Hello to all of our faithful friends and family who are on this journey with us. We are so very thankful for each and every one of you that it makes our heart full.
There is a Venezuelan saying that goes, "Your closest family is your neighbor." This simple proverb reminds us to look around and be encouraged. As you know we are in our new place and this past weekend we enjoyed two evening of meals with local friends. We had a great time with our Pastor, Luis Eberto, and his wife, Ingred, and their precious little girl, Karen. We also had dinner with Claudia (from the Holiday Inn) and her family. There was a lot of food, laughter, and more than a few games of hide and seek between the kids and the adults. It is nice not only being in our own place but doing what we love, spending time with friends over a great meal! Life felt a little more normal and a little richer being with new-found friends who are fast becoming family. Karen gets together once a week with the other missionary ladies, most of whom have kids, and to swim or go to a park. Our relationships here are such a great encouragement to have in a new country. Our prayer is that our family will be an encouragement to them as well.
The boys, because you all want to know about the boys, are loving being able to swim daily, walk to the local grocery story a few short blocks away, visit the nearby parks (three big ones all within two blocks!!), and play with friends. Benjamin is picking up Spanish faster than anyone else and now Andrew probably knows more Spanish words than English. Most of the time, he asks for "a'wa, pafffidadada" (that's two-year old speak for "agua, por favor") instead of "water, pwease." Benjamin went swimming for the first time today without a lifejacket, and Karen is working on getting both boys swimming by the end of February. If you know Karen, she has goals!
We had our first date night a couple weeks ago and it was WONDERFUL. Even the taxi ride was enjoyable with not having to worry about Benjamin rolling down the windows and Andrew opening the door while zipping through crazy traffic. The boys had a Colombian babysitter who only spoke Spanish. I wondered if they would be ok (or if SHE would). Kevin just said, Mwahahahaha! We showed her where the ice cream was and turned on Netflix. It was a true blessing to be able to go out and enjoy a meal together. Even in the simple things, we find "it's complicated." Kevin told the cabbie we wanted to go to Anka (a cool open-air pizza café), but we rolled up somewhere else and the cabbie said, "Uh, here you go, but it's closed." Kevin said, "uhhhh, I said Anka, that's Inca." They both laughed saying they learned something new - that there's a restaurant called Anka and a restaurant that WAS called Inca. If you come for a visit and need some good brick-oven pizza, we'll definitely go there.
We are continuing to attend First Baptist Cucuta and Karen is volunteering in the boys class with the pastor's wife. They are kindred spirits and both know how to run a Sunday School! She is already looking forward to teaching and having me translate. She has lots of plans and ideas for the small children's ministry there! This last weekend was the Venezuelan Convention that was hosted here in Cucuta and many pastors attended our service on Sunday with one preaching. It may be a long service, but we are encouraged by the singing, missions, children's ministry, and the preaching. There were five who were baptized as well. God has placed us with a sweet church family.
Kevin has been extremely busy this month. As of January 1, 2019 he has seen an overwhelming number of Venezuelans come to the shelter in La Donjuana. Typically, his shelter holds 300 people a night. Just after Maduro was "re-elected, " the shelter saw up to 1,500 a night!! Folks were sleeping in the kitchen and took up the entire parking lot sleeping on the hard ground as room ran out quickly. The kitchen staff went from making one 20 gallon pot of rich soup to FIVE every day. In addition to the food, medicine, and gas shortages (imagine going into a Kroger or Meijer, and finding only a roll of toilet paper. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that!), so many people are living in fear of the known and the unknown. Fear of the roaming criminal gangs, some that are actually related to the government, fear for finding the next meal for their kids, and fear for wondering what could possibly come next. These fears are etched in many of their faces as they come into the shelter. Kevin learned a simple thing from another missionary - sharing WhatsApp. He started letting folks use his phone and saw people transformed. Parents became visible relaxed after talking to their kids that they left behind with their grandparents. A young teenage boy smiling after talking with his parents to let them know how far they've made it and where they hope to get to next. A small gesture like a phone call opens the door for sharing the love of Christ.
Karen and the boys enjoy taking the 40 minute drive up once a week to see what is going on, meet new friends, and be together. The boys feel very comfortable there and play with any children they see. Karen and the boys even went last week to buy balls, trucks, and jump ropes for the children with money that was donated to us. These things help bring some normalcy to the many children who don't understand what is happening, only that they are walking...walking...walking
Yesterday, as a family, we made the four hour trip up the mountain to Berlin where we have signed a contract to open the second shelter. We are thankful for two men(Ricky and Mike) from SP who are here for two months to help get it up and running.
There are three mini shelters along the way that support the caminantes. Most of these are houses that they open up to feed those walking by and allow them to sleep there. It will take people 5-6 days to go from the La Donjuana shelter to the Berlin Shelter. It was hard to see them walking by and not having the shelter open, but Kevin was able to encourage them and let them know that there was a mini shelter three miles up the road. As a family we bought rolls, bananas, and oranges along the way and Karen did her share of giving it away. We had brought 90 backpacks from the La Donjuana shelter to the Berlin one in case Ricky and Mike saw people who needed them. And, that was what we saw. There was a lady who was dragging a children's suitcase by a broken handle. Ricky was able to present her with a new Samaritan's Purse waterproof backpack and Karen helped her pack it with bread, oranges, and the few items she had. We all enjoyed the cooler temps, the fresh mountain air, and the opportunity to serve together as a family.
"Wars and Rumors of Wars..."
Many of you have emailed us asking questions about what you are hearing on the news in Venezuela. We are emailing many of you asking the same thing. Moms - We live on the Venezuelan border, but feel safe since it is very much internally focused. There is so much uncertainty for what is happening next door. Many of our ministry plans are in motion, but with an eye to our neighbor. At any moment, we could see a mass exodus of Venezuelans fleeing whatever could come next. In a nutshell, it appears the Venezuelan people have swung with enough numbers to potentially resist the current regime and have a leader that is now being recognized throughout the world as the legitimate president. Because of this, strong international pressure is being applied to change the regime and bring about an end to the terrible self-inflicted suffering that is occurring in Venezuela. The country with the biggest oil reserves in the world has become the most dangerous country on the planet with murder rates exceeding the death tolls in the Syrian civil war. Tensions are extremely high within Venezuela with a legitimate fear of a bloody crackdown or even civil war. The sense is that we are just waiting for the spark. The Lord is in control and we pray continually, interceding on behalf of the country in every sense.
Kevin's newest hobby is now dispelling rumors through talking with friends, coworkers, and others. On Saturday when massive anti-government protests were occurring throughout Venezuela, it felt like everything was changing hour by hour. Kevin received a call from Bogota asking about the border becoming militarized with tanks and troops. Kevin was able to dispel that rumor, but then asked him about a rumor in Bogota. Nope - credible, but not true. An hour later, Kevin was contacted by a security manager, "Hey, do you still have contacts at your old home? Can you check with them? I heard there's Navy Seals staying there especially since the USAID guys are here..." While counting Blackhawk helicopters flying overhead and remembering a screaming jet blowing past at 2 a.m., it was a real possibility. A phone call later and it was confirmed. There was a group of burly bearded guys that sounded like the typical Seals stereotype indeed staying there. Kevin reached out to one of his friends "in the know." Turns out the Navy Seals were actually the body guards for a Polish news crew! It's funny in retrospect but it highlights the legitimate tension and activity that's happening here.
Our prayer request currently are:
- God's Peace and Provision in Venezuela and that this crisis causes people to turn towards Christ
- Karen and the boys visas arrive and are processed by 5pm on Friday.
- Wisdom for Kevin as he plans for long-term/ongoing activities while knowing everything could change drastically in a moment
- Opportunities to minister together as a family to friends and neighbors
Thank you for your continued support through donations, prayer, and communication. We love and miss you all.
Kevin & Karen & Benjamin & Andrew
SERVING + SHARING IN JESUS' NAME