Venezuela (MNN) — When you think “humanitarian crisis”, you might think of refugees in the Middle East. However, another crisis is dramatically swelling in South America, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing. Venezuela is at the epicenter of a major refugee crisis as thousands of people flee the country’s economic meltdown every day. To date, around 2.6 million Venezuelans have become displaced and crossed into neighboring countries, mostly Colombia.
This is now the largest refugee crisis in the history of South America.
The International Monetary Fund recently projected inflation in Venezuela will reach 10 million percent next year — a mammoth amount that is difficult to even comprehend.
To put that in perspective, Girish Gupta, the founder of Data Drum, tweeted, “If you’d bought a million dollars in Venezuela’s local currency when President Nicolás Maduro came to power in 2013, it’d now be worth $3.40.”
With displaced Venezuelans flooding the surrounding region, refugee camps are popping up left and right across South America. Government officials worry these tent cities may even become permanent ghettos.
According to Howard Dueck with TeachBeyond, “Reports say that people are losing about 24 pounds of their weight a year,… eating one meal a day, [and have] no service, so it’s a major crisis.”
TeachBeyond has a lot of experience working with refugees. Until now, most of their ministry work has been with displaced people in the Middle East and those entering Europe.
However, TeachBeyond is currently assessing how to get involved in the Venezuelan refugee crisis.
“We would see ourselves coming into the margins as it’s very difficult to get into the country and do anything in that context. So especially, say, in Colombia, it would probably be a place where we would target setting up mobile learning stations,” says Dueck.
“Our focus is education, and education is increasingly being seen as a vital part of humanitarian first response even in addition to health and safety and so on…. So we would see setting up mobile [learning] stations to help at the refugee camps or nearby refugee camps.”
Meanwhile, inside Venezuela, it’s hard to gauge the current state of the Church. Many international organizations have had to leave the country, including ministries, because of unsustainable programming demands.
However, what we are hearing paints an encouraging picture against an otherwise dismal backdrop.
“I think at least one mission agency, the IMB [International Mission Board], has said that when they needed to pull out — I think it was about 2005 when there was another crisis — the Church in Venezuela really matured and took ownership. In some ways, we’re seeing that again.”
Dueck reflects, “We just see across the region — and I think this has been a catalyst for it — just an increasing openness to the Gospel among people. But a lot of governments [are] really making it difficult. So it’s an interesting time, and again, [we are] highlighting the need for spiritual warfare and intercessory prayer.”
On that note, please pray for both the Church in Venezuela and those who are displaced. Ask God to give Venezuelan believers the resources and encouragement to reach out to their neighbors. Pray for refugees to embrace the hope of Jesus Christ.
You can also support the work of TeachBeyond!
“We seem to be able to mobilize people because this crisis…is really on people’s hearts and we’re seeing a lot of response of people…. But a really big challenge is the funding to set up shop in these kinds of precarious situations.”
If you’d like to give to TeachBeyond’s education initiatives with refugees, click here.
Header photo courtesy of UNHCR/Reynesson Damasceno.