Chapter 13 - Triumphs of the Gospel in Las Quiguas and San Esteban

Chapter 13 - Triumphs of the Gospel in Las Quiguas and San Esteban
“How ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” I Thessalonians 1:9

Just prior to my arrival in Venezuela, a remarkable work of grace had developed out of a small beginning. Las Quiguas was a rural settlement in the hills to the south of Puerto Cabello, in those days accessible only on foot, horse or donkey. One followed the course of the San Esteban river upstream for about two-and-a-half hours. The major crops in that place were coffee and cocoa, besides fruits and vegetables. The Ramos family was large and had prospered. The father one day, whilst working on his plantation, noticed a bread-fruit tree with one of its superficial roots resembling a human form. He severed it with his machete and took it to a carpenter friend, asking him to make a “saint” out of it. They wanted a “virgin of Carmen”, the “saint” that is supposed to get the souls out of purgatory, so when the carpenter had finished his work, one of the daughters gave her blond hair for the image. A yearly feast was then established in honor of the “virgin”, consisting of prayers, promises, liquor and revelry. A foster son in the family called Francisco excelled in those feasts, as he would dance with bells fastened to his shoes and was a born clown. He was much given to strong drink and when he took his produce to town he would invariably come back drunk. On such a one God set His heart and in His own way brought him out of darkness into light.

Francisco began getting his light drill suits made by a godly sister living in the Port. When she sent off the suits she put Gospel tracts in the pockets for him to read. Then one day a colporteur visited the settlement selling the Scriptures. A New Testament for ten cents attracted his attention and he thought it would be a help to his boys in learning to read, as there was no school there, so he purchased the book. Curiosity compelled him to examine the contents, but when he came to Mark 16:16 the solemn words: “He that believeth not shall be damned” filled him with fear so that he closed the book and put it on a shelf. But the words were engraved on his mind so that he had no rest until he opened the book again. This time he came across the arresting words of John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Holy Spirit began to work on his troubled conscience and he retired for the night thinking upon those wonderful words. His wife was sleeping on a canvas bed in the same room and in the early morning he startled her by calling out: “Sinforosa (her name), I am saved, I have everlasting life.” She severely scolded him for waking her up; asked him if he had gone crazy, and to go to sleep again. But he was filled with joy and by daylight started out for the family home to break the good news to his foster mother and the rest of the grown up family. However, he was due for disappointment; they considered him a heretic and treated him as if he were a smallpox case, ordering him to leave immediately. He found discouragement on every hand but the root of the matter was in him and he persevered. When he passed the family residence he would leave a tract in the porch. The marvelous change in his life did more to convince the family than his words; they began to read the tracts and finally got interested in the Gospel. Then brethren Williams and Johnston were invited to visit them and the work of saving grace began. The religious old foster mother, Sra. Maria, confessed Christ as her Saviour, likewise three daughters and their husbands, also another married daughter whose husband remained unsaved. Francisco saw his own wife saved and mainly through the testimony of those young believers a large number were brought to Christ. It was an impressive sight to see the neighbours coming down the hillside trails at night with their palm torches lit because of the danger of poisonous reptiles. I had the privilege of being at their first conference in 1923, when brotherly love was seen in the hearty way they attended to the feeding of so many visitors, and also their love for the Word as it was ministered to them in those humble environments.
Some years later a rich and influential man purchased those regions, including the land occupied by the Christians. They were remunerated for the improvements which they had made on their small holdings and with the proceeds, some of them purchased homes in the village of San Esteban. Previous to this, Mr. Johnston and I had been invited to preach in a home in San Esteban where the family was sympathetic to the Gospel. An unscrupulous man who operated a drink shop in the village, upon hearing of this intention, arranged with some of his customers to give them free drinks if they would bombard the house whilst the meeting was going on.

Mr. Johnston and I started off in the late afternoon on foot for the village and at the top of the hill we overtook a group of men carrying a sick woman on a heavy stretcher bed. They were enemies of the Gospel and upon seeing us they began to look for stones and sticks with the intention of beating us up. As they passed cottages along the way they shouted to the people in their doorways: “Here come the Protestants; we are going to punish them.” The men who were carrying the sick person got tired and let down their burden. Then Mr. Johnston suggested to me that we put our shoulders under one end and share the load with them. They had no objection so we carried out our friendly act. At the next stop when we let two others take over, the atmosphere had changed completely; sticks and stones had been thrown away and we were heartily thanked for our help. We thus proved the effectiveness of the divine principle: “If thine enemy hunger, feed him” etc., “for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” Some of our Christians came up to the meeting in a rented car, and many of the villagers wanted to hear the Gospel. The room was filled with people and others stood outside at the open windows and doors. The respect and attention was good but suddenly those wicked men in ambush behind a hedge, began to stone the house. A small girl ran out to see what was happening and a stone made an ugly gash in her scalp. The civil authority lost his head and rushed up and down the street on his mule shouting excitedly and doing little good. The meeting was closed; the visitors returned in the rented car, but brother Johnston and I were the last to leave, carrying a gas lamp to lighten the way. We had just reached the outskirts of the village when from behind the hedges on either side of the road we were pelted with green limes, so putting out the light we ran the gauntlet. A little farther on we found the road blocked. The Governor of the district had arrived with a carload of armed policemen and was rounding up all the men they could lay hands on. One young man, who later was saved and became an elder in the assembly, protested that he was neither Roman Catholic nor evangelical but he was pushed into the double ranks formed. Then Mr. Johnston and I went to take our place with the rest but the Governor told us to keep out as we were foreigners. The arrested ones were then marched off to the government building in the Port where they were detained all night and released the next day. Next morning we presented ourselves to the Governor and he said that there were to be no more meetings in San Esteban on account of the riot that the preaching had stirred up. We reminded him that the constitution of the Republic guaranteed religious liberty but he was adamant, so we had to give up the effort for the time being.

However, God had other means of reaching the people of that village. Some years later, when the Christians from Las Quiguas moved there, their friendly attitude and good testimony gained the confidence and respect of the villagers and broke down the antipathy towards the Gospel. The brethren approached me about making a special Gospel effort, so I took Mr. Williams’ old tent and began meetings. From the beginning there was encouragement and two weeks later when Mr. and Mrs. Williams returned from the North he was happy to join me, so altogether we had seven weeks of meetings. There was quite a remarkable awakening; many were moved to tears, people were loathe to go home as the fear of God was upon them, but we preferred to let the Holy Spirit do His own work without hurrying people into a profession. One young man, son of earnest Christians was beginning to gravitate towards the world. God spoke to him in the meetings and one night his parents sent word to us to come to their house, where we found the young man terribly concerned about his soul. The previous night he had dreamed of the coming of the Lord and the awful end that would be his without Christ. It was a case of the seeking Saviour and the seeking sinner meeting and we all rejoiced together over the lost sheep found. He has gone on well all these years; is an elder in an assembly, can give a good word in the Gospel and has been associated with Sunday School work. Shortly after the tent meetings were over a virulent epidemic began in the village, a number of people moved to other parts, and from our upstairs rooms we could see funeral corteges coming over the hill to the cemetery daily. It was not unusual to get word that one and another of the deceased were young people who had attended the meetings but when almost persuaded, through fear of the consequences, had drawn back “unto perdition” (Hebrews 10:39). How incalculably solemn for a soul to take the backward step when on the threshold of salvation, when there is “only a step to Jesus, 0 why not take it now?” It seems that God gave that people a fair opportunity of being saved ere the calamity struck the village. In due time, eighteen of those who professed faith in Christ during the meetings were baptized in the new hall which was built under Mr. Williams’ supervision, as a result of that time of blessing.

Mention has been made of Senora Maria de Ramos, foster mother of Francisco the converted clown, who was instrumental in leading souls to Christ in Las Quiguas, and became a devoted shepherd of the flock. She lived to a ripe old age, a happy and consecrated Christian, and it was the writer’s privilege to take the funeral service in San Esteban. In addition to the large family circle present, a great number of villagers came to show their respect for the departed one. As the hymn: “Safe in the arms of Jesus” was being sung many could not restrain the tears, and we have seldom been present at such a heart melting funeral. The hearse was on hand to receive the coffin but there were so many men anxious to carry it as a token of their esteem for her, that the coach had to move slowly ahead, with men in relays carrying the coffin on their shoulders. For four miles, a huge crowd followed on foot over a dusty, stony road, under a tropical sun, then over the hilltop to the cemetery, and the hearse empty all the way! The assembly has been seriously depleted by so many moving away to other parts but the Head of the Church has not allowed the light of testimony to go out.