Why Is Faith Making a Comeback in Venezuela?

By Mark A. Kellner
Posted April 15, 2019

For years—decades, actually—the South American nation of Venezuela was at or near the top of economic development for the continent. Abundant supplies of oil ensured a steady flow of foreign exchange income as well as good jobs for a growing middle class.

As might be expected, during boom times, there’s less interest in spiritual matters, which left Venezuela as one of the least-religious nations in South America. After all, who needs God when you’ve got crude oil reserves?

Today’s Venezuela is a different story entirely. Crippled by years of political corruption during the regimes of Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro, leaders who suppressed political dissent while destroying the economy, millions have fled for neighboring states, while those left behind have little to sustain their spirits and livelihood.

Except, it turns out, religion. Faith is making a comeback in Venezuela, reinforcing the old aphorism that there are “no atheists in foxholes,” a reference to battlefield “conversions” among otherwise-faithless soldiers.

A Cry for Deliverance

While 2014 polling data compiled by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. indicates only 26 percent of Venezuelans reported attending weekly worship services, that picture is rapidly changing. According to The Washington Post, Venezuelans who had little time for God and religion during the boom times are crying out for supernatural deliverance during the lean years.

As the newspaper report stated, “Buffeted by political and humanitarian crises, one of Latin America’s least religious countries is turning to faith. As the political stalemate between President Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó grinds [on], and shortages of electricity, food, and water reduce life to a daily struggle to survive, leaders across religious traditions are reporting a flood of worshipers, lapsed and new, searching for comfort and answers.”

The report quoted the Rev. Jesús Godoy, a Roman Catholic priest in Caracas’ Chacao district, who told the newspaper, “All my Masses are full, which has never happened before.” More than 2,000 now attend Godoy’s services each weekend, an unheard-of number.

“They beg for help,” the cleric told the Post. “They want God to give them the tools to live in crisis.”

According to David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, renewed interest in faith is understandable in the midst of crisis: “Not having water, not knowing if you have anything to eat—these are existential challenges,” he told the newspaper. “That’s precisely when religion starts to seem interesting.”

The dire circumstances of today’s Venezuela are not only a stark warning about a government gone bad, but also a reminder that even the most hardened of societies can seek spiritual answers when desperate circumstances loom large.

“We Want God! We Want God!”

Officially atheist, Poland was firmly under the influence of the Soviet Union in 1979 when a native, whom we now know as Pope John Paul II, returned for an official visit. John Paul, the former bishop of Krakow, held his first outdoor worship service in a public square, which attracted one million Poles. In his address to the public, he affirmed the importance of Christ in history, a role that cannot be denied, as the Soviets and their puppet rulers in Warsaw attempted to do.

Immediately, the crowd chanted: “We want God! We want God! We want God!” At that moment, observers such as Peggy Noonan would later recall, the first cracks in the Soviet bloc began to appear, and within a decade, communism in Europe and Russia would be dismantled.

It has long been known that persecution and difficulties turn people to religious faith. Within the first two hundred years of the church’s beginning, Tertullian, an early Christian writer and apologist, issued a plea for religious tolerance in which he reminded the Roman powers of that day, that “the blood of the martyrs is [the] seed [of the Church].”

Perhaps nowhere in modern times is this as true as in China, another nation where leaders are trying to control and mold religious expression. During the first decades of Chinese communism, religion was banned, missionaries were expelled, seminaries were closed. Yet when China began to open up, returning preachers found millions of “underground” believers who kept, or found, faith during the period of persecution.

But did you know that even in a nation such as the United States, a time will come when those who profess faith will suffer persecution? That our freedom to worship will be threatened and even curtailed?

As the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). And Jesus warned His followers that they, too, would be threatened: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18, 19).

Fortunately, God’s Word offers not only comfort but also a “Promise to the Persecuted,” as Pastor Doug Batchelor explained in a weekly Bible study lesson. In another message, “The Church and the State,” Pastor Doug offers an explanation of the coming attacks described in Revelation 17.

Yes, when times are tough, some folks change course and turn to God. The good news, though, is that you and I don’t have to wait for tribulation to arrive. We can seek God’s guidance and strength today, and be ready for whatever lies ahead!

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