The Church of the Nazarene in Boa Vista, Brazil, has opened its doors to the increasing number of Venezuelan refugees in search of a better life.
For the last six years, Venezuela has been in various states of turmoil and unrest. Hyperinflation has caused prices of essentials to skyrocket, and people are left without any way to buy food regularly.
By the end of 2018, prices were doubling every 19 days on average, medicine has become increasingly unavailable, and diseases and illnesses thought to be eliminated are beginning to reappear — including measles, diphtheria, and malaria. According to the United Nations, three million Venezuelans have left the country since 2014 because they feel they don’t have a choice.
“I came [to Boa Vista] for a better future for me, for my daughter, and for my grandson that was to be born,” said William, a Venezuelan refugee.
William and his family were among those who left when they couldn’t afford to live in Venezuela anymore.
The Boa Vista church is located near the Venezuela border, so the congregation knew they were in an ideal spot to serve refugees like William.
In March 2016, they began to reach out to people in public spaces and parks that were set up as makeshift camps. Within a year, the church had started a food distribution service that served approximately 1,500 people every week.
Not long after that, the church in Boa Vista started a Spanish-speaking congregation to minister to the refugees. Approximately 200 people attend the new church, 40 of whom stay at a shelter housed in the church’s buildings. New classes are being offered to the community, including a 400 person Portuguese class, a baking class, a sewing class, and other classes teaching marketable skills.
Julio and his family have been staying at the church in Boa Vista. Julio hasn’t been able to find steady income since he doesn’t speak Portuguese, so he and his family have been continually supported by the church members. The congregation provides food, shelter, and carpentry work around the building.
Jhonelis and her new husband also live at the church shelter. They left her large family in Venezuela when they couldn’t afford to feed everyone.
“I had to come here so that I could work here and help my family from here, sending what money I can because it was the only way they could survive,” Jhonelis said.
Jhonelis and her husband were able to find work for the first few months, but it didn’t last and they soon ran out of money. Jhonelis says she was almost at her breaking point when the people from the church found them.
“I couldn’t return or think about such things,” Jhonelis said. “I came here for a better future, or to fight for a better future, so I stayed for that.”
With a population of only 280,000, Boa Vista doesn’t have the capacity or opportunities to accommodate so many people looking for work.
Transportation also keeping refugees from finding work. Brazil is a very large country, and getting to the bigger cities by bus takes several days, and expensive airfare tickets are out of the question.
Given the number of challenges and the increasing immigration rate, the Boa Vista church should be overwhelmed with work. Yet, they continue to find encouragement in the stories of love and compassion for those living in the church shelter.
“In the midst of everything, God is the church,” Julio said. “You have to have faith and give thanks for everything. But this church for me is the whole world.”
--Republished with permission from the 2019 Issue 1 of NCM Magazine
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