The West Venezuela Union Mission is one of two unions in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela derived from what was originally the Venezuela-Antilles Union, which was created from the territorial readjustment of the outdated Colombia-Venezuela Union that was carried out in Cúcuta, Colombia, on March 6, 1989.
Territory and Statistics
The West Venezuela Union Mission comprises 11 states and the central and western part of the Apure state in Venezuela, with a population of 17,383,216 inhabitants. Its official language is Spanish, but within its territory are five indigenous ethnicities, each with their own language: the Wayuu, Añú, Yukpa, Japrería, and the Barí.1
In the second quarter of 2019, the union had 659 organized churches, 262 organized companies, and 173,834 members,2 23 primary and secondary educational institutions, a university, a theological seminary, two food companies, 30 FM radio stations, three small clinics, two healthy living centers, a hospital, 62 licensed pastors, 102 ordained pastors, 31 licensed missionaries, 91 credentialed missionaries, 1,219 active employees, and 10 local conferences.3
The union headquarters office, once located in the country’s capital city, Caracas, was moved on September 1997 to the city of Barquisimeto. It is located at the east entrance of the city and was inaugurated and dedicated on February 13, 2002, with the presence of the president of the General Conference, Jan Paulsen. It is located on Venezuela Avenue between Los Leones and Bracamontes Avenue, one block from Los Próceres shopping center.
Origins of Work in the Venezuelan Territory
On August 1, 1910, Frank Lewis Lane and his wife, Rose, arrived in Venezuelan territory accompanied by the colporteur Ricardo Greenidge and his wife, Rebeca. Lane, of American origin, who by 1907 was working as a missionary on the island of Barbados, befriended a Venezuelan gentleman who invited him to come and evangelize the homeland of Bolivar, an idea he regarded as a Macedonian call. Therefore, when he received the call to start the work in Venezuela, he gladly accepted. Upon hearing this news, the Greenidges, who worked as hydrotherapy nurses with experience in the Adventist hospital in Barbados, supported the idea of setting up an evangelistic team with the Lanes to Venezuela, and so marked the beginning of the Adventist work in this territory.4
Months after Lane had learned the Spanish language, he began to prepare a series of lectures with prophetic illustrations on oilcloth in wood frames. Wood was needed, and Greenidge went to a nearby sawmill on Baralt Avenue to acquire materials. There he met a carpenter, Miguel Corro, who offered to transport the goods in his wheelbarrow. As Corro passed through the house to lay the wood, he observed a series of pictures of the prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Revelation. Full of curiosity, he asked Greenidge what it meant, and he called Lane, who, with his English Bible and a Spanish Bible that he gave Corro, tried to explain the prophetic message. Corro left impressed by the words of the missionary, who invited him to visit again.5
Corro’s next visit was not delayed. Within a few hours he returned, accompanied by his friend Antonio Pinto, who was deeply impressed by the missionary’s words. Soon both devoted themselves to invite others to listen to the missionaries, thus starting a Bible study every night in the living room of their home. Several of the new believers accepted the biblical teachings and harmonized their lives with Adventist principles, preparing for the first baptism. After seven months, it was carried out in the Anauco River in the Coticita sector of the El Avila Mountain on March 25, 1911, with a total of 11 candidates, eight of them women. These 11 newly baptized members, along with the two missionary couples and the young man Juan Porras, who was the translator, formed the members of the first Seventh-day Adventist church in Venezuelan territory, which was organized the following day.6
The second baptism was performed a year later, on February 10, 1912, when seven more people were baptized by Lane in Avila Mountain. Unfortunately, Mrs. Lane’s health was so broken that Lane had to request the General Conference to allow them to permanently return to the United States. Because the situation was unexpected, there was no suitable replacement, and a new missionary to direct the work in the Venezuelan territory did not arrive until eight months later. Santiago A. Oberg was transferred from Puerto Rico to Caracas on March 25, 1914.7
On their part, the Greenidges continued to establish their hydrotherapeutic treatment salons and did colporteur work in different places in Caracas, the last of which was located on the corner of San Mauricio, now Santa Capilla on Urdaneta Avenue, Caracas. This hall was closed in 1922 when the Greenidges agreed to go to Camaguán, Guárico, in the center of the country, to establish a boarding school for young people. This school was the first Adventist educational institution in the entire territory of the Colombia-Venezuela Union, and from there came many of the first Venezuelan workers to continue the work in both other regions of the country and foreign lands.8
By 1918, there were three colporteurs, who, with the book Practical Guide to Health, reached sales of US$7,343.10. At that time, the colporteurs worked only with health books. But in the “Big Week” campaign held March 14–20, 1920, religious books began to be officially sold, the first two being Heralds of the Future and Our Century to the Prophetic Light. That same year, the evangelistic work began in the interior of the country with the work of the colporteur Rafael López Miranda.9
López Miranda was born in Puerto Rico, and in August 1918, he traveled to Venezuela in the company of another colporteur, Angel Ojeda. In the following three months, they managed to sell books for a combined amount of US$1,800.00. By 1920, seven colporteurs were working in Caracas, two of them with missionary credentials. López Miranda decided to go work in the interior of the country and left for “Los Llanos,” reaching as far as Camaguán, to make initial contact with Julio García and José Lamas. This contact gave birth to the church of Camaguán, the second church organized in Venezuela. On that trip, López Miranda contracted malaria, so he returned to his home in Puerto Rico to rest, but as soon as he felt recovered, he left his family again to return to Venezuela in 1921.10
On this occasion, he was sent with Bernardo Hernández to begin the evangelism and colporteur work in the Venezuelan Andes. His work was done with such zeal that, in the first month, he sold US$1,000 worth of the book Heralds of the Future, but the enemy was also alert. The people who had bought the books were pressured to burn them in a public bonfire, but they refused to obey and hid the books. A man tried to obey the order of his religious leader and addressed López Miranda, asking him to return his money while threatening him with a knife. The colporteur climbed on his horse and spurred the animal to flee, thus saving his life for the moment. As Hernández returned to Caracas, López Miranda was killed in an ambush on the outskirts of the town of El Cobre, in front of Mesa de Aura, Táchira, in the early hours of the morning of May 15, 1922, thus becoming the first Seventh-day Adventist martyr for the work in Venezuela.11
Organization and Development
On September 7, 1913, the General Conference decided to take Venezuela as a missionary field directly dependent on the General Conference administration, from whichprovision would be made for sending of new missionaries. Thus, on the departure of the Lane family in 1913, several American missionary couples were sent, but almost all had to return to their country for health reasons, for either themselves or their families. As a result, the growth of the church was quite limited.12
From 1911 to 1919, Venezuela was part of the South Caribbean Conference. In 1919, the Venezuela Mission, based in Caracas, was organized under the leadership of William E. Baxter.13 In 1920, the mission workforce consisted of two pastors, Baxter and D. D. Fitch; the secretary-treasurer, G. D. Raff; and four colporteurs.14 By 1922, the Inter-American Division was organized, which supervised the work of the Venezuela Mission. A short time later, the Caribbean Union was reorganized, and Venezuela was under the administration of this union until 1927. By 1924 the Venezuela Mission had three churches, located in Caracas, Camaguán, and San Fernando de Apure. Under this union were the Colombian Mission, the Southern Caribbean Conference, and the Western Caribbean Conference.15
On July 8, 1924, Baxter, president of the Caribbean Union, arrived in Curaçao accompanied by Charles Knight, secretary-treasurer of the union; Fred Steeves, conference secretary; and the colporteur Pedro Sanoja. The sowing work of these men and the powerful action of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Knights (the first missionaries residing in Curaçao), was the beginning of the work on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao.16
On April 6, 1927, the Colombia Mission and the Venezuela Mission, to which the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao belong, were separated from the Caribbean Union to form the Colombia-Venezuela Union Mission under the leadership of Henry E. Baasch. The office of the new union was located in the city of Cali, Colombia. On February 16, 1930, the union’s board met in Barranquilla and voted to move its offices to the city of Medellin, Colombia.17 At that time, Venezuela had a population of 2,850,000, in which three churches were organized with 140 members.18
The work continued to grow, and in 1948, before the division of the Venezuela Mission into two fields, there were already 11 churches with 882 members. For this reason, on January 18, 1950, the union divided the Venezuela Mission into two missions: the East Venezuela Mission and the West Venezuela Mission. For the East Venezuela Mission, based in Caracas, Charles R. Beeler was appointed president, and W. E. Kuester, secretary-treasurer. However, on May 28 of that year, David Baasch was appointed by the union board as interim president. For the western mission, based in Barquisimeto, C. M. Christianson was appointed president, and Paula Garcia, secretary-treasurer.19 In 1952, the two missions had 1,031 members, and in 1956, the two missions had 1,858 members and 22 churches. By 1964, the Venezuelan territory had 4,965 members and 40 churches. By 1966, Rafael Fleitas reported that the East Venezuela Mission had 22 churches and about 2,700 members, and the West Venezuela Mission had 18 churches and about 2,400 members.20
In 1979, the East Venezuela Mission changed its status to East Venezuela Conference while retaining its original territory,21 and on January 9, 1989, it made its first territorial readjustment and changed its name to Central Conference. Its headquarters continued to be in Caracas, and the territory included the western part of the east side of the country, the states of Miranda, Aragua, Guárico, and Amazonas; the Vargas department; and the Federal District. In the eastern part of the country, the East Venezuela Mission was formed, based in Maturín. Its territory included the states of Anzoátegui, Monagas, Nueva Esparta, Sucre, Delta Amacuro, and Bolívar.22
The Netherlands Antilles Mission changed its status to conference in September 1985, which was 51 years after the creation of the Curaçao Mission. At that time, 19 organized churches and 2,745 baptized members, under the presidency of Theodorus Grep, occupied the territory of the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao.23
For 62 years, Venezuela was part of the territory of the Columbia-Venezuela Union. On March 6, 1989, at 8:44 p.m., in the city of Cúcuta, Republic of Colombia, a reorganization process began in the second five-year meeting (quinquennium conference), becoming the last and final conference for the Columbia-Venezuela Union. With the vote and authorization of the General Conference, the territory was readjusted for the creation of two new unions: the Colombian Union Mission and the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission. Luis Flórez Quiñones was appointed president of the Colombian Union Mission, based in Medellín, and Iván Omaña García, president, and Gonzalo Prada, secretary-treasurer, of the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission, based in Caracas.24
At the time of its creation, the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission was composed of Aruba, the Dutch islands of Bonaire and Curaçao, and the Republic of Venezuela. The union included the Netherlands Antilles Conference and three local fields in Venezuela: the Central Venezuela Conference, based in Caracas; the East Venezuela Mission, newly created on January 9, 1989, based in Maturín, toward the eastern part of Venezuela; and the West Venezuela Mission, based in Barquisimeto.
In 1989, the newborn Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission comprised 187 organized churches, 43,758 members, 73 ordained ministers, 85 credentialed teachers, 51 licensed ministers, 70 licensed missionaries, 61 colporteurs, and 70 other workers, for a total of 410 employees.25 It also managed two secondary schools with boarding facilities, (INSTIVOC and COLGRANSA), three secondary schools for external students, 19 elementary schools, two preschools, the Adventist Hospital of Curaçao, the Adventist Clinic of Barquisimeto, and the Caracas Adventist Dispensary.26
The growth and development of the territory of the Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission were rapid and sustained. On February 14, 1990, the status of the West Venezuela Mission was changed to conference, and by November 1992, this conference made its first territorial readjustment, changing its name to West Central Venezuela Conference and creating the West Venezuela Mission, based in Maracaibo. And in 1993, the union voted to create the Experimental Indigenous Mission to strategically serve the entire indigenous region, predominantly of the Pemón tribe, in the southeast part of Bolivar State.27
In February 2001, the East Venezuela Mission, based in Maturín, Monagas, made its first territorial readjustment to form the Southeast Mission based in Santa Elena de Uairén. The East Mission was administering the north-central territory of eastern Venezuela, with the States of Monagas, Delta Amacuro, Anzoátegui, Sucre, and Nueva Esparta. The Southeast Mission with the entire territory of the Bolivar State, the largest state in Venezuela, changed its headquarters to the city of Puerto Ordáz, a modern and commercial city of that state.28
In November 2002, the West Venezuela Mission made its first territorial readjustment to create the Southwest Venezuela Mission, based in San Cristobal. Its territory was made up of the states of Táchira and Mérida, and the western area of Apure. The West Venezuela Mission continued to administer the Trujillo, Zulia, and Falcón states in the north-central area of western Venezuela.
The Central Venezuela Conference, based in Caracas, managed the central area of the country from north to south. It made its second territorial adjustment, and in January 2003 created the South Central Venezuela Mission, based in Maracay. This new mission was made up of the Aragua States, west part of Miranda state, Guárico, and Amazonas, and the Central Conference administered the east part of Miranda, Vargas, and Gran Caracas.
The West Central Venezuela Conference made its second territorial adjustment in June 2003, creating the North Central Venezuela Mission, based in Valencia, thus separating the territory from east to west. The West Central Conference covered Lara, Portuguesa, and Barinas States, and the North Central Venezuela Mission covered Carabobo and Cojedes States.29
In 2007, the Netherlands Antilles Conference also made a territorial readjustment, creating the Aruba Mission. In the same year, the North Central Venezuela and South Central Venezuela Missions elevated their status to conference. In 2008, the missions of the country’s west, east, and southeast also became conferences. Thus, by 2008, the Venezuela-Antilles Union had generated sustained progress since its founding with four local fields: two of them conferences and two missions. Nineteen years later, it had 10 local fields: eight conferences, and two missions.30
At the beginning of 2009, the development and organizational growth of the Venezuela-Antilles Union continued in an upward manner, and the West Central Venezuela Conference made its third territorial adjustment, creating the West Los Llanos Venezuela Mission, based in Barinas. The West Central Venezuela Conference administered Lara State, and the new West Los Llanos Venezuela Mission administered the Portuguese States, Barinas, and the central area of Apure State.31
Due to the expansionary, upward, and sustained growth, the Venezuela-Antilles Union requested the Inter-American Division to study the territorial readjustment of the union. The General Conference sent an evaluation committee chaired by Pardon K. Mwansa in 2009, which recommended the first territorial readjustment of the Venezuela-Antilles Union, approved and authorized by the Annual Council of the General Conference on April 7, 2010. This action created the Eastern Venezuelan Union based in Maracay, Aragua. On the occasion of the 45th Conference Session of the Venezuela-Antilles Union held November 21–22, 2010, at 9:40 a.m. at the Church of the Adventist University Institute of Venezuela, the historical event of the union’s territorial readjustment occurred in the Republic of Venezuela. The Venezuela-Antilles Union would keep its name, and the East Venezuela Union Mission was created with Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American Division; Elie Henry, secretary; and Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer, attending.32
The East Venezuela Union Mission was given the territory of the east of the country, consisting of the states Aragua, Guárico, Miranda, Amazonas, Bolivar, Delta Amacuro, Monagas, Sucre, Anzoátegui, Nueva Esparta, Vargas, and the great Caracas, based in the city of Maracay, Aragua. It received 380 organized churches, 268 groups, and 113,215 church members, 112 pastors and ministers, 203 teachers, 255 other employees, and four local fields.
The Venezuela-Antilles Union consisted of 496 churches, 252 groups, 127,053 church members, 145 pastors and ministers, 420 teachers, 438 other employees, and seven local fields, and the territory by the Carabobo State, from north to south to the whole territory of western Venezuela and the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, based in the city of Barquisimeto, Lara State.33
For the year-end board meeting in October 2013, the Inter-American Division voted to take the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao as deputy territories because of Venezuela’s political instability. So beginning in January 2014, these islands ceased to be part of the Venezuela-Antilles Union, to which they had belonged since 1989.34 So in that board meeting, a new territorial adjustment and a new name were agreed; it would no longer be the Venezuela-Antilles Union but would become the West Venezuela Union Mission, made up geographically only of the Venezuelan mainland, the Carabobo, Cojedes, Yaracuy, Lara, Portuguesa, Barinas, Merida, Táchira, the western part of Apure, Trujillo, Zulia, and Falcón States, continuing at its headquarters in the city of Barquisimeto, Lara.
On the occasion of the year-end board meeting of the Inter-American Division of 2014, an agreement was made to authorize the creation of three new local fields in the territory of the new Western Venezuela Union Mission. The West Venezuela Conference made its second territorial adjustment, creating the Northwestern Venezuela Mission, based in the city of Santa Ana de Coro, and consisting of Falcón State, in the north of western Venezuela. The North Central Venezuela Conference made its first territorial adjustment, creating the Yaracuy Venezuela Mission, based in San Felipe, to lead the churches of the Yaracuy State. The Southwest Venezuela Conference made its first readjustment, creating the Central Andean Venezuela Mission, based in the city of Merida, to administer the church in Merida State, southwest of Venezuela.35
Subsequently, by the end of 2016, the Inter-American Division executive committee authorized the creation of the ninth field in the territory of the West Venezuela Union Mission. This new territory arose from the third territorial readjustment of the West Venezuela Conference, with a new field, the East Andean Venezuela Mission, based in the city of Valera, to lead the church in Trujillo State.36
At the 2017 Inter-American Division year-end board meeting, the tenth field was created, which began its activities on February 26, 2018, as the Portuguese Venezuela Mission, based in the city of Guanare, to administer the church in Portuguesa State.37
The way God has led the fulfillment of the mission and growth of the church in western Venezuela has been wonderful, and today the West Venezuela Union Mission has under its responsibility and guardianship 662 churches, 262 companies, 174,732 members, five conferences, five missions,38 a university, 23 primary and secondary schools, a hospital, two food industries, an ADRA office, 102 ordained pastors, 62 ministerial graduates, 91 missionary credentials, and 964 other employees.39
Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission
Presidents: Iván Omaña García (1989–2000); Julio A. Palacio (2000–2010)
Secretary-treasurers: Gonzalo Prada (1989–1990); David Poloche Z. (2004)
Executive secretaries: Mirto Presentacion (1991–1993); Héctor Sánchez (1993–1995); Julio A. Palacio (1995–2000); Hernán Zúñiga (2000–2003); Josney Rodriguez (2005–2008); Orlando A. Ramirez (2008–2010)
Treasurers: Gonzalo Prada (1991–1995); David Poloche Z. (1996–2010)
Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission (first territorial adjustment)
President: Julio A. Palacio (2010–2015)
Executive secretary: Orlando A. Ramirez (2010–2015)
Treasurer: David Poloche Z. (2010–2015)
West Venezuela Union Mission (second territorial adjustment)
President: Julio A. Palacio (2015–2019); Orlando A. Ramirez (2019–)
Executive secretary: Orlando A. Ramírez (2015–2019)
Treasurer: Nolwin J. Guilarte (2015–2019)
Secretary-treasurer: Nolwin Guilarte, (2019–)
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Schupnik, Carlos. God Worked Here. Nirgua, Yaracuy: 2010.
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Statistical Report, West Venezuelan Union, second quarter 2019.↩
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Nathaniel Garcia, Fearless of the Future (Caracas: 1989), 8.↩
Carlos Schupnik, God Worked Here (Nirgua, Yaracuy: 2010), 34, 35.↩
García, Fearless of the Future, 10.↩
Schupnik, God Worked Here, 109.↩
“Venezuela,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1920), 298.↩
Iván H. Omaña García, An Indigenous Church (Ph.D. diss., Caracas, 1995).↩
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“Venezuela Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1927), 229.↩
García, Fearless of the Future, 18.↩
Schupnik, God Worked Here, 110.↩
García, Fearless of the Future, 6.↩
Schupnik, God Worked Here, 130.↩
Omaña García, An Indigenous Church.↩
Proceedings of Organization Five-Year Session of the Board of Directors, Antillean-Venezuelan Union, March 6, 1989.↩
Official Statistical Report of the Adventist Church, 1989. Union Secretariat Office Files.↩
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Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 1990 Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 1992; Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 1993.↩
Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 2001; Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 2002; Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 2003; Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 2004.↩
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Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 2009.↩
Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 2010.↩
Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, 148th Annual Statistical Report—2010 (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2010), 18.↩
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Statistical archives, Secretariat office, Venezuela-Antilles Union, 2018.↩
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