] there be a time of intercession especially for the country and the situation we are living in as a result of the death of the president.
“There has been very strong aggressive, divisive rhetoric here recently and the brethren are coming together right now to pray, to intercede before God so that there could be peace in this situation and a peaceful, normal resolution,” Montero said.
While political rivalry often can be a tempting battle to enter, the main focus for Venezuelan Christians should be reaching others with the Gospel, said a Christian worker.
“The hard part for evangelical Christians here is to not be sucked in on one side or the other,” the worker said. “But I have to keep coming back to say, it doesn’t matter if there is a change or not. Christ is the solution. The solution for Venezuela’s problems are spiritual, and this is a spiritual battle. The problems will not be solved politically, they’ll be solved by people’s hearts being changed by the Lord.”
Meanwhile, the need for prayer stretches beyond Venezuela’s borders as believers across the country ask fellow Christians around the world to intercede for their nation.
“First of all, the prayer should be for wisdom for those who are government leaders, those who are going to be in front at this time of transition,” Montero said. “Especially pray for all the churches and each individual church, that each church in its respective city and neighborhood could adequately attend the people in the community. There are many people, followers of the president who have been very affected emotionally and the churches need to accompany these people in their grief.”
The National Baptist Convention of Venezuela will move ahead with its plans for the future regardless of the nation’s political situation, Montero said.
“At this moment there are approximately 600 traditional Baptist churches organized and affiliated with the convention,” he said. “In addition to these, there are approximately 300 missions and churches in homes, small groups in formation. In truth, God has blessed us in this endeavor and we continue ahead toward the year 2015 with the goal of reaching 1,500 congregations including traditional churches, home churches and missions by the year 2015, the Lord willing.”
Emily Pearson served as an IMB writer in the Americas. Maria Elena Baseler, an IMB writer/editor in the Americas, contributed to this story. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).