Venezuelans seek joy amid the chaos

A woman holds a child as they get ready to hit a pinata at a birthday party celebration in Caracas,Venezuela, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

By Shaylim Valderrama and Ivan Alvarado

CARACAS (Reuters) – A night at a bar is interrupted by a power outage, going to a baseball game is prohibitively expensive, and a trip to a nearby beach requires months of savings. But many Venezuelans have not given up on finding ways to smile.

Despite an economic crisis that has led to shortages of food and medicine and has prompted more than three million to emigrate, Venezuelans are seeking ways to have fun and spend time with family in the hope of easing their discomfort.

Still, the increased frequency of blackouts and a political showdown between the socialist government and the opposition has cast a cloud of uncertainty, leaving many Venezuelans bereft of simple pleasures.

Venezuela fell to the 108th place in the 2019 World Happiness Report prepared by the United Nations, down from 102nd place in 2018. In the Western hemisphere, only Haiti was below the oil-rich nation, ranking 147th out of 156 countries studied by the U.N.

Leonel Martinez, who works as soldier, kisses his girlfriend as they spend a day at Coral beach in La Guaira near Caracas, Venezuela, March 23, 2019. "It's a way to think about something besides what is happening in the country," said Martinez. "It's not something you can do every day, because of the situation in the country." REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Leonel Martinez, who works as soldier, kisses his girlfriend as they spend a day at Coral beach in La Guaira near Caracas, Venezuela, March 23, 2019. “It’s a way to think about something besides what is happening in the country,” said Martinez. “It’s not something you can do every day, because of the situation in the country.” REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The happiness report – which in its first edition in 2012 placed Venezuela in the 19th position – is based on indicators such as gross domestic product per capita, generosity, life expectancy, social freedom and absence of corruption.

Venezuela was plunged into darkness with two massive blackouts in March, generating water shortages and prompting the government to suspend work and school. Earlier this month, the government launched a power rationing plan, and electricity remains intermittent in many parts of the country.

In search of distraction, Venezuelans from the country’s capital of Caracas have long taken to the nearby seaside state of Vargas to spend weekends with family and friends on the shores of the Caribbean.

“You put your mind in another place,” said Leonel Martinez, a 26-year-old soldier while relaxing on the sand with his girlfriend while her nephews played nearby. “It’s a way to think about something besides what is happening in the country.”

But in a country where the monthly minimum wage amounts to just $6 per month, the $15-$20 a day trip to the beach can require months of savings and advance planning.

Martinez, who said he used to take the 40-kilometer (25 mile) trip to the beach frequently, said it was the first time he had gone in a year.

“It’s not something you can do every day, because of the situation in the country,” said Martinez.

Members of Family Rose softball team put their hands together before a match at Lecuna Avenue softball pitch in Caracas, Venezuela, March 24, 2019. "After the game we always had a few beers. But now they are too expensive," said Felix Babaza. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarad

Members of Family Rose softball team put their hands together before a match at Lecuna Avenue softball pitch in Caracas, Venezuela, March 24, 2019. “After the game we always had a few beers. But now they are too expensive,” said Felix Babaza. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

‘IN THIS WORLD THERE IS NO CRISIS’

For Venezuelans, queuing for food is a daily ordeal. They also are used to trying multiple pharmacies and hospitals in search of the medicines they need, and more recently have grown accustomed to collecting water from streams.

But that has not stopped Joaquin Nino, a cash-strapped 35-year-old father of two, from taking his kids to an amusement park in southern Caracas.

“We have to work miracles just to have some fun,” Nino said.

At a parade in eastern Caracas celebrating Holy Week, revelers dressed in straw hats topped with flowers sang, banged drums and blew trumpets to tropical beats. With the sun beating down, one marcher who gave his name as Carlos remembers how in past years onlookers would douse those marching with water to cool them down.

“Now, because of the problems with the water, that probably will not happen,” he said.

In central Caracas, a group of men of all ages meet every Sunday to play softball while a handful of their relatives watch. The wire fence that once surrounded the field was long ago stolen. The lights, which once allowed the group to play at night, were also pilfered.

“I always come because my husband plays,” said Delia Jimenez, a 62-year-old industrial designer who jumps up from the stands whenever her husband comes up to bat. “We have fun and we shake off our stress.”

A youth flies a homemade kite next to Gran Mision Vivienda housing project in Caracas, Venezuela, March 20, 2019. The children make their own kites using a plastic bag, sticks and a nylon line. "Most expensive is the nylon cone, which is 10 thousand Bolivar notes (approximately 3 U.S. dollars)," said Luis Flores. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

A youth flies a homemade kite next to Gran Mision Vivienda housing project in Caracas, Venezuela, March 20, 2019. The children make their own kites using a plastic bag, sticks and a nylon line. “Most expensive is the nylon cone, which is 10 thousand Bolivar notes (approximately 3 U.S. dollars),” said Luis Flores. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

A few blocks away, groups of young people come together to break-dance, which they say is a way to disconnect. But some admitted that they had not been eating enough recently to be able to spend as much time dancing as they used to.

“When we’re out here dancing, we don’t think about the state of the country,” said Yeafersonth Manrique, a 24-year-old drenched in sweat after a long practice. “In this world there is no crisis.”

 

(Editing by Vivian Sequera, Pablo Garibian and Diane Craft)

‘We want to be happy’: Iraqi violinist plays in Mosul as troops battle IS

Ameen Mukdad, a violinist from Mosul who lived under ISIS's rule for two and a half years where they destroyed his musical instruments, performs in eastern Mosul, Iraq, April 19, 2017. REUTERS/ Muhammad Hamed

By Ulf Laessing

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – Amid the bombed-out ruins of an ancient site revered by both Muslims and Christians in Mosul, Iraqi violinist Ameen Mukdad on Wednesday held a small concert in the city he was forced to flee by Islamic State militants.

As Mukdad played scores he had composed in secret while living under the militants’ austere rule, explosions and gunfire could be heard from Mosul’s western districts where U.S.-backed forces are still battling Islamic State for control.

“This is a place for all, not just one sect. Daesh represents no religion but is an ideology that suppresses freedom,” Mukdad told Reuters, using a derogatory name for the militants. “Everything about Daesh is wrong.”

Mukdad, 28, fled Mosul after Islamic State fighters stormed his house and confiscated his instruments, deeming his music a violation of their hardline interpretation of Sunni Islam.

Wednesday’s hour-long concert marked his first return to the city that was overrun by Islamic State in 2014.

Mukdad said he chose the Tomb of Jonas, or Mosque of the Prophet Younis, as the site is known by Muslims, to symbolize unity.

“I want to take the opportunity to send a message to the world and send a strike against terrorism and all ideologies which restrict freedom that music is a beautiful thing,” he said.

“Everyone who opposes music is ugly.”

DEFYING ISLAMIC STATE

Mukdad advertised the concert venue and time on social media, a bold move in eastern Mosul at a time the militants still control the Old City across the Tigris river.

Soldiers guarding the venue, which lies near the ancient Nineveh ruins, at first refused access after the boom of a nearby rocket rang out, saying they could not guarantee the public’s safety. They later relented, and troops joined the applauding crowd.

“The performance was like a dream,” said Tahany Saleh, who as a woman was forced by the militants to cease her university studies.

“I wanted to come to give a message that war has not stopped life in Mosul,” she said. “You can see all this damage but still we still want to be happy, we want to listen music.”

Under Islamic State rule, entertainment was banned. But in defiance of the militants, Mukdad continued to play at home alone or quietly with a dwindling circle of fellow musicians, closing windows to avoid detection.

“I stopped playing because I was too afraid but Ameen kept going,” said Hakam Anas, one of his friends who founded a musical club with the violinist. “We tried persuading him that he could get easily killed, but he kept playing.”

One night the militants raided Mukdad’s house, taking his instruments and vowing to punish him. He escaped to Baghdad where he still lives.

In a sign of how nervous Mosul residents remain six months into the military operation to flush out Islamic State, just 20 people, mostly young men, attended the concert.

“This is what we young people need,” said Abdullah Thaier.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; editing by Richard Lough)

The LeFevre Quartet ~ Coming Soon to the Jim Bakker Show!

For decades, the LeFevres blazed new trails in Gospel Music, turning out songs and singers that would become legendary. Their award winning music allowed them to sing for Presidents and Dignitaries of the world. We are all looking forward to their return to the Jim Bakker Show on Tuesday, December 1st here at Morningside!

Gospel Music fans voted for them to receive their 2006 Horizon Group of The Year award. In 2007, the group was voted “Breakout Artist of The Year” in the Southern Gospel News Awards and in 2009, their song, “Big Mighty God” was nominated for a Dove Award.

The LeFevre Quartet is on a mission and ready for God to use them in a mighty way to share the hope of Christ with a nation in desperate need of a Savior! We hope you are able to join us December 1st at 11:30am CT on Grace Street as we enjoy the powerful, joyful voices of The LeFevre Quartet! Or watch us via live feed on Jimbakkershow.com/watch-us-live.

Celebrate the 4th of July, Concert style!

Morningside Church in Blue Eye, MO is hosting a music filled celebration for the weekend of the 4th of July featuring Denver & The Mile High Orchestra! They wowed all of America as they made the finale of FOX-TV’s “The Next Great American Band” and now they are teaming up with world-renowned pianist Dino Kartsonakis for a very special musical night on Grace Street at Morningside!

Denver & The Mile High Orchestra along with Dino Kartsonakis will take the stage on Saturday, July 4th at 7pm followed by an amazing fireworks display at 9pm!   But that is only the tip of the iceberg for the list of incredible musical guests set to provide special concerts throughout Morningside’s 4th of July Family Fair weekend!

From Bluegrass to Southern Gospel as well as belting out favorite patriotic tunes, our guests will be performing both on Grace Street and the outdoor stage.  Come listen to local favorites and national treasures such as, Gloria Elliott, Barbara Fairchild & Roy Morris, Anita French-Kidd, Marcy Moore, Kimberly Patrick, Madison Avenue, Rick Pinnette, Kristi Blankenship, Shawn Campbell and many more!

All of these amazing concerts are FREE for the public! Click here to view the full concert schedule, dates and times!

Cancer Surgery For Christian Music Star Successful

Mark Hall, the lead singer for the internationally known Christian band Casting Crowns reportedly has had successful cancer surgery.

“Mark is out of surgery. Everything went really well. Dr. says textbook operation. Just like we prayed for. I told the doctor that he might possibly be the most prayed for Dr. on the planet today. He will be in recovery for a while. Thank you so much for your prayers,” noted an update on the band’s Facebook page posted shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The singer’s wife Melanie took to social media to thank Christians around the world for their outpouring of support and prayer.

“I’m completely humbled by the number of people that have expressed their love for us and are interceding in prayer. There are no words to express the gratitude in this wife’s heart. Thank you for praying for us. We have had friends and strangers from all over the world tell us they are praying — an orphan school in Kenya, neighbors we just met, long lost high school friends, Christian music artists from their concerts, schools, offices, pastors in South Africa, chaplains in the Army, churches, radio DJs, fans, missionaries in Brazil, and countless others I couldn’t begin to name. Thank you. Your prayers are felt,” said Melanie in the post.

She said that she and Mark are asking people to pray how God can use this trial to allow them to witness to their friends as much as they pray for his recovery.