2007 update on Tierra de Gracia agricultural mission
“He put another parable before them, saying, For the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man
took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants
and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32.
This is an overview of Tierra de Gracia Lutheran Farm. Like the mustard seed, it grew from the smallest of beginnings
into the Lordñ s garden in Venezuela, providing a place of spiritual retreat and refreshment and revitalizing rural
Lutheran churches in the surroundign area.
When work on the project began in 2002, the farm looked like this. It had been abandoned
for a number of years.
Much of Venezuela receives 60 inches of rain annually, but most of it from late May to mid
The farm's tranquil environment showcases God's creation and hints at what the Garden of
Eden must have been like.
But the most wonderful aspect of the farm's development has been the spiritual harvest..
Let's back up. We, Dale and Sandra Saville, were sent as agricultural missionaries to the
Venezuelan state of Monagas in 2000, after years of work among the Navaho.
Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod missionaries planted the Word of God in the hearts of
people Monagas 50 years ago. The formation of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela began
here in these rural parishes as well as Caracas.
But since then these rural churches have experienced many hardships.
In these rural districts today, unemployment runs as high as 80 percent of the population
and typical family income is less than 2,000 U.S. dollars annually.
In this impoverished environment, many infirmities result from malnutrition and
At one time Sunday attendance in the rural churches of Rio Chiquito and Quebrada Seca,
the two communities hardest hit by economic problems, averaged 80 people per week.
However, former members moved out of the area, seeking better jobs in the cities.
By the late 1990s, typical Sunday attendance had dropped to less than 20 – when there
were Sunday services..
But when members of the rural churches moved to town they formed the core groups of
some of the largest Lutheran congregations in Venezuela, such as Cristo Rey Lutheran
Church in Maturin, the capital of Monagas.
In cooperation with Pastor Adrian Ventura and other members of Cristo Rey, Dale
developed a business plan for a working farm to accomplish two objectives.
One objective was to train rural residents in better methods of agricultural production and
marketing to help them improve their incomes and standard of living.
There is the potential for agricultural improvement throughout Venezuela, but expecially in
the state of Monagas.
The soil in Monagas is among the most fertile in the country with the capacity to produce a
remarkable variety of crops.
Dale Saville and the Cristo Rey farm committee spent a long time looking for the best land.
They found 140 hectares of good land, about an hour's drive from Maturin, but only a half-hour
to 45 minutes from Quebrada Seca and Rio Chiquito.
Fences and a paved road divided the property into two parts.
A river formed the eastern and southern boundaries with enough water to irrigate 67
hectares. Irrigation is critical for crop production during the dry season.
The farm's soil was ideal for irrigation, an alluvial mix of clay, loam and sand.
The farm comittee acquired title to the land in February 2004 with the help of a loan from
supporters in the United States. The congregations of Maturin, Rio Chiquito and Quebrada
Seca gathered for a celebration on the farm.
In March 2004, the farm was able to buy a 75-horsepower tractor with contributions from
churches in North Dakota and Montana.
Two tillage implements were included as part of the purchase.
The churches that raised money for the tractor and implements were rural churches small
by North American standards.
Yet these same rural churche in 2005 provided funds to build a lagoon to catch and hold
rainwater for irrigation.
The lagoon has the capacity to hold 1.5 million liters of water...
Also in 2005 the farm initiated livestock production with four bred cows. All soon calved
and one gave birth to twins.
Cows of a native Venezuelan breed were artificially inseminated with Tarentaise semen
donated by a breeder in North Dakota. This is an example of the Tarentaise breed.
Fences, corrals and livestock pens were built.
This includes many kilometers of electric fence.
Teams of volunteers from the United States helped build fence as well as with other
construction projects in the last four years..
Wranglers now can herd the cattle on horseback..
In 2006, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, St. Louis, Missouri, along with Lutheran
World Relief, has supplied the funds to buy four more cows.
The farm now has,more than 20 hectares of pasture which, enough to maintain 70 cows,
100 goats and 100 sheep.
We are now up to 9 cows with 6 heifer calves which bring our “female” herd to 15. We have some
nice looking bull calves that buyers have shown some interest in purchasing.
The livestock program also now includes sheep and goats. The sheep program is really
great as the workers are the owners of the herd and are learning to build up a better
The goats were purchased with money donated by St. Peter's Lutheran Church of
Our chicken program has started 500 chicks to provide fryers on a continuous basis.
We are also in the rabbit business. What a multiplication project. The workers had to
really move to get cages ready for the new babies. We have sold quite a few as pet and
the oldest ones we raised are about ready to eat.
There are more than 1,200 citrus trees in the farm's orchards...
There are 245 passion-fruit vines and 85 guava trees.
Other crops include corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash.
A small house serves as the farm's office and visitor's center..
A second house serves as a home and office for Pastor Armando Ramos..
Armando grew up in rural Venezuela himself although on the western edge of the country
in the state of Barinas.
Pastor Armando was ordained August 1, 2004, at Cristo Rey Lutheran Church.
Since Pastor Armando's arrival in Monagas, the Tierra de Gracia evangelistic program has
made tremendous strides. Roca de Eternidad (Rock of Ages) Lutheran Church in Quebrada
Seca now has weekly attendance of 20 people.
Bethel Lutheran Church in Rio Chiquito has increased Sunday attendance to 27 people New
members continue to be baptized and confirmed at both locations..
Rundown facilities in Rio Chiquito and Quebrada Seca are being repaired. A new roof for
Roca de Eternidad is nearly complete while new bathrooms are being built at Bethel.
Evangelistic activities have included three vacation Bible schools and four prayer vigils at
the rural churches as well as door-to-door visits with approximately 1,800 people.
Amichel Ventura, a deacon at Cristo Rey in Maturin, assists Pastor Armando in caring for the
Another member of the evangelistic team is Yumira Valderrey as Bible school teacher.
Eduardo Flores, a member of La Fortaleza Lutheran Church in Maracay, served as a vicar
under the direction of Pastor Armando. He worked with the youth of the rural churches and
provided musical accompaniment during worship. That's Eduardo with the guitar.
Tierra de Gracia also has provided opportunities for volunteers from the United States to
help with revitalization of the rural churches as well.
People from various parts of the U.S. have been guests at the farm.
They have attended services at the rural churches and learned how Venezuelans worship..
Visitors have included formal representatives of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod World
Missions, such as Dr. Jorge Groh and his wife, Olga., shown here with Pastor Armando.
Other visitors have been North American youth sharing experiences with their counterparts
The youth of the rural churches in Rio Chiquito and Quebrada Seca have become very
For the first time in many years, Bethel and Roca de Eternidad sent 12 to the Lutheran
Church of Venezuela's annual youth gathering in 2005.
The involvement of young people is one of the most exciting developments of Tierra de
Gracia evangelistic program..
So are the faces of the children at the vacation Bible schools that have been held at the
At Tierra de Gracia itself, Pastor Armando leads about the workers in daily devotions. In
addition, weekly adult Bible studies draw 35 to 40 people to farm from the nearby village of
Banco de Acosta.
On January 20, 2005, Pastor Armando performed the first baptism on the farm. in a special
service with 75 people from Banco de Acosta and Quebrada Seca in attendance,.
The child, José Enrique, was the son of one of the farm's workers.
On Sunday, June 12, 2005, Pastor Armando conducted the first formal worship service at
Tierra de Gracia with 156 people in attendance. Four adults were confirmed: José Luís Rivas,
Leobardo Gamboa, Marelis Bolivar and Javier Alcantera.
Americo Rengel, who is in charge of the cattle program, is another person whose life has
Americo has grown in responsibility as well as in his spiritual life. With confidence that we
all have shown in Americo he has blossomed into a man that holds himself in high esteem
Then there is Marelis Bolivar, a single mother of three, who is now in charge of the farm' s
In fact, there has been such a spiritual impact on the farm site itself that land has been set
aside to build a church near Pastor Armando's house. According to Pastor Armando Ramos,
there is the nucleus of a congregation with about 9 confirmed Lutherans in the rural
community surrounding the farm.
Actual construction of a new church at Tierra de Gracia Lutheran Farm began with a service
near the farm office December 16, 2006.
Those attending climbed the hill to where the new church will be built...
The service continued in the field across the road from the pastor's house.
The work continued later with the plotting of foundation posts.