Monthly Archives: June 2010

Hey PLA,
I’m typing this up on the plane: we left Maracaibo at 4am today. It was a bittersweet moment, and our whole team will surely miss the friends we’ve made this summer, but we’re all excited to see home again.
Saturday was our last day of service work. We drove out to one of Maracaibo’s ghettos to run a children’s foundation for the day. The kids were adorable, but the facility was so dilapidated. Upon our arrival, Dan and I walked across the broken concrete and dirt yard only to run into the foundation’s handyman who was moving the lye-powdered corpse of a dog that had died inside one of the buildings. It was by far the worst thing I have ever smelled, and it kinda sucks to think that that’s life for those kids. They were so much fun though; one of them asked me throw him up into the air, and when I finally put him down, a line of another dozen kids were waiting for their turn too. Needless to say, they wiped me out!
The next couple days we’re doing a debreifing in Fairfax, VA. I’ll probably send something out again soon.

Week 4

So, I realized today that many of you don’t fully know what the work I’m doing here is Venezuela is all about. In addition to the community service
work that we’re doing, the 20 of us that came from the States are working with
a campus ministry called Vida Estudiantil that runs student bible studies and
weekly services. My reason is best prefaced by this excerpt from John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments of These Latter and
Perilous Days,
more popularly known as his Book of Martyrs.

(Speaking of John Wycliffe’s work between 1371 and 1384)

At this time, Christianity was in a sad state. Although
everyone knew the name of Christ, few if any understood His doctrine. Faith,
consolation, the use of the law, the works of Christ, our human weakness, the
Holy Ghost, the strength of sin, the works of grace, justification by faith,
and Christian liberty were never mentioned in the church.

By reading this history, a person should be able to see
that the religion of Christ, meant to be spirit and truth, had been turned into
nothing but outward observances, ceremonies, and idolatry. We had so many
saints, so many gods, so many monasteries, so many pilgrimages. We had too many
churches, too many relics (true and fake), too many untruthful miracles.
Instead of worshiping the only living Lord, we worshiped dead bones; in place
of immortal Christ, we worshiped mortal bread.

Wycliffe, seeing Christ’s gospel defiled by the errors
and inventions of these bishops and monks, decided to do whatever he could to
remedy the situation and teach people the truth. This, of course, aroused the
anger of the country’s (England) monks and friars, whose orders had grown
wealthy from the sale of their ceremonies and from being paid for their duties.
Soon, their priests and bishops took up the outcry, followed by the archbishop,
Simon Sudbury, who took away Wycliffe’s salary at Oxford and ordered him to
stop preaching against the church.

Obviously, the 16 of us who came from the States to work for
Vida Estudiantil aren’t in danger for our lives (at least, not for the sake of
ministry), but many of the same controversies that plagued the 13th
century church are still found here in Venezuela. The concept of doing mission
work in a largely Catholic country may seem kind of redundant to many, but the
truth is that there is a world of difference between simply saying that you’re
a part of the national religion, and actually pursuing your faith. Essentially,
we’re here because Vida Estudiantil is understaffed and needs help to host the
number of students that are a part of the organization. LUZ is a huge
university, and there are a ton of students who want to learn more about what
their religion is actually about.

Luckily, because the world has come a long, long way since
the 13th century, we don’t have to be persecuted by anyone. The
chapter on John Wycliffe ends with a description of how much he upset the 13th
century Catholic church:

In 1415 the Synod of Constance declared John Wycliffe a
notorious heretic who died in his heresy and ordered his bones removed from
consecrated ground. In 1425 Wycliffe was disinterred, his bones burned and
thrown into the river.

Happy Wednesday!

Harry’s Log: Week 3

I’ve begun to see into just how radically more chaotic
society is in Venezuela. Last Wednesday night I witnessed a dog fight from the
hotel roof-terrace. I was reading when I started to hear the squealing At first
I thought it was the elevator moving against its shaft, but as it continued, I
could make out the occasional bark. After a minute or so, I walked to the
railing to investigate, and could see 4 men lot of the body shop next door
standing around a large, white dog, and a smaller, grungier looking one.
Shortly after, they pulled the dogs away from each other, and I could see that
the smaller dog had been muzzled the entire time.

 

I stayed by the railing because I still wasn’t sure if what
I saw was really a fight, but 2 minutes later they loosed the white dog, and
the squealing started all over again. When I went to the hotel staff find out
whether or not it was illegal, they told simply that it wasn’t on their
property, and nothing could be done. I’m still not sure whether that means it
is illegal, or if it just isn’t enforceable.

 

Last weekend we had our mid-project retreat in a town 8
hours away called Merida. Merida is a beautiful city at the foothills of the
Andes -which meant that we got to feel cool air for the 1st time since
leaving D.C. I caught up on reading for Bible study, and a few of us went
canyoning on Saturday too. We also stopped in at an ice cream shop that has the
world’s largest (and weirdest) selection. Dan got a scoop of shimp and one of
cheese! … and definitely regretted it later.

 

This country’s really stuck. I met a student yesterday who
told me about how he father lost his job when the administration switched over
a few years back. He still hasn’t found another formal job. She’s in mechanical
engineering, expecting to graduate in December, but is frustrated that in order
to be hired, she must affiliate with the Socialist Party. If she doesn’t, she
won’t get hired.

 

Everywhere you look you can find signs of corruption,
inflation or poverty. Stray dogs inhabit the Engineering campus, sleeping
underneath structures and wandering the quads during the day. Last week we went
to the Biology campus and found skeletons of buildings that have yet to be
finished (despite having broken ground 5 years ago).

 

Melissa asked about Gulf developments: I’ve been following a
little bit on CNN.com when I can, and was really intrigued by the move to make
BP give $20 million toward that fund. I kinda wonder what that would have
looked like if it was Exxon who was at fault, and not a British company. But
for local perspective, I’m sure it’s great news for Venezuela’s (and OPEC’s)
oil exports because they can either pick up the Gulf’s slack, or could
collectively just raise the price per barrel. A fun fact about oil in Venezuela
though: filling up your car costs the equivalent of 33 cents.

p.s. anyone get the star trek reference?

Hey Gang,

Time is short; lots of things to talk about.

The University system here is vastly different than back
home. To begin with, it’s entirely free, and starved for funds. Since we got
here 2 weeks ago, there has been one strike, and one near strike because the
faculty at the Universidad del Zulia have yet to receive their pay for this
semester. Funding is also short in other areas too. Campus facilities flood
when it rains, and the bathrooms lack running water. My group works on the
Engineering and Architecture campus which is said to be the most dangerous.
Here, if a student doesn’t want to take an exam, it’s not uncommon to pay
someone to plant a small explosive somewhere on campus and call in a bomb
threat. We’ve yet to have any trouble though.

National government is very closely tied to student
government here too. There’s a big conspiracy/mystery about the murder of last
year’s student body president (who was pretty unpopular with the current
administration). I don’t have any real testimony about that right now, but I
wanted to include it to give you more of an understanding of freedom under
socialism.

On Monday, the three of us working on Engineering met with
the head of the Technical English department to organize our weekly English
workshop for that will begin tomorrow. We’ve done a good deal of promotion for
it, and we expect an attendance of 30+.

That’s all for now. More soon.

 

-Harry

p.s. unable to upload any photos at the moment. will try again soon.

Week One -Venezuela

Hola Amigos,
I’m writing this entry from the pool deck of the Apart-Hotel Presienté in Maracaibo -day 3 of our team’s adventure in Venezuela.
We arrived here on Tuesday night. The Millers -Brett and Krista (along with their 9 month old baby, Karina), along with 20 students from Vida Estudiantil (the group we’re working with) met us at the airport to accompany us into the city. What were now close to 40 of us crammed into a rusty, grey school bus from the 70s, and we careened down the hillside highway.
The scene was strangely dark as we stepped out of the bus on to the crumbling concrete in front of the Presidenté. Little did we expect to arrive during Venezuela’s national power rationing hour. (This happens every Tuesday and Thursday from 8 till 9, and used to be for 2 hours) We scrambled around in the darkness as we unpacked, and before long we were settled in.
The following morning a few of us went out to find breakfast with Brett and Krista.; they knew of a spot from when they used to live here where we could get fresh juice and taquenos (fried cheese). As we walked along the road (there were sidewalks, but no one really uses them) I noticed that in Maracaibo there are no gutters, no traffic lights or road-lines. Drivers
carefully press their way through intersections aided by their horns. 
Yesterday, at our briefing, Brett outlined our work for the next 5 weeks. We learned that Vida’s staff leadership is moving back to the States in 2 months, and it’s going to be our job to raise up leaders for the ministry, in order that it can be self sustaining. Additionally, each Saturday we will be working in the community, serving in venues ranging from an orphanage to a local teen pregnancy clinic, and myself and 2 other students will be setting up an English workshop on the engineering campus (most students at the public universities do not have the money to get outside help dor thei English classes). But more on that later.
Anyway, ’till next time. Hasta luego, amigos!