So Hugo Chavez has shuffled off this mortal coil.
Color me confused.
On one hand, I mourn the passing of someone whose persona indicated a lack of faith in Christ. Another soul has been lost, never again to have the potential to access the glory of the throne room of God. Chavez was a self-made man and died still apparently following his own path. What a loss. He was a pretty sharp guy. He had vision and guts. He loved the poor and was their champion. Whatever other flaws he had (and they were many), he had gifts and skills.
On the other hand…
-I remember walking home from the store back when we lived in the Santa Rosa de Lima section of Caracas, disappointed because the nationalization of the milk factories had resulted in no milk for my kids, ages 1 and 4. Also absent – sugar, coffee, chicken, flour.
-I remember Chavez’s supporters riding motorcycles through peaceful opposition marches, scattering rocks and bottles and bullets.
-I remember how the national convention pastors refused to make calls from the mission office because they all believed Chavez was listening.
-I remember that time I was coming home on foot because there was no gasoline available (in petroleum-rich Venezuela) and passed a guy headed the other way carrying a gallon of gas and an old tire. I hurried after that. Bible studies were canceled later.
-I remember how churches lost their properties to invasion by squatters who were ultimately protected by Chavez’s militarized police force.
-I remember smelling the tear gas from the hill overlooking the Santa Fe highway exchange.
-I remember when mission agencies working in the jungles lost their rights to work in-country because of Chavez’s beliefs that missionaries were subverting the people, supressing human rights, and running CIA training camps. Hospitals closed, airstrips disappeared, and missionaries left.
-I recall how the president began revoking visas for evangelicals after Pat “(insert derogatory term)” Robertson called for Bush to send in special forces to execute Chavez.
-I remember discussions for how to flee the country. Words like “tarp” and “banana truck” figured heavily.
In the summer of 2007, we hurriedly left Venezuela in order to get our locally-born daughter out before authorites put into place final plans for keeping all Venezuelans in the country. Many missionaries who had chosen to give birth in their adopted homeland fled in a similar fashion, aiming to keep their children safe. We left friends, Christian and otherwise, without so much as a hug. In the aftermath of our sudden departure, we struggled to understand where we were supposed to serve. We were called to Venezuela, and living anywhere else seemed like disobedience.
So, yeah, I’ve got mixed feelings.
Politically, he was both loved and villified. I’ve got nothing to say about that side of things, though. I am not Venezuelan and as such do not have the same deep understanding of the history and currents in the political system. As well, while I am aware that Hugo Chavez was a rabid opponent of all things of the United States’ origin, I don’t fault him for it. We’re all entitled to our opinions, even those who do not like us.
But at times, as an evangelical missionary, I found life in Venezuela to be so much harder than I think it had to be. I believe I watched the growth of an environment hostile to the gospel, to the church, to the gathering of believers, to the worship of anything that wasn’t doused in the ruling party’s red paint. I think the cult of personality around El Jefe was such that you were either required to love him and every opinion he ever expressed, or you deserved oppression. I feel as though Chavez spouted just enough scripture to capture the imagination of a deeply spiritual nation while setting himself up as a personal messiah who would tolerate no rivals to the salvation/revolution he
I have absolutely no idea what or how I am supposed to feel, but I think what I do experience is an overwhelming sadness. It didn’t have to be this way, not for someone as gifted as he was.