Chapter 26 - State of Zulia

Chapter 26 - State of Zulia

This large and important State in the extreme west of the Republic, borders on Colombia. Many years ago, when the Bolivar Railway shops closed down and many employees were laid off, a Christian machinist was among them. His name is Luis Ruiz, and when Mr. Williams took his tent to Aroa in 1921, this young man was one of the first fruits. His unsaved brother had found work with the Gulf Oil Company in Cabimas, State of Zulia, so Luis decided to go there in search of a job. He was successful, and bought a house in a neighborhood where the people were friendly to the Gospel. He began preaching at night, and the Lord blessed the Word to the saving of souls, so that a nice little company was gathered.

Mr. Eddie Fairfield and I were exercised about visiting them, and we started out on the long journey westward by stages, calling at Tucacas, El Mene, Belen, Mirimire, Montana de Tocopero and Puerto Cumarebo. From there we made our way to Coro and found an opportunity to travel west to Cabimas. A light truck had been fitted out with boards crosswise for seats, with a canvass canopy. We obtained places for ourselves and soon the “bus” was filled with passengers, and we left the city about 5 P. M. The owner sat beside the driver and they stopped along the way at different hamlets. This afforded me an opportunity of giving out tracts, and the owner, in a friendly way, encouraged the country folk to read them.

In our row was an old wizened woman smoking a big cigar. She puffed away until the end was glowing red, then she reversed the cigar and put the hot end in her mouth, at the same time blowing clouds of smoke through her nostrils. She entertained herself in this way to relieve the monotony of the trip. Soon some of the male passengers were producing flasks of rum and passing them around for everyone to take a swig. The young driver joined in the drinking until Mr. Fairfield and I called him to task, reminding him that he was responsible for the lives of all those passengers. He respected our protest and took no more drink; but then the owner of the truck started to drink and the alcohol soon went to his head. He stopped the truck, stretched out on the ground and soon fell asleep. We had to patiently wait till he came round again, and it was then quite dark and we were just following the tracks of other vehicles. We came to a narrow rustic bridge without protection on the sides, and if that driver had not stopped drinking in time, there would have been the real danger of going off the bridge. As it was getting late, they decided to stop for a few hours and let everyone get a little sleep. Eddie and I got out our hammocks and slung them from the branches of a tree. Underneath us was a “carpet” of cactus, so we hoped we would not fall out of our hammocks!

Next morning we thought we could see a vast sheet of water in the distance, glimmering in the sun. The driver joked with the passengers, saying that we would be eating fried fish at noon, but it was a mirage and as we advanced, so the supposed water receded, and we never caught up with it, nor did we eat fried fish! In Cabimas we were taken to the home of a brother; a small, wooden hut, situated right in the oil fields. Not far from us was an oil well in operation, with a great flame rising from a pipe, burning the natural gas to avoid an explosion. The natural atmosphere in those parts is sultry at lake level, but these flames greatly increase the temperature. In our afternoon siesta we cast off all unnecessary clothing ere getting into our hammocks.

Sectarian missions had already been established which meant that progress so far as the assembly was concerned was slow, but an occasional visit from preachers greatly helped the attendance of unsaved. Later on, when roads were opened, Mr. Fairfield and I took a volunteer gang of brethren to Cabimas to build a small Hall, which served the purpose for several years, until it was possible to put up a more expensive building.

Sometime after, Mr. Williams suggested to me another trip there, so we went in my Jeep station wagon. As we sat around the Lord’s Table waiting for the hour to begin the “Remembrance Feast”, a group of well dressed people entered the Hall. They had come from the big city of Maracaibo, on the other side of the lake, so that with a bus trip on both sides, and the ferry across the lake, it would have taken them more than an hour and a half. They had been in contact with brethren, who had shown them from Scripture the truth of gathering to the Lord’s name alone; and they had come to witness how we were accustomed to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The simplicity and order that they saw fully satisfied them that it was the place where they should be.

In Maracaibo there was a widow named Rosa. When her husband died, she left the arranging of the funeral and service to the priest, and he didn’t spare her as far as expenses were concerned. Her husband had been a builder and they had a nice house compared to their neighbors, but it took her all her time to raise sufficient funds to have a special mass sung, in the Cathedral, for his soul a year later. After the act she went to settle with the priest and his fee took every cent she had in her purse. She asked him if he could let her have twenty cents to pay the bus fares back to her home, and he replied that he could not, as all the money had to go to the Pope! (a lie).

As she walked out of the Cathedral not knowing what to do, there was a policeman at the door on duty, so she told him her tale of woe; and what the priest, as representative of grace, would not do, the policeman as representative of the law, readily responded by giving her forty cents. After that, the few Christians who were living near her house, approached her about renting her front room for Gospel meetings. Sheer necessity led her to agree, and when the meetings were about to start, one of our brethren from Caracas, who had secured a contract to install some modern bakers’ ovens in the city, arrived and was a great help in the meetings. Senora Rosa, the widow, was afraid to enter the room, but she stood at the window and listened.  The message was like balm to a wounded soul and she was one of the first to confess Christ.

 

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Formation of Assembly in Maracaibo. Elderly brother in Front (wearing glasses), Manuel Jimenez, has outstanding gift for ministry and the Gospel.

When Mr. Williams and I visited Maracaibo, we found the work well established, and after having some meetings, we felt led to consider the forming of an assembly. A baptistry was built in a brother’s yard and on a Saturday night we baptized sixteen believers. We wondered how the unsaved neighbors would behave during the meeting, as we had to preach in the yard with rather poor light and no walls or fences around. There was insufficient seating for all the neighbors who came, but there was the best of order from beginning to end. On the Lord’s day morning, the table was set up and a nice number in fellowship remembered the Lord in His death. Amongst those who sat behind was a midwife from the town of El Rosario, whom Christian friends had brought with them. She could not refrain her tears as she witnessed the solemn ordinance, and the same day confessed Christ as her Saviour. Prior to this, she had not very commendable antecedents, but a wonderful change was then seen in her life.
Several of those baptized had come from La Villa del Rosario, a town fifty-four miles west of Maracaibo. Years previously, some Capuchin monks from Spain had made an agreement with the government to “Christianize” the uncivilized Indians in that territory. Although there is religious liberty in Venezuela, those monks would not tolerate the activities of any evangelical body in that town, and strangely enough, the government stood behind them. One of our Maracaibo brethren, a tailor, began making business trips to that town, selling men’s furnishings and clothing. At the same time he availed himself of opportunities to introduce the Gospel. He is a man “mighty in the Scriptures”, and the Lord blessed his efforts to the salvation of souls. A Saturday night meeting was arranged in the home of one of the new converts, but the monks kept at the government to prohibit the meetings. Some neighbors who lived about two blocks from the usual meeting place, and whose house was hidden in an orange and banana grove, asked the Christians if they could go to their house the following Saturday to have the meeting instead of in the accustomed room. They assured them that there was a number of persons desirous of hearing the Gospel. The brethren consented and made the change. It so happened that the monks prevailed upon the police to raid the usual meeting place that night, but when they got there, all was in darkness. The police thought the Christians must be hiding amongst the trees in the garden but their search was in vain. Then they asked the next door neighbors why there was no meeting, to which they received a reply that the meeting was over and the family had retired for the night. All this time the meeting was going on in the other house. So one could discern the hand of God behind it all. After this, the chief of police lost patience with the monks as there was a natural antipathy towards the foreigner. He called the brethren and told them they could have their meetings, but preferably in different homes, so that it would not be considered a permanent work, and that the number present should be limited to twenty-five. The brethren thanked the Lord for having obtained this measure of liberty, and different families opened their homes on different nights for meetings. The monks still tried to hinder the spread of the Gospel, and one night took a policeman to where a meeting was to be held. They stayed in their car on the highway and sent the policeman up to where the meeting was in progress. An extra large number of people had gathered, so the policeman called the attention of a brother to the fact that there were more than twenty-five present, to which the brother replied that he had forgotten to count them! The friendly policeman said he would not say anything about it and left them in peace. Later on there were some very ugly charges of immorality against the monks, and public opinion turned against them.

At last, full religious liberty was restored, and Mr. Donald Alves assumed the responsibility, with the help of the brethren, of building a very nice Gospel Hall, in which the assembly has been meeting since the year 1961. During their thirteen years of residence in Maracaibo, Mr. and Mrs. Neal R. Thomson took a special interest in that work and in the believers. They also had a major part in the beginning of the work in Zipayarre, an agricultural community where there is a small assembly, which is quite a distance from Maracaibo.

In recent years a young man, Cristian Chirinos, who has a wife and family, was commended to the work of the Lord. He is a good Gospel preacher and has gift as a teacher. He not only is active in meetings in and around the big city of Maracaibo, but also in other parts of the west. Manuel Jimenez, the brother who was so used of God in the beginning of the work in Villa del Rosario, later lost a leg in a bus accident, and, although not formally commended to the Lord’s work, he is now devoting most of his time to the Gospel and ministry.