By: Rev. Rian Williams Pastor, Arima Church of the Nazarene, Trinidad & Tobago
Imagine moving to a country with little resources, money, and not being able to speak the language. For the average person, this might seem quite scary. What might be considered a scare is the reality for the thousands of Venezuelan migrants who have traveled to Trinidad and Tobago seeking a better life in recent years.
Venezuelan migrants have left behind children, aging parents, spouses, and homes to build a new life here. Due to huge economic inflation, the cost of living has made it difficult to survive. Those who once held respectable professions in the land of their birth have chosen to migrate to nearby countries instead.
Despite varying degrees of support by both the state and non-governmental agencies, the life of a migrant in Trinidad and Tobago is not easy. Upon arrival, the migrants face the uphill task of finding decent paying jobs, appropriate living conditions, schools for their children and in rare cases xenophobia.
For the Arima Church of the Nazarene located on the Trinidad and Tobago District, the journey to starting the ministry to Venezuelan migrants started with a class assignment. The pastor at the time was studying online with Point Loma Nazarene University when he did a class project pertaining to Venezuelan migration in Trinidad and Tobago.
God used that assignment to open Pastor Rian and his wife Alvilene’s heart to serving Spanish-speaking migrants. The only challenge is neither the Pastor nor any active members at the time were able to speak the language. Alvilene knew some Spanish but not enough to teach or preach. Despite the obvious limitations, the church pursued the idea with a plan to start English classes for Spanish speakers as well as Spanish worship services.
God began to raise up volunteers to assist. Keron Weekes, who currently leads the ministry, had grown up in church but fell away from fellowship during his late teens. The Lord, however, continued to tug at his heart, and he “happened” to return to the Lord shortly before the ministry launched. He also “happened” to major in Spanish at the local university and “happened” to be a Spanish teacher at a local high school. God’s hand in sending Keron at that time is a reminder that wherever the Lord guides…He provides.
To date the church does not have a main Spanish-speaking worship leader. When the ministry started, the Lord raised up two of the English worship leaders, Farouk Mohammed Jr and Nicole Brewster, to learn how to sing Spanish worship songs using soundtracks. By the grace of God, the ministry now has native Spanish speakers on the worship team.
The early days of the ministry to migrants were challenging. Yet Trinidad and Tobago District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Victor George wholeheartedly supported the endeavor. Volunteers visited the communities where Venezuelans settled to invite them to the English classes and service. Many lived in less than appropriate conditions. This led to the need to minister to the physical needs of the people by providing portable table-top stoves, gas tanks and (in some cases) financial help. Members of the migrant ministry currently receive from the church’s compassionate ministries food bank. The church also provided physical space for a local agency to run a child-friendly space for the children of Venezuelan migrants for one year.
The church’s ministry took a couple of months to become fully established. The volunteer team stayed faithful even when attendance was low. Today the Spanish worship service has an active core group of Spanish persons who attend every Sunday and call the Arima Church of the Nazarene their church home. In 2020 five persons from the Spanish church officially received church membership.
God is now using the church to minister to Venezuelan migrants in their native language. Migrants experience a sense of community and belonging and, as they worship and fellowship, their loneliness has dissipated. Moreover, future generations of Venezuelans living in Trinidad and Tobago will experience the Word of God and grow into Christ-like Disciples.
The Arima church is committed to loving and serving the Venezuelan migrants. Still, the needs are great. One mother has shared her frustration with not being able to get her sons into school although they were both born in the country. Another sad reality is the way some property owners deal unfairly with migrants. One couple said the property owner threatened to evict them after raising the rent without notice.
Despite the challenges and limited number of Spanish-speaking volunteers, the Arima Church of the Nazarene’s migrant ministry forges ahead by the grace of God.
Leaders are praying for the Lord to open a door for the church to start a compassionate ministries project that will support the social needs of the Venezuelan migrants in a more formal way. Please pray with them that there would also be a chance to partner with other Nazarene churches in starting more Spanish-speaking congregations on the Trinidad and Tobago District.