Venezuela's Ministry of Interior and Justice announced last week that it will take action to accelerate the process of legalizing all evangelical churches in the country.
According to Mundo Cristiano, a Hispanic news outlet, most Protestant churches in the South American nation are not registered with the government. However, officials have pledged to help them become legally recognized as religious institutions after various churches expressed their support for federal programs such as Venezuela's national voluntary disarmament plan.
"There was a time when evangelical churches didn't want to be recognized because they feared the Chavistas would come after them," Magdalena Cerro said, a Venezuelan-American missionary based in Lorton, Va., referring to supporters of the late left-wing President Hugo Chavez.
While most of the churches that Cerro spoke about lie within the outskirts of Venezuela's major cities, at least 15,000 evangelical congregations throughout the country will benefit from this legal recognition since the government oftentimes disburses funds to religious organizations in support of their work within local communities.
"This in itself represents a huge win for my nation, but the government had to gain the church's support in what I consider a great plan to eliminate firearms, but only in order for officials to say, 'Ok, now that you have endorsed one of our programs, let's give you the recognition you deserve,'" said Cerro.
The disarmament plan, which began early last year while President Chavez was still alive and in office, was created to encourage Venezuelans to get rid of their guns voluntarily under the rationale of reducing escalating crime rates in the country. Cerro told The Christian Post that violence is still an alarming issue especially within small, rural towns. She also noted that while on a recent 11-day missionary trip to Barquisimeto, Venezuela, she saw the efforts that many churches made in support of the arms reduction plan.
"I came across small churches that have very little to no resources but they coordinated marches, and spread out fliers in nearby towns to support the Venezuelan government's plan," Cerro said. "So, it makes me happy knowing that the government will take action in recognizing these churches because evangelical churches over there are not just religious institutions, they're places where people in need seek refuge and hope, it's more than what the government considers them."
She also told CP this issue was a topic of discussion among churches in the city of Caracas, where she had the chance to listen in on church leader's opinions.
"In the past, relations between the government and the Evangelical church were strained under former President Hugo Chavez's dictatorship. Now with President Nicolas Maduro in office, those relations have improved," said Cerro. "Venezuelan officials want peace and coexistence in the nation, and what many pastors spoke about was how this is their time to help Venezuela achieve disarmament. That actually benefits both the nation and the churches because look now, evangelicals are finally getting the acknowledgment they have been hoping to have for a long time."