Hitting Pay-Dirt: Gold in South America

by Dr. Waylon B. Moore

Reaching business professionals with the Gospel is a tough assignment in any country. And Venezuela, where I was privileged to teach recently, is no exception! Spanish explorers landed here in the early 1500's hoping to find gold. Their Catholic priests wanted to “Christianize” the population. The first large wooden cross that touched shore with the Conquistadors can be found on display, along with 400-year-old family homes that have lasted through wars and pirate invasions.

Flying into busy Caracas airport, I caught a flight to Coro, a desert-like city with sand dunes on the north coast. My host was a former lawyer, missionary Mike Bennett. Mike and his wife Jan, along with three other IMB couples in the nation, target business professionals — these nation-shapers are the new “gold” to be “mined,” won and mentored in this land. Business professionals are a neglected people group. “People group” is the term that the Baptist International Mission Board and other mission agencies use to designate population segments that will go unreached unless they benefit from creative evangelistic emphases.

During the 10 days I was in Venezuela I traveled through three cities. I saw some successful methods working so that dozens of families are beginning to respond to Christ as Savior and Lord. For instance, Dr. Harold Finch, an inventor and millionaire from Kansas City and a former NASA engineer, has been in Venezuela training businessmen with conferences. God is using him in a link-up with our IMB staff to teach thousands through his week-long courses. They cover topics such as principles of business success, financial management, leadership training, and then the Bible as a source for wisdom and family health.

The first two days, I taught mentoring concepts in a rented restaurant. Our colorful, Mentoring Workshop PowerPoint presentation, designed by Missions Unlimited Board member Larry Chadwell, grabbed hearts in its Spanish translation. Sometimes when I spoke too fast, Aurora, my interpreter and a businesswoman, would pinch my back: “Slow down!” The business people there were so hungry and responsive. Some were new Christians. Later the electricity stopped, because of a downpour. (Rain is so rare there that sometimes people refuse to walk in the rain to work!) But I kept speaking until we had lights and air conditioning again. They were so affirming with clapping, laughter, and many gracious words.

Barquisimeto

Sam and Lisa Paris (kids: Samuel and Andrea) formerly ministered in California, to a mixed congregation of new believers and older members, before God called them here. Sam arrived in his pickup truck to take me to Barquisimeto. He filled our travel time with wonderful stories of winning men to Christ. We drove through a lush valley. Surrounding us were low mountains and villages as we drove. Farther south in Venezuela one can visit Angel Falls, the tallest waterfalls in the world. Mountains at 16,000 feet are being carved out by an ice glacier that never melts!

The next morning I did some prayer walking from my hotel through the city's crowded streets. I had learned some interesting facts about Venezuelan lifestyle and politics. First, 40% of the employed people also have an entrepreneurial business, such as selling things along the streets. There one may barter for shirts, fruit, gum, and toys, spread out on cardboard in front of closed stores. Venezuela women are the No. 1 buyers of cosmetics in the world! They are very well-groomed and elegant in their dress.

The new President of Venezuela is an astute, winsome political talker, and a Communist. He considers Castro his hero. This President is educating the people with multi-hour speeches on all radio stations at night (I found no music) and during the prime time on TV. The government sells oil to America, and uses it as a political chess piece with Latin American nations. The President appoints all the governors of the states, and every important official. Over 300,000 Venezuelan leaders and families have fled to Miami, or have pre-applied for American visitors cards.

In that dominant Catholic culture, witnessing is very difficult if they think you are an “evangelical.” So, Baptists say “we are Baptists” and the door is open to share Christ. I met our Bibles, books and literature missionaries, Leon and Jean Champion, living in Valencia. They minister from our largest Christian book depository in Latin America.

On this whirlwind schedule I tried to share as many “goodies” in the field of mentoring as Lisa Paris could keep up with in her interpreting. Speaking at the First Baptist Church, I shared the following key messages: The people were “with me” the whole time, and I felt that the pastors attending were especially encouraged.

Margarita Island

To get to the islands meant a long flight back to Caracas, then taking a plane loaded with families on holiday. Perry and Brenda Walker fit in great here, having grown up in Argentina as MK's (missionary kids). What a caring bunch they are with three friendly kids. We ate marvelous fresh bread sandwiches for lunch, with mango slices, and then Spanish Flan for dessert.

Perry is the Strategy Coordinator for both the Professional Marketplace Team, and University Evangelism Team. Perry has known Brenda since he was 12. Years later they met up again in the States. He was a single pastor in Oklahoma, taking seminary extension classes. He said, “We met almost by accident and ‘zing’. . . . We married 10 weeks later!”

On Margarita Island live about 300,000 inhabitants plus tourists much of the year. When a fresh water pipe was first laid from Venezuela across the ocean floor, the islands held only 40,000 people. There is now a water shortage; it runs only a few hours a week. Many homes quickly pipe water into their storage tanks on the roof. Water trucks drive up and down streets, and all others get in line with buckets.

Missionaries Bob and Anita Moore also minister on the island Team. Bob is the computer guru. He has a real heart to help some terribly neglected, government prisoners. Without medical or dental help, they find themselves locked up for years, live or die. Bob had recently attended the funeral service of a foreign prisoner who died tragically. He was one of the first that Bob was able to lead to Christ there, and he was baptized in a special footlocker! About 15 prayed with him to receive Christ. Most of the men who attended the Bible studies were men whom the now deceased prisoner had brought. Bob called the man's wife in Canada, and assured her that he was in heaven.

I was thrilled to discover that they use our Gospel of John lessons (similar to First Steps ) with great success in initial Bible study groups! Some years back Dr. Wade Akins, with the International Mission Board, asked Missions Unlimited to edit our First Steps series specifically for a Catholic audience. In this culture the Team found they are getting solid commitments to Christ using just the first four of the seven lessons we wrote.

Perry has developed a new series of one-page lessons each on 40 key topics, including a daily devotional guide. They are carefully leading those men and families who receive Christ from the “pointed steeple church” concept to a family “house cell-church” model. While doing one of the series on the church, the group members began saying out loud to each other with surprise, “Say, we are a church now!” And Perry smiled with joy.

The last night I taught 45 people in a little church in a strip mall. We turned chairs sideways so I had people on all sides. Many attending were new believers. Perry started everything off playing a great guitar in duet with a new 21-year-old volunteer from the South who will work with students in evangelism and discipleship. Knowing my wife Clemmie was having surgery soon, the group circled my chair and prayed for 10 minutes.

The Professional Team is praying and planning for a large “crusade” in Caracas this next year. They expect over 3,000 men to register for the Success Courses taught by Dr. Finch and others. Note: Both Perry Walker and Mike Bennett will be at the Missions Conference (October) in Tampa Bay at Bell Shoals Baptist Church. If you speak Spanish as a Business man, come and talk with them! Our four missionary couples are praising God for His “gold” being mined in hearts all over Venezuela.

Pray!

Pray for the five families, the new believers, the hundreds of business personnel who have heard the gospel, and the President of Venezuela.

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