One of the questions I get the most when I tell people (especially strangers) that I visited Venezuela is “Was it beautiful there?” and EVERY time I pause for a split second. Beautiful?
I suppose when most people think of beautiful, they’re thinking glorious purple mountains or sparkling blue waters or vibrant greenery lining the roads. They think of scenery, which is a candy for our eyes essentially—it “tastes” good (our eyes enjoy it,) but it doesn’t exactly fortify us. I should probably tell you now that I have a different view of beauty to begin with—I can stare at the ocean all day long and be bored, but driving through the flat endless plains of Texas, I am ever inspired by the sun-bleached fields speckled with cows—but that doesn’t change that when I think of Venezuela, I don’t think of “beauty.”
Were there parts of the scenery that were beautiful? Well, yes. There are hills covered in rich green trees, and sometimes the tops of the hills would reach up into the clouds and fogs would just hang into the valleys. The houses in Venezuela are very brightly colored, and there are dozens of them stacked up into the hillsides. Graffiti isn’t illegal there, so in most public places there is a lot of very artistic graffiti. (I saw plenty of Christian-themed graffiti, too!) In places where there are dirt roads, the dusty ground is a rich auburn color—the bottoms of my sneakers are permanently stained by it.
But here’s the thing.
Those colorful little houses built into the hills? They’re barrios—ghettos—which are so deeply crime-ridden and poor that my team and I would not have been able to go up into them if we had wanted to. The graffiti that covered every town we visited is mostly political; since Venezuela’s elections are coming up in October, everything is painted for Chavez, their current leader. Chavez is the man who brought socialism to Venezuela, and while there is much public support for Chavez, there is a heavy undertone of oppression in the country. (There were billboards everywhere that had statements on them about how the government works best when not questioned and similar sentiments—no kidding.) Those dusty red roads were in poor neighborhoods where people were living in half-built houses; while I was walking on those roads, I was holding my phone out because I wanted to take a video and a kid on a bike came just a little too close to me for comfort. As for mountains and fog, we have that in the U.S., so scenery-wise, did I consider Venezuela beautiful? Not really.
Now, let’s phrase the question a little differently: Did I see beauty in Venezuela?
Absolutely! I saw beauty in 15-year-old Dirce showing my teammate and I her dance (in Spanish, using the verb dansar instead of bailar—dansar meaning to dance for the Lord) that her church-based dance group had learned. I saw beauty in how people would open their front yards not just to us and people from their church, but to their literal neighbors so we could hold worship and Bible lesson in a place where the whole neighborhood could hear. I never ceased to admire the beauty of how the boys and men of all ages play with and love on the little children (while here in the U.S., most young men scatter when children are brought around or automatically leave them for the women to take care of.) There is beauty in the fact that in order to make cachapas for us, they ground corn themselves using (what we would consider) an old-fashioned grinder to make the cornmeal.
Seeing 12-year-old Kimberli evangelize for the first time—that’s beautiful.
Seeing an entire church full of children under age 10 bow their heads, put their hands together, and repeat the prayer to accept Jesus into their heart with brows furrowed in concentration so they don’t miss a word—that is beautiful.
Seeing the youth of Trujillo, aged 14 to mid-30s, come together to evangelize in Aragua, bringing their babies and siblings and families and letting nothing stop them—that is beautiful.
Realizing that the people of Venezuela are so open and wanting Jesus in their lives; being able to picture Venezuela being a Christian nation; knowing that God is going to fulfill His word there—that is beautiful.
So yes, Venezuela is beautiful; but it’s the people and their loving hearts and willingness to serve God that makes it so. As the song lyrics to “Beautiful Things” by Gungor so effectively state, “You [God] make beautiful things—you’re making beautiful things out of us!”
“Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away?” (Jeremiah 23:23)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
“I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:4)