Chapter 11 - Puerto Cabello

Chapter 11 - Puerto Cabello
Development of a Great Work From a Small Beginning
“What hath God wrought!” Numbers 23:23

Before our esteemed fellow-laborer, Mr. William Williams, arrived in Venezuela, several different persons had been commended from assemblies in the homelands for work here. One of these, Mr. Arthur Shallis, whom the writer met in England years ago, came in the time of Mr. James Brown and made his home in Valencia. Old Sra. Ramona, one of the first in the original assembly in that city, used to refer to him as “a true shepherd” but he did not stay long; he switched to Spain. We once met in Liverpool another missionary, a Mr. Thomas, one of the first to go to Valencia, who told me how he used to rise at daybreak, climb to the top of the hill that overlooks the city, and there pray for the fanatical inhabitants. His stay in Venezuela was also short. In Liverpool he took me to see old Mrs. James Brown, in a nursing home. She loved the work in Venezuela but had to leave when her husband was recalled and disciplined by his home assembly.

 

Mr. & Mrs. G.G. Johnston

 


Mr. & Mrs. Williams
Our fellow laborer passed away August 11, 1961

 


Funeral of William Williams leaving Gospel hall Puerto Cabello

When brother Williams arrived in Valencia in the year 1910; the assembly was small and in a tottering condition. There was internal strife amongst the natives, and it came to an untimely end. Mr. and Mrs. Johnston arrived in 1912, and soon after our two brethren turned their attention to Puerto Cabello, where they found the people more friendly disposed towards the Gospel. They rented a small corner store building and visited the homes. The work proceeded unostentatiously without any high-pressure methods and souls began to profess faith in Christ. When the genuine cases had been given time to prove that they had the root of the matter, they were baptized and gathered in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. A small assembly was formed and our brethren were encouraged to begin building a Gospel Hall, with very limited means and none of the modern time savers available. They broke coral rock for the concrete walls, and the passers-by were astonished to see men of their social standing doing that kind of labor, so the Christians there got the nickname, “Stone Breakers”, and, for years after, insolent street Arabs would shout this word after us as we would be out walking. As the work proceeded the Lord supplied the need, so the brethren continued until they had made a second story for living quarters. After that they saw the need of adding school rooms, for a day school, and the largest of these was used for the Sunday afternoon Bible Class, which by 1922 had reach
 

ed an average attendance of about forty-five persons.
From Puerto Cabello, the mother assembly, the work had branched out by 1922 to Las Quiguas, San Felipe, Albarico and Aroa. By 1934 the original hall in Puerto Cabello could not hold the people so an old property on a main street was purchased, with ample room for a large hall and space at the back for other needs. Mr. Williams ably directed the construction with the hearty collaboration of brethren S. J. Saword, Bertie Douglas, Eddie Fairfield and J. R. Linares.


Mrs. Sadie Walmsley and staff of four teachers at entrance of Evangelical Day School, Puerto Cabello
 
 
 


Some scholars of our Evangelical School, Puerto Cabello
 

Half a dozen old men and boys had full time employment breaking stones for the concrete work, and single brethren willingly offered themselves for unskilled labor. There were sisters who kindly volunteered to cook and serve the meals, with refreshments at intervals. Our wives also had their full share of the work.
When the assembly moved out of the old hall it was taken over by the college which had been steadily growing larger, and now there are four good sized class rooms together and there is an overflow of beginners who form a large class in the new dining rooms behind the present Gospel Hall.

Before closing our chapter on the old Hall, we believe our readers would like to hear the stories of at least two of those who were saved whilst we were in the old Hall. Beniclo Romero was a builder by trade and was in spiritual darkness. A friend gave him a New Testament, which he began to read. Upon reaching Matthew 8 and verse 22, he could not understand what those words meant: “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead.” He had heard people say that the dead walk about at night and for that reason did not like passing a cemetery after dark. So finally he came to the Gospel hall to have the difficulty cleared up. There he learned that he himself was spiritually dead and that only by receiving Christ as his Saviour could he obtain life. He had a genuine experience of conversion, and lived a number of years after to prove it, becoming an able elder in the assembly.

Gertrudes Chuello was another miracle of grace. He was living an ungodly life with little thought about eternal matters, but someone gave him an old hymn book, which he carried with him in his pocket. One Lord’s Day morning he was on his way to buy a gallon of wine for a feast in his house. As he passed the open door of our hall and saw the saints entering for the remembrance feast, he felt the urge to enter too. After hiding his wine jar outside, he took a back seat inside. When the opening hymn was announced he took the hymn book out of his pocket and found the number, it being a Spanish translation of the English hymn: “0 Christ what burdens bowed Thy head; our load was laid on Thee; Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead, Bear’st all my ill for me,” etc.

He followed word by word and line by line as the glorious truth of atonement burst upon his soul and he could not hold back the tears of contrition and repentance. At the close of the meeting he slipped quietly out, forgot all about his wine jar, and walked down the street looking for a vacant lot where he could turn aside and on his knees accept Christ as his Saviour and Lord; and so without human help, Gertrudes passed from death unto life that morning. He became a very exercised Christian and was especially used of God in individual work.

Another remarkable case of conversion in those early days (in 1926) was that of Don Benito Estrono. He had been a political prisoner in the Castillo Libertador, which stands at the entrance to the Puerto Cabello harbor, for six years and three months. When he entered the prison he took with him a small image of “the Virgin of Carmen”, to which Roman Catholic “saint” is attributed the power to get the souls out of purgatory. Of course he reasoned that if the saint could do that “she” could get him out of prison, so he kept candles lit before the image for six years. Then another prisoner gave him a Gospel according to John and this was his first acquaintance with the Gospel message. Thus a deep longing was created in his soul, and as he spoke to other prisoners of what he had read, somebody gave him a New Testament. Without any help except from God, he found peace through believing. He confessed his faith to some of his confidential friends and readthe Scriptures to them. What the “Virgin of Carmen” could not do for him in six years, the grace of God was able to do, for three months later he was set free. He made a bee-line for our house and we rejoiced with him. He then expressed a desire to be baptized, so we questioned him regarding his past life and he confessed that he had abandoned his wife thirty years previously, and up to the time of his arrest was living with another woman. This latter person had gotten away with everything he had left behind. We counseled him to get reconciled with his wife, and he was able to locate her in Valencia and she was happy to go back to him. Later she was saved and in due course both were baptized. Don Benito found it difficult to get work as the only offers were to manage businesses where strong drink was sold; the kind of employment he had followed prior to his imprisonment. We encouraged him to have patience and wait upon God, Who would provide “a clean job” for him in due time. God honored his faith and he found employment as a night watchman with the Shell Oil Company in Valencia. He was free during the day to do tract work and to the end of his days was a faithful witness to others of the Gospel.

The new hall was so ample that it was decided to put up a partition and only use part of it, but in time the partition was removed and on special occasions the hall gets completely filled. At conference times, when there have been nearly 650 believers present to Break Bread, it is necessary to remove the platform and the large screen at the entrance and even with close seating there is an overflow which has to be taken care of in the anteroom and the dining room. There are usually several candidates for baptism at conferences and this takes place on the Saturday night, when many unsaved help to swell the crowd in attendance, and the Gospel is faithfully preached. At such times the Spirit’s presence is felt and souls are brought to Christ.

With the increase of population, suburbs grew up all around which afforded new opportunities for evangelization. This would usually begin in a humble way with cottage meetings and souls getting saved. Also, believers would move into the neighborhood and in due time there would be material for the forming of an assembly. Thus in Puerto Cabello, a city of 100,000 inhabitants, there is now the central assembly and four suburban assemblies.

THE HOME FOR AGED SAINTS

Another example of how God puts His seal of approval on small beginnings when they are for His glory, is the Home. A good many years ago some of the Lord’s people began to have a concern for elderly and invalid saints in Assembly fellowship who were passing through very trying circumstances. The government made no provision for old age and some elderly saints were amongst unsaved relatives who did not show much interest in them. First a few sisters got exercised in prayer and in laying aside systematically of their means. Then the brethren began cottage prayer meetings (on their knees) and also had an offering for that special purpose. At first there were many objections to beginning a Home for the Aged. Some said it wasn’t like building a Gospel Hall, as when the work on that was finished there would be no more expenses, whereas it would be the opposite with a Home: the expenses then would really begin! Then we had several pathetic cases of old saints suffering through sheer neglect, and so objectors were silenced. In 1951, we were able to purchase a house beside the hall and begin by receiving a few of the most deserving cases. One old veteran sister, who had been a burden to herself and to others, and who was praying that the Lord would take her ‘‘Home’’ was the first to be received into the HOME. It was not long before she changed her mind and wanted to stay down here a little longer, as she was enjoying “a little bit of Heaven upon earth”!

 


Miss Edith Gulston celebrating her 80th birthday, June 3, 1973 and still in active service.

Miss Edith Gulston took charge of this Home, and in the course of time it was necessary to build an annex to take care of the increased numbers. Mr. William Williams supervised the construction, which was done mostly with volunteer labor.

For several years the assembly had owned a large piece of land on the outskirts of the city, on higher ground, overlooking the sea front to the north, and mountains to the south; an ideal site for the Home. A rustic building of corrugated roof and sides had been erected thereon to begin a Gospel testimony. Blessing followed, both in the Sunday School and adult work, so in due course an assembly was formed, which meant a hive-off from the “mother assembly.” At last all felt it was time to build a more suitable Home, as the accommodation in the old one was insufficient for the steady expansion of the work. Our brother, Mr. John Frith, was willing to assume the chief responsibility, but befor& this could begin, the temporary Gospel hall had to be removed and a new one built at the extreme end of the site. This was no small undertaking, especially for those who intended to stay through with the job. The two buildings took up the full frontage of 164 feet, and a tremendous amount of leveling had to be done as the rear of the buildings cut into a steep hill and much solid rock. Brethren and sisters, young and old worked hard at nights with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows.

The chief construction man was Hildebrando Gil, one of our Venezuelan fellow-laborers. He was early on the job each morning, put in full hours and did not spare himself. Other servants of the Lord contributed
 
 

 


Meeting held at opening of Home for Aged Saints. This hall is beside Home
 
 

 

 

also of their time and talents as unto the Lord. One brother who works in the National Shipyards, made 100 doors in his spare time, etc. Bus loads of brethren came at holiday time to “add their grain of sand” to the work. Two brethren went early every morning to buy the daily food for the men, and this was cooked and served by sisters as a ministry of love.

 


Home for Aged Saints, Puerto Cabello

All could be summed up as “a work of faith and labor of love.” It is also a standing monument to the fact that we have a prayer hearing and answering God; and a practical demonstration of the brotherly love of saints in making such a sacrifice on behalf of the needy ones of the household of faith. Work began the end of January 1967, with the laying of sewerage and water pipe lines, which had to cross the street; the full length of a neighbor’s garden, suspended over a gulley and connected with the mains on the next street, which presented many difficulties. The old folks were transferred to the new Home in August 1968. There still remained much to be done but through the goodness of our Heavenly Father, all was finally completed.

 


STAFF—From Left to right: Misses Isabel Macdonald, Edith K. J. Gulston, Isabel Perkins and Lily Frith

The Lord has been better to us than all our fears. The buildings were finished free from debt, and there has never been a lack of what is necessary to provide for running and overhead expenses.

In conclusion, we take this opportunity of mentioning the names of sisters, in addition to Miss Edith Gulston, who from the beginning have had a practical hand in the work. They are Miss Doris White, now Mrs. Lloyd Rees, whose heart and soul was in the work, but who through sickness had to retire. Mrs. William Williams also has devoted some of her time when necessary. Then the following named, some for short periods, others for longer: Misses Ethel Kane, Ruth Thompson, Gladys Nafzger and Louise Gillies. At present Miss Gulston has the help of the Misses Isabel Macdonald, Florence Ronald, Lilly Frith and M. Isa-belle Perkins, R. N. For more than a year, Mrs. Alice Thomson has given of her practical experience and time to this ministry. There are also some dedicated Venezuelan sisters on the staff who have become very efficient in their respective duties. The prayers of the Lord’s people are greatly valued in this connection in order to maintain a happy and spiritual state, both among patients and staff. So we praise the Lord for all that is past, and trust Him for all that’s to come.

 


Miss Ruth Thompson

Donna Slack

 


Miss Florence Ronald
Work amongst needy sisters and children

 


Miss Fanny M. Goff (1937)
School work, translating, colportage valued helper in work of believer’s magazine.
 


S. S. “Sucre”, with cargo of gas cylinders. Picture taken from Saword balcony. A seaman foolishly took a small lighted kerosene lamp down into the hold where there happened to be an escape of gas. There followed a startling conflagration, the excessive heat exploding the cylinders and sending them skywards. The crew fled from the flames and jumped into the sea. A launch came to rescue the survivors. Our suspense was great as the launch started back evidently not noticing one of the seamen floating near to the blazing wreck, but he was noticed and the launch returned to rescue him, to our great relief. How we were reminded of the hymn:

“Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.”