Chapter 8 - Heart Warming Conferences in Aroa

Chapter 8 - Heart Warming Conferences in Aroa

“Gather My saints together unto Me; those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice” Psalm 50:5

The second annual three days conference in Aroa, at the Easter weekend of 1923 was to take place two weeks after I moved to San Felipe. There was a train service on Mondays and Thursdays to Aroa, which would have been the easiest way for us to get there, but my host, Don Manuel, wanted to try the long hike over the mountain trail, which would take ten hours. I agreed to accompany him but the day before our intended departure he took sick and abandoned the project. However, two other brethren had already made their plans to go on foot, so the three of us started out soon after midnight. One of the brethren kindly offered to help me with my baggage as they were traveling light. After reaching the village of Cocorote, it was a long and stiff climb and by the time we reached the summit, one of our companions seemed completely exhausted and spoke of turning back. We spread a sheet on the ground for him to lie on, made a fire, heated a little coffee which we carried and this seemed to revive him and he decided to go on. We reached Aroa in time for the midday meal, “faint, yet pursuing.”

Mr. and Mrs. Williams were on furlough, our only native worker was sick, so brethren Johnston, Fletcher and Wills shared the platform, as my imperfect knowledge of the Spanish hindered me from taking much part. The saints were in their first love and gladly received simple, wholesome, practical ministry.

The following year, on the eve of the Aroa conference in 1924, I received a telegram from brother Bertie Douglas, who at the time was having meetings in Aroa with Mr. Williams, asking me to get someone to take his horse over to him as he would be needing it. The only way would be to cross that mountain but I decided to undertake this task myself although I knew very little about horses. Therefore, next morning at 2 A.M., I jumped into the saddle with the prospect of a ten hours ride before me. A recent shower had left the ascent of the mountain trail quite slippery and with difficulty my horse kept its feet. After awhile I could feel its heart throbbing like a drum and wondered what would happen next. It occurred to me that the horse was thirsty so I decided to take it down to a stream in the valley far below. This meant dismounting and leading the horse by its halter, with the risk that it would be tumbling on top of me. We got safely to the stream, where I expected to see the horse quench its thirst, but it made no attempt to lower its head and just stood there completely disinterested in the water. I tried to jerk its head down but it resisted, so finally my patience gave out and I said to the horse: “Well, old fellow, there will be no more water for you until we reach Aroa.”

We made the summit and reached Aroa by noon. My experience with that horse was a confirmation of the old adage that you can take the horse to the water but if he is not thirsty you cannot make him drink. It is to thirsty ones that God offers the Water of Life freely (see Isaiah 55:1, John 7:37 and Revelation 22:17). God won’t force anyone to be saved against their will, so that if they are determined to go on in their sins they will only have themselves to blame when divine justice sentences them to the lake of fire, where there will not be a drop of water to quench their parched tongue. There is an overwhelming abundance of the grace of God within the reach of any repentant sinner who will, by faith, accept God’s salvation in Christ. But the acceptable time is NOW; tomorrow may be eternally too late.

Mr. and Mrs. Williams had returned from their furlough, and Bertie Douglas was with them, also all the preachers of the previous year, so the ministry was well taken care of. At these conferences we met fellow believers from many country places and between meetings I was besieged by sufferers from bad teeth which needed extracting. There was no practicing dentist available, and even if there had been, the fee would probably have been beyond their scanty means. At one conference, as the morning session was about to close, the doctor at the government medical centre sent a messenger to the Hall, to see if I could go and extract a patient’s tooth. Upon arriving there the patient was already seated in the chair; the doctor anesthetized the area and left me to extract the tooth.

On a certain occasion I noticed some young fellows in amongst the Christians who quite clearly were not interested in spiritual things and I soon found out why they were there. A sister, who was a good dressmaker, had three or four attractive daughters who were dressed up like theatre artists with gorgeous dresses, and that proved to be the attraction for those young fellows. Little did the mother realize what an evil outcome there would be. Those girls drifted into the world, were never saved and made shipwreck of their lives. It also led to the mother being out of fellowship for years. How true are the words: “Them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed” (I Samuel 2:30). Instead of the mother using her needle for God’s glory, like Samuel’s mother, she used it to gain earthly popularity for her children and had to drink a bitter cup as a result. Mothers, beware of the mini-skirts for your daughters.

There was one three days conference in Aroa when Mr. Bertie Douglas and I were the only preachers present to minister the Word. Certain brethren gave a little help but the heavier part was left to us. In between the meetings there was the funeral of a humble brother from the country. When we reached the cemetery on foot, another corpse was lying on the ground wrapped in a short length of sheeting, with head and feet uncovered. It was to be lowered in that condition into the grave. As a rule the priests are not interested in funerals if there is no one to pay their fees. How different with the believers! Although the deceased was a poor, humble peasant, a large company of brethren and sisters in Christ followed the coffin, carried on men’s shoulders to the cemetery, where at the grave side a hymn was sung, a brother led in prayer, the Bible was opened, a suitable passage of Scripture read and a brief word in the Gospel was spoken. It was a practical demonstration of the great difference between Romanism and the true faith of Christ.

Someone might ask, is it worth while, considering all the expense and labour involved, to convene a three days conference? This question has been debated from time to time, and always with the same unanimous conclusion, both on the part of those who bear the heavy end of the burden as well as those who have practical fellowship in the expenses. They have proven to be seasons of restoration, reviving and blessing. At the last Aroa conference a married man and a teenager were saved. The former saw his wife baptized on the Saturday night of the conference and although he had known the Gospel for a long time, he waited behind for help. When he reached home he could not sleep and realized that God had kept him awake that he might repent and believe. This he did and came next morning to the hall a very happy man to confess his faith in Christ.

Whilst having Gospel meetings once in Aroa where fluorescent light had been recently installed, there was a sudden flare in one of the foremost lights which scared the people as they feared an explosion. We calmed them down and continued with the meeting. Next morning, a simple, unsaved man who had been present, came to my lodgings and wanted to see me. I got a little excited, thinking he was in soul trouble and wanted to be saved, but to my disappointment he came to ask me very nervously if that sudden flare was the Holy Spirit!
 
 When the copper mines in Aroa closed down, the narrow gauge railway lost its chief source of revenue and the large number of men employed in the railway shops was reduced to a minimum. Many families left Aroa, for Barquisimeto, Caracas and other cities, including a number of the believers, but although the wheels of industry have rusted out, the light of testimony has continued to shine. In fact since then, the hall has been enlarged to take care of increased attendances at the conference.

ROMANISM ON THE WANE IN AROA

The day arrived when Aroa was left without a resident priest, and at the Easter “feasts”, when a priest had been brought in from another part, a faithful Roman Catholic asked him why he couldn’t come and reside there. The priest replied: “There are too many Bibles in Aroa for a priest to be able to make a living.” We were at the last Easter conference in Aroa, and although a priest was again living there, to our surprise there were no Roman Catholic processions, as the present priest and the people are out of sorts with each other.

SENOR JOSE RAMON LINARES

This national worker has made his home in Aroa for many years. Before being commended to the Lord’s work, his heart was in the work of the assembly, in the care of the Hall, in the preaching of the Gospel, in Sunday School work and in cottage meetings in the vicinity. As a builder, he was very willing to help in the building of Halls, as recorded in “The Dawn of a New Day”, by William Williams. His physical disabilities no longer permit him to undertake strenuous work, but in his Volkswagen car he is able to reach many country places around Aroa, ministering to the saints and holding cottage meetings where there are open doors. He and Mr. John Frith labour mostly together, holding special Gospel meetings in Barquisimeto, Duaca, Valera and other parts, and they have seen souls saved for God’s glory. For a large conference, the Aroa assembly is shorthanded, but volunteers from other parts join forces in kitchen work and serving tables and brother Linares not only has his home full of guests, but works long hours fulfilling the many responsibilities encumbent on him. Please pray that the Lord will give him strength to continue his very useful service for it is written: “That as thy days, so shall thy strength be.”

A TRUE CHILDREN’S STORY

At a conference in Aroa, Antonio Malpica spoke at the children’s meeting, from John 3:16. He emphasized the fact that God gave and that salvation is a free gift to those who will receive the Lord Jesus as their own Saviour. To demonstrate his point he produced a Venezuelan silver dollar, called a Fuerte, and said he would give it to the first boy or girl who would come forward and receive it. Over 100 children were present but they all remained seated. He asked why they did not believe his word and of course they all said they did. He repeated his offer and there was a long pause. Then it happened that a lady smiled at a little boy and this was all he needed, a little encouragement. As he walked to the front the children were making fun of him, saying it was just a trick, but he claimed the big piece of money and it was placed in his hand, for which he thanked the giver. As he walked back to his seat there was only one happy child in the crowd. The others were blaming themselves for the lost opportunity. Perhaps the reader, like those children, is holding back in unbelief and running the risk of missing the opportunity: “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

HANDS CUT OFF BUT SOUL SAVED

At a later conference in Aroa, one of those who obeyed the Lord in baptism on the Saturday night was a man who had been a notorious character in his unsaved days. When under the influence of liquor he was dangerous with his machete and revolver. One afternoon a peasant was returning from his work in the field when he saw this man approaching on horseback. He immediately turned aside and hid behind the hedge. The other man, when he reached the spot, jerked the horse’s head and made it turn into the same place. The peasant fearing that the other had evil intentions towards him, pulled him off his horse and hacked off his two hands with his machete. Then he began to hack at the man’s ankles to cut his feet off. The thick leather leggings hindered this, but he was so crippled that he could not stand again on his feet.

He was taken to hospital and was eventually healed of his wounds but he had to stay helplessly in bed. In due course a Christian visited him and gave him a Bible, encouraging him to read it and assuring him that there he would find the Saviour Who could change his grief and bitterness into joy and peace. As a result he was brightly converted to the Lord, and when the time came for his baptism he was lowered into the water in a stretcher. Next morning he was brought to the Lord’s table and the hearts of the large company were touched as they saw the brother at his side put the bread into his mouth and likewise the cup to his lips. At the close of the meeting he was surrounded by believers expressing their sympathy with him, but with a warm smile he replied that God had to leave him without hands in order to save his soul, and that now it was better to go to heaven having no hands than go to hell with two hands! (See Mark 9:43-48).