The Prins Wilhelm 1 steamed into the bay of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, on 25th April, 1910, at 6 am. Among the passengers on board were Mr & Mrs William Williams, commended to the grace of God from assemblies in Toronto, Canada. It would have been impossible then to imagine the tremendous outcome of their arrival. Mr Williams wrote in his diary that morning: "We are nothing, we do not know the language, we have never seen a Venezuelan, but God has given us the gospel and we are out to prove if it will work." They certainly proved it! When he went to be with the Lord, 51 years later, 48 New Testament assemblies had been planted.
We know that spiritual success or failure usually depends on decisions taken early in an individuals Christian life. This is also true of the work of the Lord. Mr. Williams was not the first missionary to arrive in Venezuela; some had already come from assemblies and others from the denominations. Many years later Mr Gordon Johnston, who joined Mr Williams in 1912, wrote: "From what I see in different places, I feel that the Lord surely guided us in taking a definite path of separation in those early days in Venezuela". They discovered that the brethren who were working in the capital, Caracas, and had seen an assembly formed, felt free to join with the denominational work as well. They realized that the character of assembly testimony would suffer by having fellowship in such endeavours, and at much personal cost they severed links with those brethren and commenced a new work taking the Word of God as their guide. They laid a solid foundation, put the work on a Scriptural course, and left a noble example for others to follow.
Our dear brethren saw an assembly formed in Puerto Cabello in 1916. This assembly continues faithfully until the present, and seven others have since been formed in the town. From the early 1920s until the end of the Second World War quite a number of workers came to the field; their record is on high. Among them Mr Bertie Douglas and Mr John Wells are remembered for their sound teaching of the Scriptures that further consolidated the work. Mr S J Saword and Mr J E Fairfield were able to spend many years in active service and were greatly used of the Lord in the furtherance and maintenance of the work. Their godly influence in the work is still felt, and they are fondly remembered by many.
Four new labourers arrived in 1947-48. The work had grown and there were 31 assemblies in quite a few states. Mr Williams encouraged the new workers to think of these areas so Mr Joe Milne went to Yaracuy, Joe Turkington to Cojedes, John Frith to Lara, and Bruce Cumming to Falcon. They saw the Lords hand not only in the areas where they lived but in taking the gospel further afield, loyally supported by their Godly wives. The Judgement Seat will reveal the divine assessment of their service and each one will have their praise of God.
Brother Neal Thomson came from Australia in 1956 and has contributed much to the work. He laboured firstly in the west and then pioneered the work in the states of Merida and Tachira, as well as giving help in many other parts of the country.
Brother Jim Walmsley joined the work in 1960 and for many years served in Eastern Venezuela. For over ten years he has laboured with brother Kenny Turkington in the south-western states and they have seen the Lords hand in blessing and two assemblies formed.
The next workers to come to the field were the present writer with his wife in 1968. We have laboured in the centre of the country in the state of Aragua and further south in Guarico and Apure. We are thankful to the Lord for fruit that has been gathered and a few testimonies planted. To God be the glory.
Noel and Ann McKeown arrived in 1977 and have made their home on the east coast and for many years have given valuable help in that area. They have had a special interest to see a work developed on Margarita Island, but it has proved to be a hard field. Nevertheless, an assembly was formed in 2002. Julio and Norizta Figuera, commended by assemblies here, work faithfully on the island.
Stephen and Helen Redpath joined us in 2003 and make their home in Valle de La Pascua in the state of Guarico. This is a new work and there is no assembly as yet, so they would appreciate prayer that they may see the Lords hand in blessing.
Brethren Paul Chapman and Edward Smith, commended from Australia to the work in Colombia, have moved to Venezuela owing to the dangerous conditions that prevail in that country. They labour faithfully and are appreciated by the Lords people.
Over the years twenty-one Venezuelan brethren have been commended to the work, six of whom are now with the Lord. Space would not permit to speak of the labours of the present workers but we highly respect them for their faithfulness to the Lord and the work they do. Four sons of missionaries, and their wives, have been commended: Kenneth & Esther Turkington, Allan and Sandra Turkington, Andrew & Elena Turkington, and Samuel & Sharon Ussher. The Lord has blessed their labours as they reach out to new areas with the gospel.
Today there are 155 assemblies and we are thankful for the measure of unity that is enjoyed among them. God has raised up men who fear Him and have the desire to see the testimony preserved according to the divine pattern. Most assemblies carry on an active gospel testimony, having series of meetings every year without the help of a full time worker. God has blessed their efforts and in this way assemblies have been planted. Many assemblies also have several Sunday schools and it has proved to be an excellent way to open up new areas for the gospel. There are also five schools supported by the assemblies where the Scriptures are taught daily. The first one started in 1919 as a result of persecution suffered by believers children and many sisters have faithfully served the Lord in this work. Miss Donna Slack from the USA has served there since 1974. There is now no persecution, but the blessing among the young has encouraged the continuation of this service. The present government has passed laws banning religious instruction in public schools, and plans to do so in private schools too. This is a cause for prayer as it would effectively close our schools, for they exist as a means to reach the children with the gospel.
A number of three day conferences are held in different parts of the country. These are times of joy and fellowship for the believers, and many speak of spiritual help received at these gatherings. The assemblies also support two homes for aged saints that provide comfort and care for the elderly amongst the Lords people. Miss Isabel McDonald and Miss Ruth Thompson take care of the home in Puerto Cabello.
We pray that this brief report of the work of the Lord in Venezuela will encourage the saints to pray for us. In most parts of the world, violence, wickedness, and unrest exist and it is no different in Venezuela. We need the preserving hand of God as we move around. Above all we ask for prayer that the Lords blessing will continue with us, that faithfulness to His Word may be maintained in assembly testimony, and that the oneness of mind that in a good measure is enjoyed among the assemblies and the workers may continue until the Lord comes.