By Angela Smith
June 12 - As I approached the customs area, I was more than a little nervous. Even though I was accompanied by my
father and Brother Donny Reagan of Johnson City, Tennessee, the $1,000 computer printer that we were bringing into the country was on MY baggage claim check. If the customs officials chose to check the large box, I could be facing lots of questions, heavy duty charges, and perhaps even a fine. That was not the way I wanted to start my seven-day visit to Venezuela, South America.
Actually, this was my second visit to the country. The last time- twenty-six years ago - was when we moved to that country for three months, while my father worked with the local brethren to establish a translation and printing headquarters for the South American believers.
I was only six months old back then, so this time I was glad to be able to assume a more active role, and be of some service. The printer we were delivering would be used in the on-going translation and printing work that is still being done in that country, a place that is home to thousands of believers. Thankfully, all of my nervous jitters were in vain, for one of those believers approached us as we waited in customs. He was an airline employee, and with his help we walked straight through without being checked! I just knew that this was going to be a great trip.
Earlier this year, when Brother Adolfo Catarine of Caracas, Venezuela, contacted my father and invited him to visit, I decided that this would be a great opportunity for me to meet, as an adult, those people who had been such a close part of our lives, and still retained a special place in the hearts of my parents. I have always had a great desire to know what the Believers around the world are like. So, at every opportunity, I just love to travel and explore. And on this trip I could even test my Spanish-speaking skills. At one time I was fairly fluent in Spanish, when we lived in Guadalajara, Mexico. But not having used these skills for around 15 years, I didn't know if I could still make myself understood in that language.
But before I tell you any more about my trip, I'll give you a little background as to how Venezuela became the gateway into South America for the Message of the Hour.
Back in 1955, two Venezuelan ministers, Brother Pedro Naim of Maracaibo, and Brother Oscar Galdona of Barquisimeto, were thrown out of the Baptist fellowship for believing in the baptism of the Holy Ghost. They began to receive The Voice of Healing andHerald of Faith magazines, where they were able to read printed sermons of William Branham. In 1958, Brother Galdona decided to make his way up to the Voice of Healing Convention in Dallas Texas, where Brother Branham was ministering. As Brother Branham made his way onto the platform, he walked passed Brother Galdona, then turned and came back to him and asked him to hold his hat while he preached! It was a momentous event for Brother Galdona, for it seemed to indicate that Brother Branham had sensed something commendable in his spirit.
Brother Galdona and Brother Naim tried unsuccessfully to get Brother Branham to Venezuela to minister. At the end of July 1965 Brother Galdona went to Jeffersonville, where after hearing"Anointed Ones At The End Time," he was baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1969, the task of the printing the translated messages was begun in Barquisimeto (where we lived while my father assisted the local brethren). This work continues today under the direction of Brother Naim. In addition to individual sermon booklets, they are also printing 10,000 copies of the Compendium's subject summaries each month for the Venezuela people.
Caracas - When we arrived in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, it was night, and all we could see was a mountain side of lights, which looked like stars across the heavens. By day, we saw that these were the homes of the poorest people in the city. Brick houses that were built nearly on top of one another. Shack sand lean-to housing that wash away when they have heavy rains.And the city! Imagine traffic so thick you can reach out the window and touch the car next to you, if you dare, because even in that narrow space, a motorbike could be racing by. At stoplights, most cars just slow down, see if anyone is coming from the left or right, and proceed. We decided there is really no need for stripes on the road, because if there are three designated lanes, the drivers will make four. Even though we had a capable brother driving for us, it was still a test of our nerves whenever we got into a car. Brother Donny rode in the front seat on the way to our hotel, but after that, on every outing he volunteered for the back seat, insisting that things just didn't look quite as bad from there.
In this city of 5,000,000 people,there is never a quiet moment. I was continually amazed at my surroundings. Venezuela is located right top of South America and only about 8 miles from Trinidad. With beautiful, majestic mountains, and a coastline along the Caribbean Sea, this country is also home to the world's highest waterfall - Angel Falls. Venezuela is a land very rich in oil, but stricken with inflation and poverty. We consider their gas cheap,at 35 cents per gallon, but considering their wages, that is still high. Where our inflation averages 2 percent, theirs is near 50 percent, per year. I had expected the culture to be like that in Mexico, but was totally wrong. Venezuela, and most of South America, is much more European.
In the midst of this diversecity is a part of God's chosen Bride. For the past 28 years, Brother Adolfo Catarine has pastored here. The church, The Spoken Word Tabernacle, started out in the attic of his house, but has now grown to nearly 250 people. In 1972, they acquired the building they have now, and which they rent, because property is very expensive. He is a man that I respect and admire for his strength and stand on the Word. Alone, he has raised five daughters for the past 12 years, and it is a family of musicians. Brother Catarine has a beautiful singing voice, a gift that was passed down to his daughters. The oldest, Sarah, lives in New York with her husband and daughter, and she is now auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera. Rebekah, Karen, Martha and Susana sing together, and their harmony is incomparable.
In the church there is an orchestra, conducted by Susana,and made up of young people. The story behind the orchestra is so inspiring and I will be telling you all about them in the next Only Believe magazine, but I want to say a few brief words here. As a pastor, Brother Catarine was disheartened and challenged when he saw young people from his congregation going into the world. After praying, he felt led to reach out to them through music and by faith, he began purchasing instruments for a church orchestra. What a difference this outreach through music has made in the lives of the young believers.
And, in turn, what a difference they have made as they witness,through music, throughout their community. Brother Catarine now spends much of his time with these kids, since it is a large part of his ministry. He is their pastor, parent, friend, and comrade. I cannot adequately express to you how vividly those young people are able to proclaim through their music what the Lord has done for them. On Thursday night we were treated to a "welcoming" concert. I had tears in my eyes the entire performance, which consisted of both classical pieces and hymns. They even added a little "country style" into one number to make Brother Donny feel at home!
For the three services that were held in Caracas, Brother Donny preached and my father translated. At the start of each service the orchestra played bringing such a atmosphere of worship that the presence of the Lord could be felt even before the preaching began. Everyone came to this pavilion that God has provided with great expectation bringing their little licks of fire.Each service was just tremendous. For me, it was a blessing just listening to them sing and praise the Lord. At one service the orchestra played 'My Tribute' and 'The Holy City'. It was so breathtaking that the entire congregation could hardly remain in their seats.
You would never guess that right outside the doors was such confusion. The church is located in a very rough area of the city. In fact, every house and building around the church has been robbed, but the church has never been touched! There are people in the neighborhood, non-Christians, who like having the church there, and watch out for it, which is a blessing for them as well as for the believers.
Puerto La Cruz - On Monday, the 17th, we were met at our hotel by a brother and sister who drove us to Puerto LaCruz, a coastal city of 400,000 people. This was truly an adventure. For four and a half hours, we drove through Venezuelan rain forest on a narrow, dangerous road. I'd just thought that Caracas was hot! I soon learned a new meaning to that particular term. I do not live in a humid climate, so this beautiful, but wet, landscape, was very different for me, and sometimes hard to take.
The city of Puerto La Cruz is small (compared to Caracas). There are three churches in the surrounding area, and the meetings were being held at the largest of these, Ebenezer Tabernacle, where Brother Pablo Soto is the pastor.
Brother Soto began preaching the Message of the Hour in his church in August of 1965, and from the start, he faced much opposition from the denominational churches. One evening,while he was in the pulpit, some hoodlums came into the church and while one cut the electricity the other one attacked Brother Soto. But even after being severely beaten, he was not shaken from his post of duty. In 1968, Brother Soto started making missionary journeys throughout the continent of South America, along with other brothers. This is a work that is still continuing today. He is a man of great faith. Many miracles have taken place in his church, including that of a girl being raised from the dead last year.
Brother Soto and his wife are some of the happiest people I have ever met. (My father thinks they are so young-looking and full of energy because they never experienced the task of raising children!) As they proudly pointed out the pictures on the walls of their home, I realized I had never seen so many pictures of my grandparents in any other home besides my own. Sister Soto, who cooked several delicious meals for us, has an infectious, and unique laugh that puts a smile on everyone's face. At 66, Brother Soto is still a powerhouse. I was only able to be with them for two days, but in that time I lost track of how many people we met on the street that Brother Soto witnessed to, and invited to the meetings. As we checked into our hotel, he asked the bellboy if he attended church, and invited him to the services. At breakfast Tuesday morning, a man selling hammocks walked by our table at the beachfront cafe. Brother Soto asked him if he had read in his Bible about Eternal Life. We stopped at a travel agency and he let the agent know that she still had three nights of opportunity to attend the special church services! Not many people get past his confident investigation of where they stand spiritually. He evangelizes his community without causing people to look at him as a fanatic, because his approach is so filled with love and concern that it brings conviction to those he talks to. They act ashamed of themselves under his probing questions. Without a doubt Brother Pablo Soto is a man who has made a difference in Venezuela!
Brother Soto's congregation alone numbers about 400, but there were about 600 people that attended the services, including those from the nearby churches.Tuesday night, while we were standing and singing, the electricity went out. I thought, "My goodness, now we don't even have fans." But we kept singing, and pretty soon the power came back on. Satan must have realized that we were still going to have church, no matter what!
I was sorry that I was going to leave them the following morning. When word got around that I would not be there the next night,it seemed that all 600 people closed in around me to shake my hand, and have me sign their Bible (a Venezuelan custom).
The next morning I returned to Caracas, then on to Miami and home. Dad and Brother Donny held two more wonderful services before they headed home.
I count myself fortunate to have met all these people. I saw such a love for the Lord, and I must say that they are the most non-materialistic people I have ever met. They are not sad for what they don't have, but are so happy for what they do have in their lives and hearts. Many of us here could learn a lesson from them when it comes to keeping our priorities in order. That brings to mind a song. "...Build your hopes on things eternal, Hold to God's unchanging hand". I remember when I was younger,part of our prayers would always be directed "for the missionaries overseas". That is still important, of course, because there are still missionaries and evangelists out there working. But also, I would encourage you to pray for your brothers and sisters around the world. They may be different than you in many ways, but they have heard the same Voice and are holding onto the same promises.
New friends in Caracas
It was truly exciting being on this trip, and I'm ready to do it again. I made some new friends that now feel like family, despite the language barrier. And I did promise them that if I am permitted to visit there again before the resurrection, I will speak better Spanish.
Sister Joyce Wilson of Salt Lake City requests the prayers of the saints for her husband and children. Her desire is that they be born-again, and filled with the Holy Spirit.
CorrectionThe internet address that we published in the April issue of Believers News for The William Branham Home Page had one letter missing, a mistake that has caused a great deal of frustration for many of our readers. We apologize. Here is the corrected address:
Editors: George & Rebekah Smith