Venezuela has plummeted to the bottom of the world economy and its communist government has made it almost impossible for churches to come to its people’s aid.
But a small congregation in Mesa and a related nonprofit are doing what they can to help Venezuelans, who “are suffering from lack of food and malnutrition, while the health situation has reached unbearable levels,” according to a recent United Nations report.
The 500-member congregation of Calvary Chapel Mesa, 925 S. Gilbert Road, and a local nonprofit called Hearts of Hope Ministries raise money to help people in the beleaguered country. Recently, they worked out an arrangement with Feed My Starving Children to get even more food to the country’s starving poor.
Helping Venezuelans is not an easy task, especially if the helpers have a religious connection, said Calvary Chapel Pastor Pablo Pirela, who works with fellow pastors David Evans and Jim Warner.
“The communist government has thrown out all the missionaries,” said Pirela, a Venezuelan native whose father was a pastor there.
While people there are still allowed to worship and their churches can help with their physical needs, foreign churches are basically shut out of providing any direct assistance, let alone spiritual aid.
So, Pirela used his late father’s and his own connections to develop a network of more than a dozen churches to work around that blockade.
He also works with three other local pastors to run Hearts of Hope Ministries to get vitally needed supplies to Venezuela.
Two weeks ago, the church and Hearts of Hope appealed to volunteers to pick up a backpack from them, take it home and return it filled with school supplies. About 370 of 500 backpacks were picked up and returned, and will now be shipped off to Venezuela.
The absence of food in Venezuela is beyond crisis proportions.
“This has been increasing over the last several years,” the organization states on its website. “The crisis has left hundreds of families begging for food in the streets without hope.”
Saying the country confronts “a modern-day Holocaust,” Hearts of Hope runs three feeding centers in the country, mostly at churches.
Pirela said the churches’ work with Hearts of Hope also gets around the government’s determination to wipe out any acknowledgement of God.
At the feeding centers – where 90 percent of the people who show are children under 10, according to Hearts of Hope – the volunteers have a chance to meet some of the citizens’ physical needs and address some spiritual ones as well.
“The people see us doing things and don’t know why we are. They ask us, ‘Why are you doing this?’ We can then tell them about God and Jesus. In schools, they don’t hear about God or Christianity. We talk to them about loving God, but first we have to love them and help them,” Pirela explained.