By Mariette Oosterhoff
Why would you take a children’s puppet show to one of the most violent prisons in a country known for its violent prisons? Amid the ongoing economic and political crisis besetting Venezuela, a team from TWR’s national partner has been on the road much of the summer to stage live puppet shows based on its popular children’s broadcast, “Pedrito el Pulpo” (Little Peter the Octopus).
In July the team accepted an invitation to Tocoron prison, which apparently doubles as the headquarters of a criminal gang whose members are said to have ambushed and killed four soldiers and two policemen this year. So, what’s the purpose of putting on a Christian puppet show in a notorious prison? Many of the inmates have children, and the kids visit their incarcerated fathers on weekends. In fact, more than 500 kids, prisoners, and other visitors attended the show by RTM Venezuela. (RTM is the Spanish translation of TWR.) “The visit to Tocoron prison was a blessing and a wonderful opportunity to share about God´s kingdom values with those kids,” RTM director Gabriel Fernandez said.
The RTM team played their Christian songs through a sound system, and they promoted gospel programs broadcast over TWR’s Shine 800 AM station on the nearby island of Bonaire. “Pedrito” airs on more than 250 local stations across Latin America and the Caribbean as well as on Shine 800, which broadcasts programming for all ages to a potential audience of 100 million.
For Fernandez and his staff, all the hard work involved in the “Pedrito” rallies is an essential investment in this troubled nation’s children. They’re the ones especially hard hit by food and health-care shortages. And while that investment is mostly spiritual, physical, and emotional, finances do come into play.
With the help of TWR’s national partner in Germany, ERF Medien, and other contributors, the “Pedrito” team have sought to increase the treats included in the gift bags they distribute to the rally attendees. With inflation reaching atmospheric levels, many of the youngsters don’t get enough to eat and can’t afford, or even find, some school supplies. “The prices are going up so fast,” Fernandez said. “We give the kids a little school bag. It has a pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, a notebook, a sweet cookie. This year we spent a lot of money buying these things. We give a glass of oatmeal to the kids, too. This year the oatmeal price went sky-high.”
So far this summer, the team have staged “Pedrito” rallies at 16 locations, performing for over 2,000 children. At a school for special needs children, the team members were deeply moved when a young boy with autism emotionally expressed his gratitude at the end of the show. Another rally took place in an area considered to be a hotbed of drug activity, and some of the audience members had siblings caught up in the delinquent lifestyle.
The radio program and puppet shows are aimed at making a difference in these young lives by introducing them to Jesus Christ and biblical values in a fun and memorable way. “The children love to listen to ‘Pedrito’,” Fernandez said. “In his own funny and shy way, he explains to the children that God wants to be their Father in heaven. When they are scared, they can pray. With God’s help they can choose between good and evil.”